Designing urban employment schemes for women

Seven way to bring women back to the labour force, provide livelihood and income security, and increase women’s agency in cities

Author: Nikhil Iyer
Published: June 2, 2021 in the India Development Review

With localised restrictions in 34 states and union territories, the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has effectively led to a national lockdown, yet again. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) suggests that the urban unemployment rate neared 12 percent in the week leading up to May 9, 2021—up from 9.5 percent in the week ending April 25. In April 2021, India’s labour force participation rate fell to 39.9 percent. This is the third consecutive month for which it has fallen and is the lowest since May 2020. Experience from the past year, when the urban unemployment rate shot up to nearly 25 percent in April 2020, puts the precarious nature of urban employment into sharp focus. This is particularly so for informal workers, nearly 80 percent of whom lost their livelihoods during April and May 2020, as per the State of Working India 2021 report. The economic shock due to the second wave might further worsen the unemployment crisis.

Women were disproportionately impacted by the economic shock of the pandemic last year, as COVID-19 guidelines prevented work in sectors like construction, beauty and wellness, domestic work, sex work, among others. Estimates suggest that nearly 70 percent of women in the working population in December 2019 had lost their jobs by April 2020, compared to 35 percent of men. The State of Working India 2021 report also states that 90 percent of men employed in late 2019 were employed in late 2020 as well, whereas the corresponding figure for women was only 50 percent. The second wave may also affect the female labour force participation rate, which was already down to seven percent in urban areas by November 2020, even as female enrolment has improved at all levels of education.

The livelihood insecurity of urban workers led to discussions on a centrally sponsored urban employment scheme (though these fizzled out due to an apparent financial crunch). Instead, 2020 saw three new state-level urban employment schemes (in Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand) and continued budget allocations for two existing ones (in Kerala and West Bengal). Additionally, Madhya Pradesh is running a similar scheme with a limited scope, the Yuva Swabhiman Yojana, which is available to those aged 21-30 years. Tamil Nadu too is considering such a scheme, as we learn from the Finance Minister’s recent budget speech.

It is vital that such schemes be designed to bring women back to the labour force, provide livelihood and income security, and increase women’s agency. An analysis of the existing schemes provides us with seven key design principles to improve the gender-responsiveness of urban employment guarantee schemes (UEGS).

Evaluating existing urban employment schemes
Of the existing schemes, the ones in Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand are structured as a guarantee with unemployment allowances, while West Bengal and Odisha offer work when available. There are three similarities in how these schemes are designed:

  • First, the eligibility criteria require individuals to be willing to do unskilled manual work.
  • Second, beneficiaries must reside within the jurisdiction of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) which are the implementing agencies for the scheme.
  • Third, subject to local conditions, these schemes include development works and creation of urban infrastructure assets under their ambit.

Kerala was the first state to provide 100 person-days of guaranteed wage employment through the Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS)—which was launched in 2011. The scheme guidelines require ULBs in Kerala to prioritise women, such that they comprise at least 50 percent of the beneficiaries under the scheme. As a result, over the past decade, nearly 90 percent of the job-card holders are women, many of whom are also members of neighbourhood groups under the Kudambashree Mission.

In FY 2020-21, the scheme was allocated a budget of INR 75 crore. In this period, 89,160 households, and 81,958 women received employment under the scheme. This suggests a healthy uptake for the scheme by women. For FY 2021-22, an increased amount of INR 100 crore has been earmarked by the Kerala government—an indicator of the scheme’s sustained relevance.

Odisha adopted an Urban Wage Employment Initiative in April 2020, initially up to September 2020, and later extended till March 2021. Work allocation depended on the availability of work in labour-intensive projects in 114 ULBs in the state. In doing so, Odisha was able to provide 13 lakh person-days of work by December 2020. Seeing the positive reception to the scheme, the state government decided to re-christen the scheme as the Mukhyamantri Karma Tatpara Abhiyan (MUKTA) to continue it in FY 2021-22, earmarking INR 200 crores for the scheme. Reports suggest that nearly 3.5 lakh workers have benefitted from the scheme, with women apparently making up about 40 percent of the beneficiaries. State officials are also looking to target women through urban self-help groups, informal workers associations, among others—a welcome step to leverage the networks shared by women.

In May 2020, Himachal Pradesh began the implementation of the Mukhya Mantri Shahri Aajeevika Guarantee Yojana, which guaranteed 120 days of wage employment to unskilled workers. The government also aims to impart skills training to beneficiaries, in partnership with the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM), to enable workers to create other work opportunities. Though the scheme design does not explicitly prioritise women, nearly 72 percent of applications approved under the scheme are by females.

Lastly, in September 2020, the Jharkhand government initiated the Mukhyamantri Shramik Yojana, guaranteeing 100 person-days of unskilled work. This scheme has received INR 10 crores in the Budget 2021-22. The state received a significant number of migrant returnees in the summer of 2020, which spurred the government to this action. Even though the government sought to target five lakh urban poor through the scheme, the actual uptake has been less than impressive. A report from December 2020 mentions that only 474 workers out of approximately 15,000 approved applicants, had availed of work. The reasons for the muted enthusiasm are unclear, though state officials have been quoted saying that the menial nature of work on offer may be unattractive to the workers.

Designing an urban employment scheme with a gender lens
In designing a women-oriented urban employment scheme, the following principles may inform the discussion.

1. Providing quality jobs appropriate for women
The quality and nature of work should be in line with local demographics and the aspirations and skills of women. For example, the convergence of the Kerala scheme with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) has been noted to improve women’s participation in the scheme as well as better fund utilisation by ULBs. Likewise, in places where women have attained high levels of education but are unable to find gainful employment, the scheme should include skilled work in its ambit.

