The Times of India, July 14, 2013
Subodh Varma, TNN
NEW DELHI: Women's employment has taken an alarming dip in rural areas in the past two years, a government survey has revealed. In jobs that are done for 'the major part of the year', a staggering 9.1 million jobs were lost by rural women. In urban areas, the situation was quite the reverse, with over 3.5 million women added to the workforce.
This emerges from comparing employment data of two consecutive surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 2009-10 and 2011-12. Key results of the later survey were released last month. Both rounds had a large sample size of nearly 4.5 lakh people.
"The survey shows that in the continuing employment crunch in rural areas, the most vulnerable sections - like the women - are getting eliminated," says Amitabh Kundu, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
If subsidiary work, that is short term, supplementary work, is also counted, women's employment numbers improve, but they still show a huge decline of 2.7 million in two years. This is a reflection of the fact that women are no longer getting longer term and better paying jobs, and so are forced to take up short term transient work.
Declining women's employment in rural areas is a long term trend in India despite high economic "growth", says Neetha N of the Centre for Women's Development Studies.
"Three decades ago, in 1983, about 34% of women in rural areas were working. This has steadily declined and now stands at just short of 25%. But the decline in the past two years is shocking - it is the most drastic decline we have ever seen," she says.
Many argue that decline in women's work is taking place because more women are now either studying or just staying home because the men of the family are earning enough. However, this is not supported by the data, according to Neetha.
"Urban areas have more girls' enrollment in schools and colleges, and better household incomes than rural areas. Yet women's employment is increasing in urban areas and declining in rural areas," she points out.
But what is the reason behind this jobs crisis in rural India? "A decline in public investment in agriculture, and in extension work for dissemination of knowledge coupled with increasing mechanization are the main causes of this crisis of jobs," says V K Ramachandran, professor of economic analysis at the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore. He also blames the severe slowdown in expansion of irrigation and supply of electricity to rural areas for causing jobs to dry up.
Satya Narain Singh, deputy director general of NSSO, told TOI that there were no issues of measurement or sample size in the surveys. He pointed out that the population for 2010 was based on Census projections while that for 2012 was based on actual Census 2011 data. This could introduce a small over-estimation of the 2010 population. But the "decline in female workforce is in line with the trend of decline observed in recent decades", Singh said.