Numbers on half the sky .....DEVAKI JAIN
Women's labour contribution has become the backbone of the Indian economy's current growth path
SONIA GANDHI touched the soft spots in Rae Bareli, when she suggested to the finance minister that she wished his budget to address the concerns of farmers and women. These are indeed the soft spots, though while the economic stress faced by farmers is well known and visible, the economic stress that women endure is not so clearly articulated. It is still seen and addressed as a social domain issue. But the fact is that women's labour contribution has become the backbone of the Indian economy's current growth path.
They are the critical workers in the lead sectors that are triggering India's growth rate and comfortable domestic savings ratio. It is also through supporting their efforts in the Indian political economy that we can hope to reach some of our declared goals.
For example, women constitute 40 per cent of the agricultural workforce and the percentage is rising; 85 per cent of rural women workers are in agriculture and at the lowest end in terms both of the drudgery and wages; as men move out of cultivating, women are increasingly the cultivators too but without the land rights.
Therefore, achieving agricultural growth targets will depend increasingly on policies that increase the power, the rights and the efficiency of women farmers. Women farmers would need ownership of land and assets, infrastructure support like technology, inputs, extension, marketing. Tiny plots are critical as sources of food security for the poor and there would be need for government schemes which not only encourage such homestead plots, but enable them to become viable through institutional arrangements which enlarge their collective power.
Further the trend of jobless growth, identified even by the 11th Plan, has pushed more women into earning for household survival. We see this in various datasets - for example, in the higher percentage of women who report on the employment guarantee sites in many districts if not at the state level (as was the case even in Maharashtra in the '70s); and also in the rapid growth of female migration for work. The almost feverish way in which women are entering into self help groups is another indication of women's quest to earn and support the household.
In industry, the unorganised sector's contribution to overall GDP is 56.7 per cent and women in various modes of production are the main workers, paid and unpaid. It is noteworthy that 53 per cent of all women workers are home-based and 73 per cent of informal workers' contributions come from home-based work. Further 44 per cent of all women workers are involved in unpaid work
Moreover, the reduction in the list of items reserved for SMEs will not only negatively affect women and their well-being, but also employment as well as savings and industrial production in the overall economy.
Thus, if women are addressed by policy and programme, and their presence as the major contributors to growth in industrial production and household savings is recognised, and their participation ensured in the designing aspect of planned development of industry, it would strengthen the achievement of the overall objectives of industrial growth
Moving on to export-oriented production of goods and services, women are predominant, if not the major value adders, whether it is in BPOs, SEZs or in some of the sunrise industries like garment export firms, processed food and even services like the burgeoning hospitality industry.
National and international statistics (for example, a recent paper by UNCTAD which is holding an international seminar on gender sensitisation of trade policy) reveals that women are gaining space in waged work, while men are not, because of the nature of global production and trade. However, while some are gaining in these foreign exchange earning routes, including out-migration for domestic work, they are losing due to various forms of deregulation, and liberalisation in the trading of certain products, especially imports.
Thus in designing budgetary responses to "women's" concerns, the question arises, which women? These brave holders of India's economic sky require responses from sectoral agencies, and from the ministry of commerce. Adding more money or tracing the inclusion of what are called women's concerns in the ministries is not the critical issue. It is which products are liberalised, it is how the tiny sector is treated by the financial institutions, it is how retail trade is handled.
The writer is a Bangalore-based development economist email@example.com