[Women Empowerment] Women and Work

1. Nature, Range and Patterns of Women’s Work: Their household work remains mostly invisible and unrecognised. Here it is essential to categorise various types of work done by women in terms of paid and unpaid work. This will give us a broad idea to understand the significance of women’s work
both in the family and in the society.


a)      What is Women’s Work?: women were the major producer of food, textiles and handicrafts throughout human history and continue to provide a major labour input where production is still in the small scale subsistence sector. Components of women’s work include housework, paid and unpaid work related to home-based craft activities, family enterprise or business and paid work outside home. The kind of work women do is determined by women’s position in the society and family’s location in the social hierarchy. The basic elements of women’s work within the home are related to the division of labour between men and women. Activities included under ‘housework’ broadly differ according to age, gender, income, occupational group, location (rural/urban), size and structure of the family.

b)      Unpaid Work in Home-based Production and Family Farms: Economists distinguish between production for self-consumption and production for the market. Only the latter is counted as ‘work’. In rural areas the women from the poorer households engage in various activities such as cooking, processing of food for household consumption, storing grains, childcare, fetching fuel wood, fodder and water, collection of forest produce, preparation of cow dung cakes, care of livestock and cattle and house repair and maintenance. Much of this work, which is important for the maintenance of families, is largely done by women. However, this work is unpaid and is not accounted for as productive work as it is meant for self-consumption. The conventional definition of ‘work’ does not include activities, which are of use value and do not have exchange-value. In the agricultural sector small and marginal farmer households utilise family Labour In the non-agricultural sector such as handicrafts, handloom weaving, pottery, food preservation and processing etc., a large proportion of women are home-based workers. Non-valuation of women’s unpaid work within the home results in non-recognition of women’s crucial economic contribution.

c)      Female Child Labour: Girls continue to provide free labour in home-based production. Studies on rural girl child labour show that she works nine hours a day which keep her out of school. She works on an average 318 days a year in the fields and at home providing free labour. Girls are also employed in large numbers in carpet industry of Kashmir, in lock making in Aligarh, in gem polishing in Jaipur, in match industry in Sivakasi Such work cuts them off from schooling, literacy, learning technical skills and improving their job prospects.

d)      Paid Work: Women also work for wages in fields, forests, mines, factories, offices, small
scale and household industries. Women in the subsistence sector have no option but to work. However, their options are limited as they  are non-entrants or drop-outs from school.

i)                    Education, Paid Employment and Household Responsibilities: The spread of education among the middle and upper class women has opened up new avenues of employment. Illiteracy =major barrier to increasing and diversifying work and training opportunities. Pre-defined roles, ideology and labour market forces in a labour surplus economy effectively restrict women’s work opportunity among educated women of certain sectors. Working outside home on the same terms and conditions, as men, does not absolve them from their domestic responsibilities. The dual burden of work creates physical, mental and emotional strain.= delayed promotions or sacrificing new job opportunities due to family responsibilities.

ii)                   Agricultural and Industrial Sectors: Gender inequalities exist in all sectors. Inequalities are reflected in distribution of women workers in different sectors, in job hierarchies and in wages and earnings between men and women. Industrialisation has created more work opportunities for a small section of educated women but at the same time has reduced work opportunities for unskilled women workers who were the traditional workers in textiles, jute, mines etc. The high concentration of women in household industries rather than factory-based production affects their status as workers with no control on their labour and earnings.

iii)               Women in Services and Professions: As far as women in services and professions are concerned there is no wage discrimination but they are concentrated in certain types of jobs like teachers, nurses, typists and stenographers and very few occupy higher positions in administration, business, technical jobs and professions.

Gap between men and women in the services and professions is large. The reasons are Girls are generally socialised for their domestic roles, less investment in the vocational and technical training of girls, higher concentration of girls is found in humanities and social sciences rather than vocational and technical courses, there is less physical mobility among women after marriage.

iv)               Earning Differentials: An expression of discrimination against women in labour market is wage differential. They not only get unequal pay for equal work but many jobs that women do are categorised as low skilled jobs for which lower wages are paid.

e)      Women Workers and the Growth of Unorganised Sector: A majority of women (eighty seven per cent) are working in the rural and urban unorganised sector without the protection of labour legislation regarding wages, hours of work, working conditions, health and maternity benefits and childcare services. The labour force in this sector is characterised by higher incidence of casual labour and intermittent nature of work, low wages, and low capital incentives.

