The Times of India, March 16, 2013
What do Delhi's working women do? While the image of a working Delhi woman that comes to mind for many is usually that of a BPO or IT worker, the real employment growth story for Delhi's women could be a far less glamorous one - paid domestic work.
For one, not a lot of Delhi's women do any paid work, at least of the sort that current surveys capture. According to data from the 2009-10 National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), just 8% of women above the age of 15 in urban Delhi are in the work force, compared to the national average of almost 20%.
Only Bihar is lower for urban women. The corresponding numbers for men are close to 75% both in Delhi and nationally. Moreover, this number has been steadily declining for women; in 2004-5 , it was 8.8% for Delhi's urban women. International Labour Organization (ILO) economists Steven Kapsos and Andrea Silberman have identified four major reasons for the decline in female participation in the labour force: growing female enrollment in education, households withdrawing women from the workforce when the family's income level rises, problems with data and the concentration of women in areas of the economy where there is little job growth.
"Looking at the data over a longer period of time, we find that this last factor explains more than half of the fall in female participation in the labour force between 1994 and 2010," Kapsos said.
What of the women in Delhi who do work? Researchers Neetha N and Indrani Mazumdar of the Delhi-based Centre for Women's Development Studies estimate that in 2005, Delhi had around 4.7 lakh women workers. While the proportion of women working in manufacturing in Delhi fell sharply between 1999-2000 and 2004-5 - from 18.9% to 10.9% - the proportion of men working in the same field grew slightly in the same period, they found.
The biggest growth in employment for Delhi's women during that period was in "private household employment", which includes maids, cooks, housekeepers and nannies - from 5.3% to 19.6%.
The latest 2009-10 round of the NSSO shows that manufacturing remains the largest employer of Delhi's urban women, employing 17.1% of Delhi's working women. Education comes next, employing almost 16% of working women, followed by public administration and defence. Domestic work comes a close fourth. Financial intermediation employs less than 6% of Delhi's working women.
Delhi's women workers are clustered at the 20-30 and 40-44 age groups, possibly indicating that childcare largely takes over women's lives in their thirties and early forties. Graduate and postgraduate women are more likely to work at one end of the spectrum, and illiterate or primary school-educated women at the other end. Women with just a secondary or higher secondary education seem to find securing employment a greater challenge.
The average daily wage for women in urban Delhi is Rs 350, lower than that of men, but higher than the Indian average. The urban parts of Maharashtra, Uttarakhand , Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh , all have higher average daily wages for female regular employees.
"Perhaps the most substantial increase in regular work for women in Delhi in the first decade of the 21st century has been in the sphere of domestic work. But it is the fall in the share of manufacturing that distinguishes the changes in distribution of women workers by industry in Delhi from the aggregate picture of all million plus cities," Neetha and Mazumdar say.
But it would be a mistake to see this rise, and the growing demand for domestic workers, as a "lever to raise the female work participation rates in any significant or meaningful manner" because it has not been able to offset declines in other sectors of employment, they warn.
"Avenues of paid and even unpaid work for women are shrinking, and the crisis in the economy is leading to a severe constriction of employment opportunities for women," says Indu Agnihotri, CWDS' director and one of Delhi's leading feminist historians.