Women migrants in India were the worst hit during Covid 19 pandemic, with majority of them facing the double burden of earning a livelihood and unpaid care work at home.
In many cases, the pandemic halved women’s incomes with 56 per cent of them reporting an increase in unpaid care work, said a new report “Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Women Migrant Workers”. The UNDP did the survey of 10,161 migrant women workers (with an average age of 31 years) from 12 states in India,
The report stated that importance of social protection measures along with four dimensions of food security, cash assistance, government health insurance and protection against domestic violence, is essential to build forward. The UNDP also mentioned in the report that only around one-fifth of all the respondents were enrolled in government health insurance schemes during the first wave of the pandemic. These people also fell into poverty, hunger, illness, homelessness, and social stigma.
UNDP Resident Representative in India Shoko Noda opined that the analysis would provide the government policy options to adopt adequate public policy interventions to increase the positive impacts of human mobility, especially for women migrant workers, to work in safety and dignity.
DECLINING INCOMES AND LOWER PAYING JOBS
The analysis shows that about four out of 10 respondents in the survey were laid off due to the pandemic. About two out of ten left their jobs voluntarily, the report said. Most of the women mainly pointed out familial reasons like marriage for migration. Some of the women after migrating with their families would take up jobs in destination towns or villages. But with the nationwide lockdown, women migrant workers with stable jobs may have had to leave their jobs to migrate back home with their family members who faced job losses. Another possible reason could be that they left their jobs because of the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work.
LOWER PAID JOBS
Apart from an increase in unemployment rates, the pandemic also led to a high transition to lower paying jobs. The UNDP in the analysis said that two out of ten out respondents with good jobs were forced into lower paying casual work or, in extreme cases, unemployment. Similarly, around one out of ten casually employed people were unemployed in December.
With unemployment and lower paying jobs, the household monthly income also fell by about 43 percent from Rs. 14,822 in February to Rs. 8,379 in July. However, there was a slight recovery as incomes rose to Rs. 11,975 ($159.67) by November. The report also mentioned that about 26 percent of the respondents’ households were in debt in February as well as in December.
The Centre Government announced fiscal package of about 22.8 billion dollars to support the most vulnerable sections of the society through the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. Through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the Public Distribution System (PDS), the government ensured employment and food security. International Financial Institutions also provided one billion dollars aid to the country. However, interstate migrants faced more administrative hurdles while accessing the Public Distribution System than the intrastate migrants did. The migrant workers faced the utmost challenge of access to the PDS in destination states. For instance, a ration card registered in one’s native state excludes them from availing themselves of the benefits under the PDS in the destination state.
During the pandemic, the report said that women did not get the support when facing domestic violence. Moreover, domestic violence also increased with the pandemic. The study also calls for bridging the digital divide to ensure timely support to women through mobile-based applications and helplines. It said that about nine out of ten respondents reported experiencing domestic violence both before and after the lockdown also reported that the situation had worsened during the lockdown.
The UNDP in the study recommended the creation of hotspots of vulnerability in the country and using targeting methods to reach out to the most vulnerable populations. It also raised the importance of a database for mapping the skills of migrant workers and mechanisms for employment exchange fairs and campaigns, in close coordination with private sector partners to generate new employment and livelihood opportunities.