2. Ensuring geographical proximity to the place of residence
Jobs need to be located close to where women workers reside. Distance from the place of work often becomes a barrier for women due to concerns of safety, time spent travelling, and poor connectivity of public transport. Therefore it is important that UEGS jobs are spread across the city for women to easily access work.

3. Guaranteeing equality of wages
Similar to NREGA, an urban employment scheme should mandate equality of wages for men and women.

4. Providing flexible work arrangements
Women must be given flexibility in timings such that it allows them to juggle wage work with their unpaid work. A gig work model where payment is made on the completion of a task rather than on a per-day basis could be considered.

5. Creating an inclusive administrative system
The procedures to apply, avail work, and change personal details should be inclusive in nature. Online portal-based registration systems, as in the case of Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh, may be exclusionary due to low internet access and digital literacy among women.

6. Building awareness via relevant platforms
Awareness measures should account for sources through which women receive information. ULBs can tap Aanganwadi networks, urban self-help groups (SHGs), slum development community associations, among others, and rely on offline modes apart from multimedia campaigns to reach out to potential beneficiaries.

7. Collecting gender-disaggregated data
It is extremely critical that gender disaggregated data be collected from the time states begin to implement their schemes. Currently, of the four states discussed above, only Kerala and Himachal Pradesh publicly publish such data, and even that is not granular in nature. Collected data should also note trends regarding choice of jobs, usual times of the year when women access these jobs, education levels of women opting for the scheme, and so on. This data can potentially inform the future design of these schemes and suggest corrective action where required.

There are other suggestions to enhance the impact of UEGS on women. States may also look to converge their schemes with the DAY-NULM, to tap into urban SHG networks, and to supply labour for community projects such as those under AMRUT, Swachh Bharat Mission Urban, among others. Economist and activist Jean Drèze, through a modification to his DUET proposal, states that women be given preference over men whenever work is available. Women can also be put in charge of placement agencies that facilitate work allocation.

Apart from these, policymakers need to reimagine Indian cities to make them more women-friendly, which has a direct correlation in their ability to work. Substantial investments need to be made in creating adequate child-care facilities to free up women’s time. Similarly, cities need to make large-scale investments in improving last mile connectivity and other provisions to improve safety and accessibility of public transport for women. These long-term initiatives need to go hand in hand with a UEGS for women to be able to access more jobs.

An improvement in the female labour force participation rate is known to have a significant multiplier effect on the well-being and development of women and their families and is an accepted policy goal. A gender-responsive UEGS is a unique opportunity to move closer to this goal.

The Data Protection Authority can lay the foundation for a solid digital economy

The Joint Parliamentary Committee must take cognisance of the far-reaching impact of these issues and lay the foundation of a robust institution that is transparent, competent, independent, predictable and not-overzealous in its rulemaking

Authors: Aparajita Bharti & Nikhil Iyer
Published: October 12, 2021 in the Hindustan Times
The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 is back in action. Twenty-one months after it was set up, the JPC is reportedly drafting a fresh report under the newly appointed Chairperson PP Chaudhary.

This is an opportunity for the JPC to relook at the proposed Data Protection Authority (DPA) under the Bill, whose structural independence and functional competence will be central to India’s data governance and will have huge ramifications for the growth of India’s digital economy.

According to the 2019 draft of the Bill, the DPA is proposed to be a seven-member body appointed by a “Selection Committee” composed solely of three top-level central bureaucrats. The Centre has a virtual monopoly on appointments to the DPA and can also remove any member on various grounds. The absence of any representation either from the judiciary, as the Justice Srikrishna Committee had suggested, or from the Opposition, in the Selection Committee, exacerbates the influence of the central government. Most worryingly, the central government can issue binding directions to the DPA under clause 86, which many have rued as eroding any semblance of independence enjoyed by the DPA.

From an industry perspective, the potential for the central government’s interference does not bode well for policy certainty and ease of doing business. Given the present structure, the government’s political dispensation is likely to influence rulemaking by the DPA which will affect stakeholder confidence and investor sentiment over time.

This becomes even more relevant as the DPA is charged with functions which can change the scope of data regulation significantly through executive action, without bringing these debates to the Parliament. For instance, the DPA can issue regulations specifying “reasonable purposes” for processing of personal data without consent, mechanisms for taking consent, codes of practice to promote compliance, security safeguards and transparency requirements to be implemented by businesses, and so on. In addition, it will also conduct inquiries upon receiving complaints and take appropriate action under the Bill, in effect acting as a quasi-judicial body.

While this delegation of power is necessary to ensure regulation keeps pace with technological innovation, the Bill lacks clearly defined consultation procedure for issuing new regulations and directions. Clause 50 in the Bill mandates that the DPA holds consultations with sectoral regulators and other stakeholders before specifying codes of practice; however, no such corresponding requirement exists for other regulations and directions.

Also, since consultations can be sometimes performative in nature, we need a well-defined procedure to make consultations more transparent, such as publishing the inputs received. DPA should also provide detailed rationale for new rules and directions and publish its orders to record its reasons and develop data governance jurisprudence over time. This will help organisations in the data ecosystem to bake these aspects into their “Privacy by design” principles over time.

Finally, DPA in its current form is expected to micro-manage the implementation of the Bill and is overburdened with routine functions. For example, one of its key functions is to monitor cross-border transfers of personal data. Each transfer of sensitive personal data outside India by a data fiduciary must be approved by the DPA, even if the data principal consents to such transfer and processing. These transfers may be done pursuant to a contract, an intra-group scheme, or otherwise be allowed by the DPA for any specific purpose. This oversized role for the DPA is anachronistic in today’s globalised world, where businesses regularly transfer data across jurisdictions to innovate and develop their products. It also downplays the vitality of individual consent, which is seemingly the bedrock of the PDP Bill, 2019.

