The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Globalisation gives women workers a miss

Mumbai, March 11: After two decades of globalisation, where do women workers stand' Not up there.

“In India, 96 per cent of the urban and rural poor women work in the decentralised sector. These women have less control over their work and no chance for upward mobility because of temporary, routine and monotonous work,” said Vibhuti Patel, member secretary of the women’s development cell of Mumbai University. She was speaking at a workshop on women and globalisation organised last week on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

“Between 1987-88 and 1999-2000, women’s share in the total rural or urban workforce had fallen slightly. Contrary to expectations, there was no remarkable expansion of manufacturing employment in India and the share of women in it had remained almost unchanged,” said economist Nirmala Banerjee.

“Women constitute only 14 per cent of the total employment in the organised sector,” she said. In the urban areas, the female economic activity rate has increased from 37.6 per cent in 1983 to 52.9 per cent in 1999, according to the Economic Survey, 2002.

“Women of the Third World are seen as the most flexible of the world’s labour force. In the export-oriented industries, the production of leather goods, toys, food products, garments, diamond and jewellery, piece-rate female labour is employed, working from sweatshops or from home. Outsourcing is the name of the game,” Patel said.

“There has been a drastic increase in girl-child labour,” she added.

“Easing restrictions on exports and imports as well as on movements of investment capital had started in India since 1984. The year 1991 is often taken to mark a turning point because it was then (that) the government declared an overall integrated policy to accelerate the process and allowed the rupee to float freely,” Banerjee said.

Towards the end of this period (between 1987-88 and 1999-2000), there was a slight fall in the rates of unemployment and there was a marked fall in the unemployment rates among urban educated women.

“A growing section of all additional jobs was as casual labour, but in the case of urban women there was a sharp increase in regular salaried jobs in service industries,” Banerjee said, quoting the figures from the Quinquinnial Surveys of Employment and Unemployment of the National Sample Survey Organisation.

“During the latter half of the 1990s, it was in construction and trade where overall employment had grown in both rural and urban areas; but for women, the more friendly venues were of manufacturing in rural India and in services, particularly in urban areas,” she said.

After reforms were initiated, inter-state differences vis-a-vis women’s participation in the workforce were accentuated.

“The south (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala) had contributed the most to the increase in the numbers of women workers, with the west (Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh) coming next,” said Banerjee.

Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh did well but in the rest of the northern and eastern states, employment trends were very sluggish.

“In Rajasthan as well as Bihar, there was a decline in the actual number of women. In other eastern states, the increase was positive but marginal. For male workers, there was positive increase in all zones, but for them, too, growth was concentrated mainly in the south and the west. The slow growth in employment at the all-India level was thus mainly due to developments in the northern and eastern states,” the economist said.

But Banerjee warned against looking at women’s participation in the workforce as being shaped by market forces alone as gender ideologies play a very important role. “Women are first and foremost regarded as a resource for the family,” she stressed, pointing out that women’s employment has increased in areas where women were always more likely to be working.

She also said there were many vital questions to be answered, post-globalisation.

“There are facile questions such as are women buying more silk saris in response both to Ekta Kapoor and also to changed silk prices due to cheaper imports of Chinese silk' But there are others of more vital concern as, for example, are more women from low-income households being able to switch to sanitary napkins that are now being sold cheaply by multinationals in place of the unhygienic cloth pieces they had to use before'

“Even more vital are questions such as whether or not because of the rising prices of medicines, discrimination between males and females in the intra-family expenditure on healthcare has become more manifest,” she said.

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