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Empower women with govt jobs

Filling vacancies in State govt will help, especially given the provision of 33% reservation for women in these jobs

Providing employment opportunities for women as more and more of them are getting educated is a challenge. Women’s employment has wide ramifications not just for their own well-being but also for the entire economy, and has been a policy concern as India is facing a declining trend in women’s employment over the last 20 years.

Urban employment rates in India have always been low and stagnant. In the recent period, rural employment has also been seeing a sharp decline as women exit agriculture and find no alternative occupations. These issues are particularly relevant for a state like Telangana, which has seen a rapid rise in education levels among women as well as decline in fertility rates.

While some may argue that the problem of low female workforce participation in India is largely because of cultural restrictions on women being in employment, evidence shows that women do want to work if they find appropriate employment.

What Women Want

High unemployment rates among educated women also point to this with the recent NSS data showing that the unemployment rate among female youth is 17.7%. This is also seen in the large number of applications that are received for government posts to even the lowest paid forms of public employment, including from women. In this context, it is important to know what women are looking for when they search for employment. To understand this, we spoke to young women across different rural districts of Telangana in the age group of 15-29, who were studying in college or university, and asked them about their aspirations and ambitions for their careers.

All expressed a strong desire not to be in agriculture and shared that this was one of their as well as their parents’ motivation while pursuing higher education. However, having now acquired formal education, they found that the options for formal employment were few and far between. The absence of jobs near their place of stay was one major challenge they faced. For instance, Karuna, a respondent, said, “Even after studying so much, we are going for agriculture work! We are desperately trying for jobs, but there are no jobs nearby for women. But if boys study only till intermediate, it’s enough. They can easily go to Gadwal or Hyderabad. The parents also easily agree.”

Smooth Journey

Distance and mobility restrictions, often linked to the absence of safe and reliable public transport, was one of the major barriers in finding employment. Shalini, for instance, talked about how her father would not allow her to travel to Raichur or Ieeja, the nearest towns from her village where jobs were available.

The few jobs that are available locally are very low paying and have poor work conditions. One option that the women said they had was to work as teachers in private schools, but these often paid very low salaries, without any contracts, had no leave provision and did not even pay during holidays. Given this situation, most of the women expressed a desire and preference for government jobs.

The advantages of government jobs were seen to be many. They paid better salaries to begin with, even in the case of temporary/contract/scheme workers in comparison with what was available in the private sector. For example, a Vidya volunteer gets Rs 12,000 per month compared with an average of Rs 4,000 in a private school. Even ASHAs whose educational qualification is only 10th pass earn Rs 6,000. This is not a reflection on government paying adequate or high salaries, but that the private jobs in rural areas are even worse. In the case of government employment, security of tenure was another major attraction. Additionally, the provision of paid leave, especially maternity, for regular employees is something that many of the respondents supported.

Empower women

Social Acceptance

A major factor in favour of government jobs is also social acceptance. From a very young age, girls are socialised to think that government jobs are most appropriate for them. Meena (21) sums it up by saying, “More than my thinking capacity, if you see societally, they say that a government job is the best as it is a secure job.” Many families in villages who do not allow women to do private jobs have no objection if it was a government job.

Government jobs also offer respectability that allows them a greater choice when marriages are decided. Jyoti says, “If we have a govt job, then the dowry rate will be less. Because then, we both will have a job! But then I can ask why I should give dowry! But there is the other side too. Education also means dowry becomes higher because the boy has to be more educated!” Another respondent explained, “before becoming a Sub-inspector, akka’s dowry rate was Rs 10 lakh, now her parents only need to pay Rs 2 lakh!”

Even from a macro perspective, there are many advantages of expanding public employment opportunities at the local level, especially for women. Firstly, there are a number of services that the government provides, which contribute to better human development outcomes (health and education), which are currently understaffed and have huge vacancies. This affects the quality of services and adversely impacts the outcomes, which are crucial for future growth and productivity.

India has one of the lowest share of public employees to population ratios in the world with the ratio being 16 per 1,000 population compared with 57 in China and 111 in Brazil.

Secondly, government employment can be a way to encourage more women in paid employment, generate opportunities for women with a lower gender-pay gap as well as in sectors beyond not only what is traditionally seen as being ‘women’s roles’. In the current context where India is facing a challenge of inadequate rural demand, providing jobs at the local level for those who have a greater propensity to spend on consumption of local goods can have high multiplier effects for the overall growth of the economy.

Filling vacancies in government is a longstanding promise of the Telangana Chief Minister – women’s employment would be a good place to start, as the State also has a provision of 33% reservation for women in government jobs.

(Dipa Sinha is faculty at Ambedkar University, Delhi and Diksha Shriyan is an Independent Researcher. This article is based on their recent study on women and public employment commissioned by IWWAGE, a research initiative of LEAD at KREA University)

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