Emerging Gig Economy A Prime Opportunity to Include Working Women
India’s rapid progression toward the gig economy and the creation of freelancing culture is a prime opportunity to establish practices that include more women, whose labor force participation rate in the Indian economy has been abysmal under the conventional work culture, a report by the Observer Research Foundation finds.
“Rewriting The Rules: Women and Work in India” delineates several ways in which existing patriarchal norms in society and oppressive institutional frameworks keep women’s participation rate in the labor force at a measly 27 percent (and very likely lower), against the global average of 49 percent.
With an increasing number of companies contracting work out to freelancers and other informal workforces, there is an opportunity to bridge the gap. But doing so requires bolstering freelancer benefits to make sure women don’t slip through the cracks even as they’re taking hold of the financial clout the gig economy offers.
Give protections such as healthcare, pensions and insurance directly to the workers, instead of channeling it through employers, the report recommends. Protections afforded to salaried workers through government-implemented labor regulations, such as social security, should be extended to those working in the informal sector — a majority of whom are women. They make up 59 percent of all domestic workers in the country, the report says.
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Similarly, the provisions of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013, which made compulsory the establishment of institutional frameworks to protect women at work, should be afforded to freelancers and independent consultants, the report argues. Yet, a recent survey conducted by the World Economic Forum and ORF found that 84 percent of companies they surveyed didn’t even know about the government policy. A direct result of such ignorance is acute restriction of women’s freedom and economic participation, according to the report.
Another impediment to women’s financial mobility and participation is “gender segregation” into traditionally low-paying jobs, such as education, social work, healthcare and textiles. Only 15 percent of women are employed in the highest-paying industries, such as IT and finance, the report states. The ORF+WEF survey found that a whopping 36 percent of companies didn’t want to hire more women, as they preferred male employees. Such rampant discrimination has led to eight times more men working in high-paying jobs than women, while three times more women become family workers, according to the Global Gender Gap report released by WEF.
The problem very likely begins in schools, wherein girls and boys are encouraged toward different subjects. “As the digital economy grows, and new jobs and new skills emerge, women and girls will be left behind without concentrated investments in increasing their education in future-proof industries and occupations,” according to ORF.
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Another dire problem keeping Indian women from increasing their labor force participation is the gender wage gap, now flaunting its well-documented discrepancy at 34 percent. If the new work culture within the gig economy is not actively regulated, women face the possibility of being disadvantaged all over again. In a survey of 1 million Uber drivers, it was found that men earn 7 percent more than women do. Male freelancers are already making 50 percent more than female freelancers, another study found. On top of it all, cultural biases and subsequent restricted access to financing has limited women entrepreneurs in India, only 14 percent of whom run their own businesses, according to the National Sample Survey Organization.
In order to move toward a more equitable society, it is essential that the newer economy and work culture be made gender-inclusive, before the ghosts of evils past decide to haunt us into the next century.