More and more Indian women started working in industry and services in the last 10 years and started their own businesses, mostly shifting from farm work, even though many of these new jobs are coming up outside the organized sector and offering less money and security, says a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Over 1997 to 2007, the share of South Asian women working on farms fell from 74% to 60.5% of total jobs, the fastest rate of decline in the world, said the Global Employment Trends for Women report, launched in Geneva on the eve of International Women’s Day on 8 March.
In factories and mills in the region, women raised their share of jobs from 11.2% to 18.4%, while in services, it went up from 14.7% to 21.1%.
“By promoting decent work for women, we are empowering societies and advancing the cause of economic and social development for all,” said Juan Somavia, ILO director general.
Globally, although more women — 1.19 billion in 2007 compared with one billion in 1997 — have started working, a higher number, 81.6 million compared with 70.2 million, are without jobs.
The job movement between sectors has not reduced the proportion of South Asian women in “vulnerable” employment, although there has been a fall in the numbers of women who keep working unpaid for the family along with a rise in the numbers of women working on their own. More than eight out of 10 working women are in jobs that are home-based or in informal sectors compared with seven out of 10 men.
Reiko Tsushita, gender expert at ILO’s office here, says that the rise in informal or unorganized sector jobs is the biggest emerging trend in the world.
“You can’t look at only the number of jobs, the quality is equally important,” she said. “And here, we find that more than half of all working women in the world are in vulnerable jobs. This means governments, more so in emerging economies, must focus on legislations that seek to protect workers, especially women, who are working in informal sectors.”
This trend is also reflected in the rise in the number of women working on their own, from 21.6% of total employment in 1997 to 27% in 2007 around the world.
In the case of South Asia, this share has gone up from 17.4% to about 25%, even as only 15.5% are in a job that pays a steady wage or salary, and only 0.3% get to manage other employees. Globally, too, the share of women as employers is only 1.8%, down from 2.1% in 1997.
In South Asia, the female employment-to-population ratio, which indicates the extent that economies are utilizing the productive potential of their working-age population, is 26.2% and falling. But the good news is that this is more because of a decline in employment for young women, many of whom are now in education.
Still, women here have miles to go; only 34% of working-age women actually have a job, compared with 78% of working -age men.
The ILO figures correspond with the national Sample Survey 2004-05 findings of a labour force participation ratio of 33% for women. The gender gap is a high 41.7 in the region, third worst, while around the world there are 67 women working for every 100 working males.
“The gender discrimination is the most evident in terms of wages,” says Abu Saleh Shariff, chief economist of economic research institute National Council of Applied Economic Research.
The National Sample Survey 2004-05 shows that across all kinds of income, social or wage labour categories, farm or non-farm, rural or urban, women tend to get the least. Compared with a scheduled tribe male worker earning Rs60 as average daily wagefor a non-farm job and Rs41 for farm labour, a tribal woman would be getting Rs42 and Rs29. A male college graduate, similarly, would earn Rs130 for a non-farm job, while a female would earn Rs95.
South Asia has an enormous deficit in decent work, the report says. But there are hopeful signs; women are moving into more productive sectors and rising productivity could soon push earnings above the poverty threshold.
“The new legislations for unorganized sector workers in India (are) very good news in this context,” says Tsushita. “But a lot of it is still implicit. While the strong legislative drive implies that the economy is encouraging women’s work, the efforts must get more explicit. In many of the export-led sectors, for instance, where more women are participating, we have to ask if the traditional social biases are just getting reinforced or not.”