2. Determinants of Women’s Work: There are various factors, which determine women’s work.

a)      Structural Factors: The key structural variables, which determine women’s work, are

i)                    Family, Caste, Class and Community: basic elements of women’s work within the family are related to division of labour between men and women. Women from upper caste in rural areas do not engage in out of home wage employment, as ‘non-work’ is linked to the notion of ‘higher status’ and prestige. Caste-based occupations also such as smithery, pottery, weaving, and leather work etc. where there is a well-defined sexual division of labour. There are different notions among different classes, castes and community about ‘appropriateness’ or ‘suitability’ of certain types of work for women. Teaching and nursing are considered to be suitable jobs for women. in agriculture the tasks of sowing, threshing, breeding transplanting etc.

ii)                  Regional Differences: In the South, North-East and Central tribal belt, women’s work participation is high in comparison to North India. Women’s work participation is higher in rice growing areas than in wheat growing areas. The reasons are both cultural and economic.

iii)                Labour Market: in agriculture women do not plough, they do weeding, transplanting and harvesting In industries like electronics women are mostly employed in assembly jobs. Similarly, in services women are concentrated in teaching, nursing and office jobs.

iv)                Environmental Changes and Women’s Work: in the areas hit by water scarcity and deforestation, women spend long hours in collecting fuel wood for cooking, fodder for cattle and water for home consumption. In the hill areas of Uttar Pradesh women actively participate in the Chipko movement to prevent destruction of forest as it resulted in increasing difficulties in the collection of fuel, fodder and water and other daily requirements of their life

b)      Socio-cultural Factors=

i)                    Values, Norms, Attitudes and Customs: these exercise greater control over women’s work than in the case of men. For example, agricultural development has changed the values and attitudes to work among certain caste groups. obvious result has been that of the withdrawal of women from manual agricultural activities among these caste groups. The process of Sanskritisation leads to the withdrawal of women from manual activities in the families moving up in the social hierarchy.

ii)                  Family Ideology and Socialisation of Girls: Girls are socialised from their childhood to accept the family ideology. It not only affects the women’s work roles, but also determines the self-perception and role expectation.

iii)                Gender-based Division of Labour: It is one of the important reasons for the high concentration of women workers in the low paid jobs.

iv)                Self-Perception of Need to Work-choice vs. Compulsion: Their own perception of work and their attitude to work stems from the link seen between education, earnings and family’s status and the importance of their economic contributions to the family. For middle class women in white-collar employment and for women in higher professions, work or employment has a different meaning than for agricultural labourers or factory workers or domestic workers.

3. Processes which Transform Women’s Roles: Social, economic and political processes transform women’s work roles.

a)      Education and Training: There are strong links between education, training and better-paid jobs. It is argued that women’s education can help them to seek higher quality employment. The problem of retaining girls in school and high drop-out rate is due to the fact that poor families rarely see education from the point of view of better prospects or investment for the future. Only a small section of educated girls among middle and upper classes plan their careers. Women opt for liberal arts, humanities and home science due to sex stereotyping of roles and sometimes reluctance on the part of families to make a long-term investment in technical and vocational education and training of girls and for various other reasons.

b)      Technological Changes: class and gender bias in technical education, women are often at a disadvantaged position when technical changes are of labour-replacing type. Agricultural modernisation and industrialisation have displaced women unskilled workers. For example, in green revolution areas mechanisation of farm operations like weeding, harvesting, threshing etc. has replaced women from their traditional jobs. the impact of technology on women industrial workers (in food, tobacco, textiles and minerals) demonstrates that capital intensive industries had adverse effect on female labour absorption. Introduction of technology needs new skills and training and women are often disadvantaged.

c)      Access to Land and Other Productive Resources: gender often determines women’s access to productive resources (Land, Capital and Technology). For example, women have low access to land. Since most of the land is owned by the male members of the family, institutional credits including technological know-how are sanctioned by the development agencies in the name of the male members of the household. =women become increasingly dependent on men.

d)      Women Producers and Worker’s Organisations as Pressure Groups: Poor working women largely in the unorganised sector have gained very little from the trade union movement. Over the years the participation of women has not only decreased in the organised workforce but also within the trade unions.

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