Women in India doing more than they get credit for: Ruby Sinha, Founder, & Convenor, BRICS CCI Women’s Wing

It is time that we stand up and take note of women and their contributions to the economy writes Ruby Sinha.


As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the world, the media has helped tell the stories of heroes who have helped deal with the crisis -- both economic and social. But there are very few women in those stories if you discount New Zealand's Prime Minister and Peru's Finance Minister who did a good job of tackling the coronavirus outbreak and its economic fallout.

Back home, there has been barely any portrayal of a woman who is seen leading the way in these times of devastation from the front. India’s own Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman did come into the limelight when she announced a 20 trillion rupee stimulus package aimed at supporting households and businesses during in the wake of COVID-19 but there is still a lot left to be done. So, does that mean we lack women heroes? Not quite. Our women heroes are hiding in plain sight, in each of our homes. The mother who runs the household, the wife who manages the home, the sister who silently does her bit and the daughter who dutifully attends to studies -- they are all heroes, regardless of whether their stories have been chronicled or not.

Through the ages, women have specialized in the unpaid work of raising children, maintaining households, and caring for others, while men have been more likely to earn wages in the market, according to a paper published by the East West Centre. Standard measures of economic activity, such as gross domestic product, are based on the market value of labour income.

Although labour income is defined comprehensively, it does not include the value of unpaid care provided within the household or the many forms of housework—such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, and general household management and maintenance. These are just the activities that are largely performed by women. As a result, much of the work of women remain invisible in economic monitoring systems and thus outside of the realm of economic analysis and policy development, argue the authors of the paper titled "Counting Women's Work: Measuring the Gendered Economy in the Market and at Home.

On an average, women deliver 4.5 hours of free labour per day in household chores and childcare regardless of where they are in the world. In developing countries, the work can be 10 times as much as men. A conservative estimate by McKinsey puts the cost of unpaid labour done by women worldwide at at-least $10 trillion—more than the GDP of China, that is if they are paid only the minimum wage.

In India, we have estimates for the shadow economy, otherwise known as the black economy, but none that takes into account the unpaid work of women. But it can be safely said that if women, who account for 49% of India's population but only 18% to economic output, were to hypothetically stop their work, the economy as we know it would cease to exist.

But that is not to say that women's work is completely unaccounted for. Less than 25% of women in India are part of the labour force, one of the lowest standings in the world, and they earn 35% less on average than men, compared to the global average of a 16% gap. Their contribution to economic output is only 18%, although they account for 49% of the population.

Women in India are not alone in facing such discrimination. In Japan, the government enacted a law in 1985 to stop companies from showing a bias for male employees. The result: the number of female workers in Japan increased from 15.48 million in 1985 to 24.36 million in 2014. Women now account for 43 percent of the labour force, up from 36 percent three decades ago, according to the Japan Times.

It is probably time we stood up and took note of women and their contribution to the economy. So, while the nation awaits yet another stimulus package to get the growth momentum going, it would do good if we collectively as a society acknowledge the work of women in keeping the economy ticking.

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