75 per cent of these women survive on less-than-minimum wages, finds survey
Despite low literacy rates, most of the low-income single women in the country are not dependent on their families but run their households on their own, according to the findings of a study released by Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh. However, since the government does not consider them so, they are neglected and forced to survive on less than the prescribed minimum wage.
Mr. Ramesh released the study amid a plethora of promises to provide economic security.
The survey covered widowed, separated, divorced and unmarried women in Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It found that dropout rates prior to completion of primary or secondary education were high, apparently because of early marriage.
There are about 4 crore single women in the country and they account for about 8 per cent of the female population, according to the 2001 census.
These women, even if part of an extended family, are not dependent on their fathers, brothers or in-laws, but fend for themselves and their children.
Of those surveyed, mostly young women, 15.5 per cent live alone. This percentage could be even greater in the higher age groups, whose adult children have established separate households.
These women, who lack financial security, education and vocational skills, earn their meagre incomes from manual labour. Often exposed to exploitation and abuse, 75 per cent of these women live on less-than-minimum wages and 90 per cent are forced to borrow to make ends meet.
With the Planning Commission regarding a rural spending of Rs.26 as coming under the Above Poverty Line category, only 21 per cent of these women have been considered eligible for the Below Poverty Line category.
They face an acute problem finding housing and shelter as they are harassed by family members and neighbours over accusations of “immoral behaviour” and threatened with eviction. The government too has been blamed for threatening them with eviction.
The separated and divorced women are more vulnerable, as society labels them as “bad women” and “to the government they are invisible,” according to the study. Most of these women don't have court decrees of separation or divorce and very few receive maintenance. Yet, 85 per cent of them take responsibility for their children.
It was found that southern States, such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and Goa, had better schemes benefiting single women. Only 28 per cent of the widows are considered eligible for pension and around 11 per cent actually receive the payment.
Acknowledging the seriousness of the problem, Mr. Ramesh said the scale of reach was pitiful even in monetary terms and the social security network needed to be expanded.
He promised more Centrally sponsored social schemes to take care of widows, from lowering the age bar to 18 years, and increasing their pension from Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 a month. Widows in the age group 40-59 can now avail themselves of the benefit.
Similarly, old-age pension, given to those above 60, too would be raised from Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 a month. The benefit for disabled persons too would be raised.
The focus would be on widows and single women under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, under which they would be enrolled as members of self help groups (SHGs) and encouraged to participate in the expansion of SHGs.
Stressing on the gender-sensitive Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Mr. Ramesh pointed out that 25 per cent of the women job-card holders belonged to this distressed group and said his Ministry would revamp the programme to provide them with greater focus.
Mr. Ramesh promised to provide houses under the Indira Aawas Yojana, which had benefited only 12.7 per cent of those surveyed. The Minister emphasised on the States' responsibility to address these issues in the Left-Wing-Extremism-affected districts.