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WOMEN WORKERS IN INDIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY – UNEMPLOYMENT AND UNDEREMPLOYMENT

THE GLOBAL ECONOMY has created a flexible labour market and the myth of ‘feminization of work’, in reality; it has led to unemployment and underemployment of women in India. One study puts female unemployment at six to seven times that of men. In the rural areas, 30 lakh women have lost jobs in agriculture and livestock. Women have lost 1, 45,000 jobs in the textiles sector during 1994-2000. Female underemployment is also increasing at a faster rate than for men. This article will concentrate on some aspects of women workers outside of the agriculture sector. India has 397 million workers out of which 123.9 million are women. 106 million of these workers are in the rural areas and the remaining 18 million work in urban areas. Only 7% of India’s huge labour force is in the organized sector, which includes workers on regular salaries, in registered companies and firms. The rest of the workers – 93% work in the unorganized or informal sector. The figures for women workers in India are even more dismal – almost 96% of the women workers are in the unorganized sector. The female work participation rate (WPR) has increased overall from 19.7% in 1981 to 25.7% in 2001. In the rural areas it has increased from 23.1 to 31% and in the urban areas it has risen from 8.3 to 11.6%. ‘Participation’, however, has been largely distress induced and has compelled women to take up jobs which offer very poor wages and no social security. There has been a significant increase in women employed in petty retail trade, hotels and restaurants in the last decade as part of survival strategy of poor urban households. Hotels and restaurants have shown an increase of 2, 78,000 women workers from 1994 to 2000. These are typically low paying jobs where women work for long hours without any benefits and face sexual harassment. The 9 sectors where 90% where Indian women work are agriculture, live stock, textiles and textile products, beverage and tobacco, food products, construction, petty retail trade, education and research and domestic services. The number of women working in agriculture in the years 1999-2000 was 7, 91, and 30,000 which accounted for 64.3% of the workforce. Next came livestock which accounted for 9% of the workforce. The domestic services sector employed 3.2%, retail trade 3.4%, textiles and textile products 2.8% and beverage and tobacco industry 3.0 % of the workforce in the same period.

 
In the urban areas a majority of women work in the informal sector, which include household industries, building construction, petty trade or in domestic services. There has been a significant increase in the casualization or informalization of the workforce both male and female since the late 1970s. In 1983, casual workers accounted for 31.5% of the workers, in comparison, 7.5% were salaried and 61% were self-employed. The latest round of the national sample survey records an increase of casual workers to 37.3% in 1999-2000. While salaried workers have fallen to 6.7% of the total, the self-employed category has fallen from 61% to 56%. The National Sample Survey shows that during 1999-2000 the self employed accounted for 55% of male employment and 57% of female employment. About 36% of employed males and 40% of employed women were casual labours. Only 9% of employed men and 3% of employed women were regular employees. The handloom industry which has been the largest employer of women after agriculture and live stock suffered serious setbacks in the 1990s and is slowly being replaced by the beedi industry as the largest employer. The powerloom sector’s growth has been at the expense of the organized mill sector. It is estimated that there are a total of about 17 lakh powerlooms in the country. The majority of these are in the western zone followed by the southern zone. 75% of these powerlooms require modernization in varying...
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