Home » COVID likely to lock India’s women out of job market for years

COVID likely to lock India’s women out of job market for years

Savitri Devi has been searching for work since she lost her job at a garment factory in India’s capital New Delhi, along with half her coworkers, when sales plummeted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year.

The 44-year-old has tried her luck repeatedly – and unsuccessfully – near her home in Okhla, an industrial hub with thousands of small factories and workshops, where there was previously plenty of unskilled jobs for women.

“I am ready to take a salary cut but there is no work,” Devi said outside her one-room home in a slum of about 100 families, just a few kilometres away from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office.

Devi is one of approximately 15 million Indians who have been made redundant in an economic slowdown that has hit women disproportionately, trade union and industry leaders said.

Most employed women in India are in low-skilled work, such as farm and factory labour and domestic help, sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

That has been worsened by an anticipated slow economic recovery, the closure of thousands of factories and a sluggish vaccination rate, which affects women more. These factors are expected to undermine their attempts to return to the workforce.

“Whatever social and economic gains Indian women had made in the last decade, it has been largely wiped out during the COVID period,” said Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, one of the largest trade unions in India.

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is expected to deepen economic stress in India, which was already in its worst recession for 70 years.

With the vast majority of Indians working in the informal sector, precise estimates of job losses are difficult.

But in a country without a comprehensive welfare system or pandemic-related support for small businesses, several industry bodies have reported widespread redundancies over the past year.

The Consortium of Indian Industries (CIA), which represents more than one million small firms, said women make up 60 percent of the job losses.

A report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University found that 47 percent of women workers who lost their job between March and December – before the second wave of the virus hit in April – were made permanently redundant.

That compared with about 7 percent of male workers, many of whom were able to either return to their old jobs or take up independent work such as selling vegetables.

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