Home / News / India /  Pandemic has worsened gender inequality in India, says Oxfam

The onset of the covid-19 pandemic could have worsened inequality between men and women in terms of income and time in India given their roles in society as “breadwinner men" and “caregiver women."

The inequalities that persisted before the pandemic surfaced in India were bad, to begin with, according to a report issued by Oxfam International’s Indian arm on Wednesday.

“Oxfam India estimated that women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day. It is equivalent to the contribution of 19 lakh crore (trillion) a year to the Indian economy," said Diya Dutta, one of the authors of the Oxfam’s 2020 India Inequality Report — On Women’s Backs. The report is based on data and responses collected from urban and rural women in New Delhi and Rajasthan in the past year.

“The burden of care work is so immense that it does negatively impact their (women’s) participation in the workforce, circumscribe their pursuit of education and discourages them from taking care of their health," Dutta said.

“In India, women’s contribution to the GDP is one of the lowest in the world at 17%," Dutta said in an online session to release the report. “Yet, if you look at the total amount of work done by women, it is much higher and contributes a lot more to the Indian economy. In China, women’s work contributes to 41% of the GDP," she said, adding that the figure was the same for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa too fared better than India at 39% with the world average at 37%, Dutta said. This seemed to be borne out by some recent government data relating to Permanent Account Number (PAN), a requirement for a host of financial transactions. This showed that women have a lot to catching up to do in terms of financial empowerment. According to information from the income tax department, only a third of the 435 million PAN cards issued so far belong to women.

According to Dutta, the unavailability of paid and safe work, existence of a labour surplus economy, especially in rural agricultural pockets “has kept women bound to unpaid care work." “Alternatively, it offers them unsafe paid work within the informal economy with no social and employment benefits and security of jobs," she said.

The IMF has already warned of lasting damage to most economies from the scars arising from the deep recession this year with implications for inequality.

“Not only will the incidence of extreme poverty rise for the first time in over two decades, but inequality is set to increase because the crisis has disproportionately affected women, the informally employed, and those with relatively lower educational attainment," IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said in the October 2020 World Economic Outlook.

The Oxfam report said men, mainly in rural areas, feared being shamed of doing domestic chores and rural women were reluctant to ask them to share their burden as societal norms have cast them in the role of caregivers. In urban areas, middle and upper-class women, meanwhile, had the choice of outsourcing their unpaid work to other women from poorer families. But even here, “women continue to be supervisors, coordinators and organizers of housework done by the hired domestic helper."

There was also a linkage between unpaid care work and violence against women, the study found. Women’s duty towards household and the family “has deep social currency" and any mistake was seen as deserving of punishment meted out by both men and women, it said.

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