Instead, the DPA can publicise and encode best practices in the Codes of Practice for intra group cross border data flows, which can organically become an industry practice, and take action only in cases of violations.

In 2019, India was in the 48th percentile out of 214 countries in the World Bank’s Regulatory Quality Index, posing questions on its ability to “formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development”. A weak Data Protect Authority, a likely super-regulator, given the size and scale of data usage across industries, can risk India’s reputation in this regard further.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee must take cognisance of the far-reaching impact of these issues and lay the foundation of a robust institution that is transparent, competent, independent, predictable and not-overzealous in its rulemaking.

Social welfare delivery in the digital age

Can a digital database help improve access to social welfare schemes?

Authors: Aishwarya Viswanathan & Deepro Guha
Published: October 12, 2021 in the India Development Review
With the increasing digitisation of our lives, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the way digital solutions are being deployed to deliver social welfare programmes and create societal impact. Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs), or population scale platforms, are key examples of digitisation that have great potential to revolutionise welfare service delivery. ODEs are defined as “open and secure digital platforms that enable a community of actors to unlock transformative solutions for society, based on a robust governance framework.” An example of such an ecosystem is IndiaStack, built on the Aadhaar base layer and offering multiple services to citizens of India.

Such ODEs are steadily being built and mainstreamed by the government in multiple sectors such as health, education, and agriculture. The goal is to streamline welfare delivery by helping establish identities, digitising record-keeping, tracking progress, and aiding grievance redressal. If designed and implemented well, ODEs can help fix delivery gaps, payment leakages, coordination failures, and other inefficiencies that plague our current systems of welfare delivery.

Social registries are crucial to ensuring welfare delivery through the ODE tech architecture. A social registry is essentially a database of welfare beneficiaries that has the potential to connect disparate pieces of information that the government might have about an individual/family (such as income, property, education, marital status, employment, disability, etc.). Once set up, it can function as an information system to support outreach, application, registration, and determination of potential eligibility for social welfare programmes. But, in the absence of privacy preserving safeguards and other suitable measures, a social registry can also be a risk to civil liberties and may magnify the problems of exclusion.

In this article, we focus on how best to design social registries that can leverage technology to secure the developmental gains promised by the ODE architecture.

Countries across the world have made building social registries a policy priority. Brazil’s Cadastro Único, the Philippines’ Listahanan, Senegal’s National Unique Registry (RNU, Registre National Unique), and Malawi’s Unified Beneficiary Registry (UBR) are examples of some prominent social registries that have a wide population coverage and provide a number of welfare schemes through them. India too has been swift to embrace this development. The 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) helped in facilitating targeted interventions under various schemes. In August 2021, the Ministry of Labour and Employment also launched the e-Shram portal—a database for unorganised sector workers. This national effort towards creating a social registry is now also being bolstered at the state level, owing to the sheer diversity of vulnerabilities and priorities across the country. The Samagra Portal in Madhya Pradesh, the Parivar Pehchan Patra Yojna in Haryana, and the upcoming State Family Database in Tamil Nadu are all efforts towards the correct targeting of individual beneficiaries and households while extending government welfare benefits.

Despite the progress being made, it is imperative that we remain cautious in our optimism regarding the use of social registries as a basis for eligibility under welfare delivery schemes. Given India’s digital divide and the lack of awareness regarding technological solutions, committing exclusionary errors in social registries will mean exacerbating existing structural inequalities. Moreover, without strong safeguards, these systems may be employed for surveillance, thus posing a risk to civil liberties.

What lessons can we learn from other experiences?
The Centre for Internet and Society’s report Rethinking Data Exchange and Delivery Models: Principles for Privacy Preserving Data Sharing in Digital Governance examines diverse architectural, regulatory, and data collection frameworks of social registries in countries around the world.

Building on the report, we outline some principles and best practices that can help reduce potential dangers, while accentuating benefits of using social registries:

1. Decentralisation
Accumulation of data in a singular database is more likely to result in operational failures and security threats due to the existence of a single point of failure. For instance, if all the data for a social registry is contained within a single database, a potential data breach will bring down the whole system of welfare delivery, having a magnified impact on socio-economic outcomes. In comparison, a decentralised model where responsibilities and vulnerabilities are shared across the system is likely to be a more secure framework.

The arrangements for managing and running social registries vary around the world. For example, in the Philippines, the database Listahanan is managed and operated by a central agency. However, in Brazil, control of the Cadastro Único registry and overall database management is entrusted to the central government, and collection of household registry data and other management tasks are assigned to municipalities, with the state government providing additional support.

For a national registry in India—given the number of beneficiaries, unique development contexts across regions, and multiple welfare schemes—adopting a decentralised model and investing in building capacity of state and local governments is prudent. In such a system, the state and local government can be responsible for linking welfare schemes with the social registry at the local level, while oversight can be the responsibility of the central government.

2. Openness
Given the high-cost structure and dependence on developer support that proprietary software entails, open-source software and open licenses are more desirable in the digital governance context. The flexibility of open source allows for peer review and participation, which in turn increases innovation and ensures security and transparency in government. It also allows more options to customise solutions as well as scale these solutions for wider use.

Malawi’s UBR information system was entirely built using open-source software components, which facilitated independent audits and improved transparency and accountability in the system.

While the use of open-source software is widespread in India, there are parts of the critical public digital infrastructure such as IndiaStack which, although built on open-source software, have not been made publicly available under an open-source license.

