Interview: Sucharita Sen

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Now in urban areas the cultural values permit the women more to go into the job markets, whereas in rural areas it’s thought of as a matter prestige.
In India if a woman is working — which I learned that in China it’s different — if a woman is working it is not taken as a positive thing for the family pride.
So very often what would happen is that when the family does better the women who were working under distress would be dropped from the labor force. It is called prosperity-induced withdrawal.
So you become more prosperous, you withdraw your women folk from the labor force.
That could possibly be associated also with higher levels of prosperity in the peri-urban area compared the rural area where women withdraw from the labor force to start with.
I have analyzed for two points of time.
One is from 2004 to 2005 and 2011 - 2012. Over the seven years what I have seen is that in both periods of time women are the worst off in the peri-urban area in terms of work participation rates.
这两个时间段分别是 2004 至 2005 年,以及 2011 至 2012 年。在这七年之间我观察到,这两个时间段内,印度城市周边地区妇女参加工作率最低。
However the gap has bridged in the sense that urban core has actually improved in terms of work participation.
In the peri-urban area women in relation to men have remained the same, although in absolute sense they have gone down a little bit.
In rural interiors they have lost out on jobs and that’s sort of a question mark that we are struggling with in India because it’s a widespread phenomena.
My argument was that the process of urbanization which is slowly spreading in the peri-urban area probably has a beneficial effect over time for women in relation to men.
The cultural value or urbanism is spreading so there are probably lesser restrictions for women to enter into the labor force and probably more diverse kinds of opportunities are available.
So they are restricted in terms of their mobility and if they get job opportunities which are very close to their home, where they have regular salaried jobs — because one of the things that I see is that the peri-urban women are more into regular salaried jobs, so they are really holding out until such a time that they are really getting the jobs that they want to.
Only then does it make it worthwhile for them to leave home and go for jobs. So they have better quality of work, but they have lower work participation rates.
So over a period of time I think these kinds of jobs are more available and therefore the gaps are bridging.
I think we had a discussion yesterday whether you would rather have creche facilities for the women and then they could enter the job market or you would want to promote home-based work.
The problem with home-based work is the following — that you have typically low wage-rates associated with home-based work and it’s typically very exploitative in nature.
So people generally would not try and promote home-based work.
The second problematic thing with home-based work is that since it does not — sociologists argue that since it does not give women the mobility and interaction which they otherwise have, the kind of social environment they have otherwise would not happen in case of home-based work.
Having said this I feel that, yes, if it would work to provide creche facilities and if it works, that’s a better option.
However, I think the kind of multiplicity of factors which hold back a woman in the home is far more complex than only child care.
There’s elderly care, there’s other domestic work and things like this which will not get sorted out only by a creche facility and also you will really have to do a lot of planning about the locations of the creche facilities — where the woman has to go and leave the child and pick up the child, so all those things are a little complicated.
Government in a way has to intervene in terms of protecting at least the minimum statutory wage rates.
What is known is that in the home-based work, many, many times it’s totally in the informal sector and therefore it’s not regulated at all.
Now I think it’s very important that that needs to regulated and at least the wage rates have to be much higher than they are. It is only then I think women can productively go into home-based work.
More women in peri-urban areas say they want home-based work and they would want a regular but part-time home-based work.
So I think that’s a leading point and I’m sure that if this was available then the work participation rates in the peri-urban area would go up and it would sort of counter some of the negative demographic conditions that they are in.
That is the reason why I suggested — with the rider that the government has to through either the civil society or NGOs or even through the private sector — has to regulate that these wage rates are statutory wage rates.