It is a fact that around 120 million workers in India lost their jobs overnight in March 2020, when the nationwide lockdown was imposed owing to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ziqitza Healthcare Ltd, one of the leading healthcare institutions in the country, cites it as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the modern history of India, wherein millions of migrant workers were left jobless and displaced in a matter of hours. Images and media reports of hordes of people walking back to their distant villages in the absence of transportation due to lockdown, was a harrowing sight.
Ziqitza further states that the majority of these workers who were rendered jobless were employed in the informal sector, and half of them were women. Ziqitza healthcare refers to recent media report which states that during the lockdown, out of the total percentage of working men and women, 47% women permanently lost their jobs compared to just 7% men. The pandemic has the worst affected women. As per the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation 13.8 % of microenterprises in India are owned by women and are operational in sectors like beauty, education, tourism, food, retail etc. These sectors have been pillaged the worst by the pandemic.
Ziqitza Rajasthan points out those women in India traditionally face inequalities and are subjected to gender roles and stereotypes, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the gap. Due to existing inequalities, women have been more vulnerable and susceptible to economic disparities created by the pandemic. Ziqitza Limited is of the opinion that now that India is rebuilding its economy and that it is on a recovery path, this is an opportune time to bring back women to the workforce and empower them as force multipliers.
A new India can only be built, when India’s female workforce participation is improved, and when females have access to equal economic and social opportunities. ZHL Rajasthan points out few areas of improvement, where policy makers, civil society organisations, corporations, volunteers etc can focus to improve and increase female workforce participation.
- Reskilling & Upskilling: India needs to invest in programmes that focus at providing vocational training and skill development training to women. These training programmes can be categorically created and designed for women from the vulnerable sections of the society. Government with the help of the private sector can mobilise women self groups to implement reskilling and upskilling programmes in rural areas. These programmes empower and enable women with necessary skill sets and increase their employability chances.
- Promoting Digital Education: Girls from the underserved and underprivileged sections of the society have been worst affected due to shutdown of the schools. Lack of access to infrastructure and resources have stopped them from adopting the new digital mode of education. Ziqitza Limited Rajasthan elaborates that this has resulted in increased incidences of girls dropping out from schools. Private sector can extend its resources and aid them by providing devices to access the internet, or can set up computer labs in partnership with NGOs and build an enabling environment for them.
- Livelihood Promotion Programmes: Self Help Groups have an important role to play in empowering women. SHGs are a bulwark for women and the government along with various other stakeholders such as NGOs and corporates, can partner with them to implement livelihood promotion programmes for women. SHGs have an extensive reach even to the remotest corners of the country, thereby can prove extremely beneficial. For example, SHGs can promote and improve market linkages for handicrafts and tribal products, thereby generating livelihood opportunities.
- Nursing Programmes for Women: Ziqitza health care limited explains that the pandemic adversely affected the women in the informal sector and crippled them with no security net. Government must look at undertaking rehabilitation projects for such women. For example, the government can partner with healthcare providers and offers nursing training programemes for women from marginalised section of the society, and in turn create livelihood opportunities for them. These programmes can be supported by corporates wherein they can collaborate with date governments, NGOs and implement healthcare trainings programmes at panchayat levels.
Women must become an equal partner in the workforce. No country can gain success, if half of its workforce is jobless and faces inequalities. Creating a gender-equal workforce is a gargantuan task and requires participation from all stakeholder groups.