In India we can create a national free and open-source software (FOSS) alliance, where a network of committed and relevant stakeholders can work together to facilitate FOSS projects that are aimed at solving India’s biggest societal challenges. This can include using FOSS to develop robust social registries.

3. Independence
Instituting independent bodies for oversight and implementation can help not only in detecting and deterring delivery gaps and leakage, but also as an important source of subject matter expertise. In Kenya, a special Social Protection Secretariat was established to provide technical and subject matter expertise to perform the core functions required to maintain a digitised social registry. These core functions included supporting collection, collation, and dissemination of social protection data, and establishing strategic coordination mechanisms across and between actors.

In India, a National Health Authority (NHA) has been constituted under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as an autonomous body of experts responsible for overseeing the implementation of the National Digital Health Mission (including matters related to the National Health Stack). Creation of other such sector-specific bodies which can provide independent expertise and evaluation of the programme must also be considered.

4. Data collection
Data collection is perhaps the single most important step in the process of creating a social registry. Apart from ensuring population coverage to avoid exclusionary errors, data collection protocols must be established to inform citizens of its purpose, function, and their rights in this process.

In Senegal, during the data collection phase for the RNU, special efforts were made to inform households about the purpose of the social registry, potential users, right not to respond, and more.

Given that only 38 percent of households in India are digitally literate, efforts to build awareness and sensitivity regarding social registries is needed. It is important to design mechanisms that build awareness around consent and privacy among the masses. Businesses, regulatory bodies, governments, and industry must take it upon themselves to raise this awareness by running campaigns aimed at disseminating information and building trust.

Incorporating the principles listed above into the design of social registries will ensure that we realise the promise of development gains from technology, while enabling transformative innovations for welfare delivery at scale.

Levelling the playing field: Protecting the Interests of Automobile Dealers in India

Published: October, 2021

According to a recent Parliamentary Standing Committee Report, the Indian automobile industry is a Rs. 8.2 lakh crore industry and its turnover constitutes 7.1% of overall GDP, 27% of industrial GDP and 49% of manufacturing GDP, clearly signifying its importance as one of the key sectors of the economy. This sector also provides employment, directly and indirectly to about 3.7 crore persons. It is also a large contributor to the national exchequer, contributing 1.5 lakh crore in GST which corresponds to 15% of the total GST collected in December 2020, when the above-mentioned report was submitted.

The value chain of the automobile industry in India typically consists of the automobile manufacturers (“OEM” – Original Equipment Manufacturers) and automobile dealers (“Dealers”) that form the two pillars of the industry along with allied services such as finance, insurance etc. Dealers in India are predominantly small and medium enterprises that provide employment to over 4 million people, making them a significant stakeholder in the welfare of the country. In a country where owning a family car has always been a luxury and a dream, automobile dealerships are an integral part of the business ecosystem and community.

However, the automobile industry and its progress face significant challenges in India. In an industrial landscape muddled by entries and exits of international OEMs, an overall slump in the automobile sector, and the historically imbalanced power structures between OEMs and Dealers, it is the Dealers that often pay the price.

To understand the underlying issues, The Quantum Hub worked with the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA) to undertake a comprehensive comparative analysis of dealership Agreements in India and abroad, while studying the legal frameworks and protections available to Dealers in other countries. The findings have been incorporated into a Policy Brief that can be accessed below.

Our research suggests that the current structure of most contracts in India is not equitable, and a protective legislation may be needed to level the playing field.

Access the brief here

Time to shift civil society’s priorities: A bitter lesson from the pandemic

Authors: Aparajita Bharti and Rohit Kumar
Published: July 09, 2021 in the Indian Express

In the wake of the second wave of COVID, our failure as a country to hold our government accountable is evident. Many voices from within the media acknowledged that a large section of the press had been too busy following the cues, the distractions and the narratives set by the government, so much so that it stopped questioning the government on issues that really mattered. These lapses came to haunt India at the peak of the second wave. But while the media took a share of the blame, civil society perhaps also needs to re-examine its role. Didn’t we too – as members of the civil society – fail in holding the government accountable?

The civil society in India is a thriving milieu of actors – grassroots organisations that connect to the last mile and provide essential services, the think-tanks and academia that churn new policy ideas and generate evidence, the advocacy organisations that amplify and build support for causes, and the large impact funds and philanthropists who decide how these organisations get funded. As with everything else in the economy, India’s civil society has transformed into a more professional sector in the last two decades, drawing talent from the best institutions within India and abroad. There’s more structure now, and more strategic focus on evidence-based policy design and implementation. Committed young Indians championed by well-intentioned philanthropists and donors are keen to contribute to better the lives of all Indians.

However, successive governments have also been wary of this tribe and its energy. Both the UPA and the NDA governments have significantly curtailed the kind of activities that civil society actors can engage in. Philanthropists and donor organisations often find themselves constrained in not being able to support initiatives that strengthen India’s democracy and its accountability mechanisms, for the fear of retribution. Many civil society actors have also holed themselves into engaging with narrow policy problems to be able to measure impact and demonstrate quick ‘wins’, ignoring the fact that ‘small tweaks’ can never fundamentally alter the way India is governed. By ignoring the politics around policy and focusing disproportionately on technocratic solutions, the civil society has also missed the wood for the trees.

Today, it is easier to find money to fund a policy tweak than a campaign to reform the parliament or the judiciary, because such a campaign is harder to measure, harder to sustain and involves taking the power of the day head on. A report by Mckinsey and Company estimated that close to 90 percent of total donor interest in India was targeted towards primary education, primary health care, rural infrastructure and disaster relief, leaving areas such as human rights and governance with minimal funding.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a strong push from the civil society, our democratic institutions by themselves have no intrinsic incentive to reform. With the result that in India’s gravest hour, we had no effective mechanism to hold a sitting government accountable that oversaw a state failure of gigantic proportions. There was palpable helplessness in the judiciary, when judges found it difficult to get answers from the government. Even the Parliament was unable to perform its oversight duty; it barely met in 2020 and the precedent seems to be continuing with the noticeably short monsoon session planned for 2021.

