Nupur Singh was living her dream before Covid struck. She held a senior position in an event management company which ensured a comfortable life, good salary and opportunities to travel. The pandemic, however, brought her world crashing down and dented her confidence completely.
“I was without a salary for a year. I have always been an independent woman, so I found it hard to ask my husband to pay for me. There were days I would confine myself to my room. All our plans for the future appeared hazy,” said the 45-year-old Noida resident.
Bereft of choices, she was forced to work as a data analyst with an American company. She is now learning coding. “Gone are the days of compulsive shopping. Now, I value money, and look at ways to save more. The lesson I learnt is to have a back-up plan at all times,” she said.
Like Singh, Kritika Kashyap from Delhi, too, found a life saver in an area which thrived despite the pandemic. After losing her job as a stewardess with Lufthansa, she dipped into her savings to go to Rishikesh to train as a yoga instructor. “Everyone is becoming a yoga teacher these days. I am upgrading my skills to study fitness and nutrition, which will help me become an expert,” said Kashyap.
Nitya Sudhakaran from Mumbai faced a prolonged period of distress when her employer, Jet Airways, closed shop. After spending 12 years in the revenue management unit at Jet, she found work in an allied field, but which required a different skill set. “Never be comfortable in one place. Keep upgrading your skills and move around. That is my big learning,” said Sudhakaran.
Highly ambitious and self driven, these career women were forced to move away from the formal economy during the pandemic. With their grit and determination, they have started earning again, but there are lakhs of women who continue to remain unemployed. ‘She-cession’, derived from recession, is the term often used to describe how the failing economy is unkind to women.
The missing women workforce has been captured by several studies. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India slipped 28 places from its 112th position, to 140. In south Asia, only Pakistan and Afghanistan now fare worse than India.
The gender gap report found that among the drivers of this decline is the substantial decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, which fell from 24.8 per cent to 22.3 per cent. The share of women in professional and technical roles declined to 29.2 per cent. These figures were reaffirmed by the Union ministry of statistics and programme implementation’s first-ever time-use survey.
In India, only 20.6 per cent of women aged between 15 and 59 years are engaged in paid work, compared with 68.5 per cent of men in the same age bracket. In case of unpaid work, 94 per cent of women did so against 49 per cent of men.
Rosa Abraham, assistant professor, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, who co-authored a report titled ‘State of Working India, 2021’, said the decline has been visible since 1993. “These women are from poor households and are primarily employed in agriculture. They have moved out of jobs that were not good for them as their household income increased. While the women were able to withdraw from bad jobs, there are no new jobs created for them in the economy.”
For every 1 per cent growth in the GDP, the accompanying growth in employment has steadily slowed. “When jobs are rationed, historically, women are the first to get rationed out. Good jobs are not being created. It is an issue that has not been addressed,” said Abraham.
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