India’s COVID-19 Shutdowns Are Hitting Women

When India moved to formally shut its economy down by closing workplaces and other public spots over COVID-19, over 120 million Indians lost their jobs. But one group was hit most critically in that collapse of employment  — women, according to The New York Times.

The Times noted that a recent United Nations report found that the pandemic runs the risk of setting back decades of gains women have made in the workplace. The paper also cited an International Labor Organization report indicating some 41 percent of women are at high risk for having their hours cut losing their jobs entirely. That compares with roughly 35 percent of men in the same predicament.

And though those effects have been observable worldwide, developing nations like India have been hit particularly hard. The U.N. report noted that some 70 percent of working women are employed in the informal economy “with few protections against dismissal or for paid sick leave and limited access to social protection. To earn a living these workers often depend on public space and social interactions, which are now being restricted.”

The Times noted that Indian women already faced employment difficulties in the pre-pandemic world. The paper noted that from 2005 to 2018, female labor participation in India declined to 21 percent — one of the world’s lowest rates — from about 32 percent previously. Men’s labor-force participation rate also fell, but not at nearly the same magnitude as the women’s rate did.

The paper said one Indian employment study taken found more women had reported losing their jobs than men, and those who remained employed had a greater level of anxiety about their future than males did.

Yale University economics professor Rohini Pande, who researches women’s employment patterns in India, told the Times that she expects to see more young women there pushed into marriages and away from careers.

“The pipeline was already extremely leaky,” Pande said. “It’s just going to get leakier.”

But some efforts are underway to leverage India’s growing digital economy to help women there.

For instance, Indian startup eWe — which stands for “Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurship” — told the Indian publication Inc42 that it’s helped more 200 women find jobs. The group said it’s also trained 550 women to understand eCommerce technology well enough sell fashion and apparel products.

“We provide digital marketing training to help women scale up and reach a wider audience,” eWe Co-founder Abhayan P told Inc 42. He said that includes teaching social-media marketing on applications like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and more.

“A lot of women in India are housewives who are in need of a sustained income but cannot move for a job,” he said. “[But] most of these women have the ability to market an item — especially fashion and apparels — and we believe with the support of technology, they can make a lot of difference.”

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