While those of us who study India’s democratic institutions have always been worried about the crumbling system of checks and balances in our democracy, the pandemic has brought the issue into the spotlight. Even to the naysayers, it is clear now that this system needs serious repair. We need to re-look at parliamentary rules that are heavily tilted in favour of the sitting government, strengthen the hands of the judiciary, bolster federalism and independent media, while creating transparency in decision making within the executive. The civil society has an important and irreplaceable role to play here, and philanthropists need to put their might behind this.

A framework by the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for High Impact Philanthropy suggests that philanthropists need to fund initiatives that empower citizens, build fair processes, call for responsive policy, strengthen information and communication networks, and bolster social cohesion. These are the forces that fundamentally shape a democracy. Civil society organisations too, on their part, need to broaden their agenda of work to include cross cutting issues that strengthen India’s institutions while collaborating with each other to present a strong unified voice that demands more transparency and accountability in all areas and levels of policymaking. This involves taking more fights to the courts on transgressions by the government, building public opinion about expectations from a well-functioning democracy and creating tools and fora that help citizens engage with policymaking more readily.

Unfortunately, no matter how many small tweaks we make to policy, how many platforms we build to deliver citizen services and how much evidence we gather to solve specific developmental challenges, unless we preserve the political incentives to act in the interest of people, we risk all our efforts coming to naught. To not be able to see strengthening of institutions and deepening checks and balances as important areas of work is our collective failure, one we must correct immediately.

The authors are co-founders of Young Leaders for Active Citizenship and The Quantum Hub (TQH) Consulting

Making a Gender Responsive Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme

Published: December, 2020

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures in India have taken a toll on all aspects of life, particularly on livelihoods. While job losses have been observed in both rural and urban sectors, recent figures show that there has been an increase in creation of non-salaried jobs in rural areas, but generation of wage employment in the urban sector has remained a challenge. Over 21 million salaried jobs have been lost in India (out of a base of 86 million overall salaried jobs) between April and August 2020. A survey by the Azim Premji University suggests that urban areas posted a loss in employment for 8 in 10 workers. This evidence points to the fact that urban livelihoods have taken a huge hit due to the COVID-19 crisis, and the ability of the urban sector to create new jobs to compensate for these losses is currently under a cloud.

Women have been disproportionately affected by job losses. A recent report tracking the pandemic’s influence on informal work in India suggests that more women were out of work post-lockdown compared to men (about 79 percent of women surveyed, compared to 75 percent of the men). Such findings are expected as women are overrepresented in the informal and unorganised sectors such as domestic work, construction work, beauty and wellness industry, and sex work, which have been acutely impacted due to lockdowns. Even in the formal sector, women are more likely to be hired for temporary or part-time positions, making it easier for firms to let them go if there is downsizing, while avoiding social security benefits.

This decrease is especially worrying, as female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India has witnessed a decline since 1990. Declining female labour force participation in economies is known to lead to several negative externalities including a reduction in household financial, food and nutrition security, as well as a direct reduction in consumption expenditure of households, thereby creating a drag on the growth of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which depends largely on consumption expenditure.

Given the dire consequences induced by the pandemic and its severe impacts in urban areas, several policy experts and analysts have opined that this an opportune time for governments to step in and ensure some semblance of livelihood guarantee in urban areas, much like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) does for rural areas. It is in this context that we undertake this research.

Access the analysis here

This analysis has been authored by Deepro Guha and Aparajita Bharti of TQH. Valuable feedback and inputs were provided by Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head, IWWAGE.

Women and work: How India fared in 2021

A data story on women’s livelihoods and work

Published: January, 2022
The year 2021 continued to be a year of response, recovery and resilience. Even as recovery seemed to be on the horizon, a brutal second wave of COVID-19 brought about a new set of challenges. In line with observations from the first year of the pandemic, women and girls were impacted disproportionately — with structural barriers to equality adding an additional layer of disadvantage to the health crisis. Even as this report is compiled, the Omicron variant threatens to destabilise recovery further, with leaders from across geographies and sectors working towards mitigating its impact.

We need a recovery that is gender-responsive and equitable. In order to achieve this, we need social safety nets that are better designed and inclusive; reduce the gendered divide in access to technology and design hybrid working solutions; reduce and redistribute care work and invest in strengthening the care economy; and, ensure effective and scalable policies and solutions by collecting robust, sex-disaggregated data.

This report stitches together and maps the efforts that are underway to bring women back to work and prepare women and girls for the future of work. The report highlights different developments, whether policy-focused or programmatic, that have defined work for women in India in 2021.

The report also provides a forward-looking perspective on the future of work for a self-reliant India, with a focus on new age skills, entrepreneurship, and the rise of non-traditional livelihoods. Woven through this report are insights around the social indicators that impact women’s participation in the workforce, including issues such as access, health and well-being, and security.

Access the 2021 report here
For the 2020 version of the same report, click here

The report was compiled by the TQH team with valuable inputs from IWWAGE

Budget 2021-22: What Does it Hold for Women’s Safety, Employment and Life?

Authors: Sona Mitra and Sonakshi Choudhry
Published: February 14, 2021 in News18

While there have been some small announcements for women in the budget, women’s core concerns over food and nutrition, employment and livelihoods, and prevention of violence and safety after a year of unprecedented hardship need a further boost.

The Finance Minister’s speech in the Union Budget 2021-22 acknowledged the role of frontline workers in battling the pandemic throughout last year and expressed gratitude for their efforts. It is important to note that almost all of these frontline workers are women and budget announcements have an important impact on the lives of women.

Gender-responsive budgeting in India was adopted in 2005 and since then there have been steady budgetary allocations to different programmes specific to women and in women–related programmes, which are usually part of the gender budget statement of the Annual budget documents. This year has also not been an exception. However, it will be important to note that the pandemic year witnessed hardships for women in terms of securing food and nutrition security, a crisis of employment and livelihood opportunities, increased burden of unpaid work for women and also increased incidence of violence. It is in this backdrop we look at the provisions made for women in this budget.

Two significant announcements that directly impact women’s labour force participation were made by the Finance Minister in her speech.

The first was to universalise water supply facilities through the Jal Jeevan Mission in both rural and urban areas and allocating a massive Rs. 50,000 crores to the programme. This allocation needs to translate into the reality of providing clean drinking water facilities across households in the remotest parts of the country. This is a welcome step that has the potential to reduce women’s time spent on collecting water. The recent time use survey 2019 shows that women spend on an average up to 55 minutes daily to fetch water for the household. Having provided a steady source of water supply has immense potential to reduce this time and cater to the urgent need to improve household infrastructure for women.

The second announcement pertained to extending the coverage of social security benefits for gig and platform workers. It is important in the current context as these are emerging avenues of women’s employment in urban India. The IWWAGE report shows how attractive these opportunities are for women and extending the social security coverage makes the sector even better.

The budget allocations under the social security schemes for workers show an increased allocation of Rs. 3100 crores under Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana – a programme launched as a new scheme to encourage new employment in post lockdown period by providing a fixed share of wages into the EPF funds. While this may be important, the budget does not provide extra allocations for social security of gig and platform workers separately.

In the wake of the pandemic and its unequal impact on women, an analysis of the gender budget (GB) however reveals certain underwhelming trends. The GB stands at Rs. 153,326 crore for 2021-22 BE. Last year’s allocation was Rs. 143,461 crore (BE). As a proportion of total expenditure, the current allocation has fallen to 4.4%, from 4.7% last year.

In the same vein, the allocations to women-specific programmes, reported in the part A of the GB statement Rs. 28,568 crores last year to Rs. 25,261 crores – a decline of almost 12%. Similarly, allocations to the Ministry of Women and Child Development also show a decline of 18.5% since last year.

While the quantum of allocations to most important programmes for women reported in the budget 2021-22 show a status quo or a decline, few accounting changes and a couple of interesting allocations towards women could be located. The announcement of Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 clubs the erstwhile umbrella ICDS, Poshan Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, and National Crèche Scheme and allocates only Rs. 20,105 crores, the Mission Shakti –SAMARTHYA clubs smaller programmes including Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. The detailed breakups and comparisons are provided in Figure 1 and 2. below:

Figure 1. (all scheme heads taken from pg. 351 of the Statement of Budget Estimates)

Figure 2. (all scheme heads taken from pg. 351 of the Statement of Budget Estimates)

The numbers show that allocations to crucial programmes catering to nutrition, creches, and women’s safety and protection have at best stayed the same if not reduced. The allocation to the umbrella ICDS schemes that are under the new ‘SAKSHAM’ head clearly shows a 23% decline of Rs. 5952 crores. We also do not see separate allocations for One Stop Centres, women helpline, Swadhar Greh, Ujjawala and so on which were overwhelmingly used during the pandemic, with heightened reports of violence against women. Instead, those have been clubbed under Mission Shakti— SAMBAL (See Figure 3 below).

Figure 3. (all scheme heads taken from pg. 351 of the Statement of Budget Estimates)

Both MGNREGA and NRLM show increments in budgets since last year. However, the increase in the MGNREGA budget by Rs. 11,500 crores will also need to cater to the increased demand for jobs under the programme. In fact, the GB reports an allocation of only 33% of the total NREGA allocations for women while the Economic Survey itself highlights that almost 50% of all NREGA employment are held by women. These figures itself reveal the need for greater allocation even without expanding the number of days of employment generated under the programme.

The NRLM budget also shows an increase of almost Rs. 4000 crores from the previous year on account of the programme component. However, the allocations do not make it clear whether the increment is on account of increased expenditure on DDU-GKY, or on account of interest subventions to SHGs or the loan moratoriums.

Despite these dampers, an interesting allocation in the GB geared towards closing the gendered digital divide is also spotted. According to the NSS-MoSPI data from 2017-18, only 38% of women own mobile phones and 12.8% use computers compared to the respective male figures of 71% and 20%. Given the need to be digitally included, the GB includes Rs. 120 crores (or almost 40%) of the allocations to Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan – digital literacy programme for rural areas. Albeit small yet in the last few years, this is the first time that GB has included part of the PMGDISHA in its statement. This may have the potential for improving women’s access to opportunities created through digital platforms.

So while there have been some small announcements for women in the budget, women’s core concerns over food and nutrition, employment and livelihoods and prevention of violence and safety after a year of unprecedented hardship need a further boost. These concerns assumed importance in all pre-budget discussions and also made space in the Economic Survey.

While announcements in the budget indicate acknowledgement of these issues, which is a significant first step, budgetary allocations to support them would be truly transformative for half of India’s population.

Sona Mitra is the Principal Economist at Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) an initiative of LEAD at Krea University. Sonakshi Chaudhry is a Senior Analyst at The Quantum Hub (TQH), a policy research and communications firm.

An unlikely common strand of 2020 — land and property rights

Authors: Aparajita Bharti and Bindushree D
Published: December 24, 2020 in the Hindustan Times

A continued focus on land and property rights is important — these cross-cutting issues not only impact the growth of India’s economy but play an important role in the lives of all Indians.

The year 2020 drew sharp focus to land and property rights issues in India. The year began with protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which — if implemented — would have relied on citizens having their land records in place to prove citizenship. Many commentators lamented how landless migrant labour would meet these stringent requirements in a country where land records management is in an abysmal shape with limited digitisation.

With the onset of the pandemic, and India going into an unprecedented lockdown, the shocking sight of migrant labourers walking the highways for days exposed the lack of inclusive housing in our cities. They were forced to leave cities not only due to the lack of affordable housing, but also because informal rent agreements enabled abrupt evictions. While many developed countries enforced rent moratoriums and protections against evictions, in India, authorities could not create such a safety net. Informal tenancy in urban and semi-urban India and landlessness in rural India plunged the most vulnerable populations into further despair.

Lockdowns across the world also forced businesses to consider diversification of their supply chains. This turned the attention of policymakers to the ease of doing business to make India an attractive destination for companies looking to invest in new locations. Again, land reforms became a central part of this conversation. While the central government explored the idea of creating land banks, some states focused on structural reforms. Karnataka amended laws to remove restrictions on buying and selling of agricultural land by non-agriculturalists.

Other developments that brought focus to property rights include the SVAMITVA (Survey of villages and mapping with improvised technology in village areas) scheme launched in April 2020. The scheme aims to survey non-agricultural inhabited land in rural India. The stated goals are connecting rural Indians with institutional credit through better property records, and empowering Panchayati Raj institutions through property tax collection.

In October 2020, in response to the migrant crisis, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs announced the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) Scheme. The scheme aims to fill the affordable housing gap in cities by utilising government-funded vacant houses along with construction, operation and maintenance of new affordable housing projects by private players.

In an unrelated development, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement; it ruled that daughters have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family properties, even if the father died before the enactment of the 2005 Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act. Gender activists celebrated the judgment as this ambiguity had presented a big hurdle for women across India in accessing their property rights.

Though these developments seem disparate, it is worth noting that land and property rights dominated people’s lives and public narrative even in an extraordinary year such as 2020. The year highlighted the fault lines in our land governance and exacerbated the effect of existing inefficiencies in our system.

As we look to kickstart recovery in 2021, one hopes that policymakers will retain focus on making land records services citizen-friendly, undertaking surveys of previously unsurveyed areas, improving land markets and continuing to invest in affordable housing in our urban centres. Presently, there are interesting policy proposals under discussion to achieve these goals. Apart from ARHC and SVAMTIVA that may be scaled up, a Model Tenancy Act aimed at bridging the trust deficit between tenants and landlords is under consideration. The Centre and states are mulling subsidies in stamp duty rates to boost the real estate market and property registration. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are making huge investments in new surveys and technology to improve land governance.

A continued focus on land and property rights is important — these cross-cutting issues not only impact the growth of India’s economy but play an important role in the lives of all Indians. Among other things, 2020 has also been a stark reminder that governments must prioritise securing land and property rights for all its citizens.

How can policies for women’s empowerment be more impactful?

Authors: Rohit Kumar and Sneha Narayana Pillai
Published: February 05, 2021 in the India Development Review

To make substantial strides in women’s economic empowerment, it is clear that a gender lens needs to be incorporated at every stage—from policy design to data collection for monitoring and evaluation.

In the year 1990, renowned economist Amartya Sen shared with the world an intriguing phenomenon he had come to observe, about the 100 odd million women who were simply ‘missing’. In an essay for The New York Times, he wrote, “These numbers tell us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women.” Exacerbating this phenomenon, he noted, were a myriad of social, cultural, and economic factors, including poor access to education, nutrition, health, and economic rights (including property rights). Thirty years later, the UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report 2020 estimates that India accounts for 45.8 million of the world’s 142.6 million missing women.

Research suggests that investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) has important linkages with gender equality. As a result, India has witnessed several schemes and progressive legislation—both at the central and state levels—that aim to empower women and increase their participation in the economy. However, despite the government’s targeted efforts, India has had limited success. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 has ranked India among the five worst countries in the ‘Economic Participation and Opportunity’ index.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened this gendered vulnerability. National Sample Surveys’ data reveals that the Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) has been in decline in rural areas, and has remained stagnant in urban areas since the late 1980s. Similarly, a close look at this data by the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) finds that despite the priority accorded to skilling programmes by the government, less than two percent of women received formal training in 2017-18. But even as 84 percent of formally trained men joined the labour force, less than half of the trained women did so.

There are several reasons that can explain why WEE policies in India may not have had the anticipated impact. However, in the absence of rigorous evaluations of government schemes and policies, evidence remains thin and fragmented. As a first step to addressing the problem, The Quantum Hub (TQH), where we work, has undertaken an exercise to map the landscape of policies and synthesise all available evidence. Additionally, we also undertook a design analysis of some prominent interventions to identify patterns in shortcomings and opportunities, if any. Our hope is that learnings from this exercise will facilitate decision-making until such time when rigorous evidence becomes available, especially since many of these interventions are supported by substantial budgetary commitments.

The approach

The landscape of policies relating to WEE is vast and cross-cutting, and therefore we adopted a clear methodological approach to go about the exercise. We adapted the Longwe Gender Analysis Framework, which uses a progressive hierarchy to measure women’s empowerment. We supplemented this with policy lenses (alignment of incentives of stakeholders and state capacity required for implementation) to understand each policy’s likely effectiveness. These lenses were then used to assess policies and schemes across the core areas for WEE identified by the Overseas Development Institute–collective action, unpaid work, skill development, quality work, social protection, access to property and assets, and financial inclusion.

Well-intentioned schemes, with some unintended consequences

When it comes to policy, it is inevitable that some schemes, no matter how well-intentioned, can have an underwhelming impact, and at times may even contribute to unforeseen adverse effects. Consider the case of the 2017 amendment to the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961. The amendments attempted to boost female workforce participation by increasing maternity leave for working women in the formal sector from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. A 2018 report by TeamLease Services noted that though this amendment may have positive outcomes in the long-term, in the short-term it was likely to deter the hiring of women, and could affect a net job loss for 11-18 lakh women in the first year.

New research by TeamLease confirms that the amendment is yet to show positive outcomes for women’s labour force participation. Many countries in the developed world rely on a mix of maternity and paternity leave and social security support to alleviate this problem, and to align incentives of the employers with the broader objective of supporting women in infant care. Unfortunately, this has not been done in the Indian context.

Another example is the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana that aimed to increase the uptake of clean fuel by subsidising LPG. While the scheme consistently achieved its target in terms of LPG connections, a study by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics found that it has not been as successful in its primary objective of displacing the use of firewood. Reasons for this range from the unaffordable cost of refills to a gendered bias due to which women are reluctant to spend on their own well-being. Reconsidering pricing and disbursal mechanisms in the design of the scheme, while also increasing distributor incentives to reach remote areas, may have improved overall outcomes.

Implementation-intensive design lowers efficiency

In our analysis, we noticed that policies which are implementation-intensive, such as those that require local discretion and extensive monitoring and/or reporting are likely to suffer from inefficient implementation as well as leakages. A case in point is the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) scheme which aims to enhance lending for small businesses, with special incentives to lend to women entrepreneurs. The scheme is implementation-intensive and requires officials in financial intermediaries such as banks to take decisions on disbursement of loans to beneficiaries with limited credit histories, assess business plans for risk, and closely monitor the use of approved loans. These aspects can be administratively difficult, especially in the context of smaller loans. Some commentators have argued that the MUDRA scheme has not been very successful in increasing access to credit; instead, financial intermediaries have simply reclassified existing loans under different MUDRA categories to meet targets.

This is not to say that all implementation-intensive policies are problematic. Schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) that require higher state capacity for implementation still perform reasonably well, because the incentives of stakeholders are better aligned. Under MUDRA, given high transaction costs and potential credit risk, the incentives for financial intermediaries to push MUDRA loans may not be adequately aligned.

The missing lens in policy design

Certain schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) which aims to upskill young adults to make them job-ready have prominent gaps in their design, owing to a missing gendered perspective. The PMKVY, for instance, does not factor in the unique issues faced by women. An important reason why skilling programmes often do not work for women is the lack of flexibility in schedule, lack of crèche facilities, concerns regarding safety, and inadequate support in terms of counselling and placement. Stereotyping of the skills offered to women results in further occupational segregation. Policies that allow for credit transfers and induct more female teachers, especially in courses traditionally considered unsuitable for women, can make a difference.

Contrast this with a scheme such as NREGA. It reinforces the concept of gender parity by making a deliberate choice to allocate at least one-third of the total workdays to women, provisioning for worksites near places of residence, and by ensuring uniformity in wages between men and women. As a result, women’s participation in this scheme has been consistently higher than that of men.

A similar gender lens is also much-needed in data collection, where the lack of disaggregated data on scheme implementation has made it harder to understand the impact of policies on women. For instance, in the case of a gender-neutral scheme like Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), which was launched in 2018, gender-disaggregated data was not available until 2020. Consequently, it was impossible to understand how effective the scheme was in providing affordable healthcare to women or in addressing women-specific medical conditions. A gender study on PM-JAY published in 2020 by the National Health Authority noted that, “Out of total 50 top procedures from top 10 specialities (excluding obstetrics and gynaecology as they are utilised by females only), percentage utilisation is higher for males in 60 percent procedures, and 32 percent procedures are utilised more by females,” thus revealing a gender gap in the utilisation of the scheme. Gender disaggregated evidence is a critical marker for the responsible ministry to undertake corrective measures to make the beneficiary base as inclusive as possible.

What works for women’s economic empowerment?

Several studies have noted that one of the more successful schemes targeting women’s empowerment is the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). This scheme has been instrumental in creating self-help groups (SHGs) and has helped empower women at the grassroots, both socially and economically through collective action, especially during crises such as the recent pandemic. By bringing women from poor families into the SHG network, NRLM has empowered them with opportunities for employment or self-employment and access to finance. These community-level institutions have also helped in creating sensitive support structures right up to the block level, with women members often assisting each other with issues such as domestic violence, financial savings, skilling, and participation in local governance. Through the experience of NRLM, it is evident that collective action schemes can play a vital role in women’s empowerment as numerous other interventions can also piggyback on SHGs.

The Indian Stamp Act, 1899 is another example that stands out. Under this act, many state governments have reduced stamp duty applicable on property held by women, thereby incentivising the family to register the property in the name of women. As a policy intervention, it is also relatively simpler to implement, which makes it work well for WEE.

The way ahead

To make substantial strides in women’s economic empowerment, it is clear that a gender lens needs to be incorporated at every stage—from policy design to data collection for monitoring and evaluation. A stronger focus on policies where stakeholders’ incentives are aligned and those that impose lesser demands on state capacity, while giving greater visibility to women in decision-making can lead to better outcomes. Every policy that does not take into account these lenses is a lost opportunity to address the barriers that impact women’s economic empowerment; a lost opportunity to stop women from going ‘missing’.