Decline of 21 million found in 2009-2010 NSS survey; CPI(M) leader sees sign of distress

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat on Saturday called for a deeper analysis of figures brought out by the National Sample Survey of 2009-2010 which had revealed that there were 21 million fewer women workers in the labour force compared to 2004-2005.

“The large number of disappearance of women from the labour force signifies distress and a much deeper analysis is required,” Ms. Karat said, while delivering the 8th Brajamohan Sarma Memorial Lecture on “Gender Concerns and Strategies in the Resistance to Imperialist Globalisation” here.

Reacting to government claims that many more young women, over 15 years of age, who had been counted as part of the labour force had now registered education as their principal activity, Ms. Karat said while there had been a welcome increase in adolescents studying in secondary schools, this could not explain the huge decrease of women in the work force.

“Either there is something drastically wrong with the surveys, or women have tried hard to find work and not having found it have withdrawn from the labour force. A large number of women take in home-based work but may not register themselves as workers. It is also possible that there has been an increase in women’s migration due to economic distress, making them truly invisible, and which has not been captured,” she said.

The senior CPI (M) leader also said the government, which was the main employer of women in the organised sector, has, through its policy of disinvestment and downsizing, restricted their recruitment. While in the public sector, the growth of the unrecognised sector through contract, casual and outsourcing has grown phenomenally.

“Approximately 50 lakh women are employed in various government schemes without being recognised as government workers with the right to government level wages. Flagship programmes like the ICDS, NRHM and the Mid Day Meal Scheme are dependent on them. But not only are they denied recognition as government employees, the government exploits their services, paying them a pittance,” Ms. Karat alleged.

Refuting the claim that liberalisation had provided them more opportunities, the Marxist leader argued that while this was true to the extent that a certain class of women had found increased employment in IT, the hospitality industry, and the communications industry, these had been in relatively smaller numbers.

She pointed out that in urban India it was not these high profile industries, but work as domestic maids which had seen the largest growth for employment for women.

“Even while this is the reality, India has refused to sign the ILO convention that accords recognition to basic rights of workers to those in domestic service as maids,” she alleged.

The number of women in manufacturing came down from 11.64 million to 10.75 million while the number of women in construction work has more than doubled from around 2.07 million to 6.50 million in 2009-2010.

The former Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University Dr. Debo Prasad Barooah chaired the memorial lecture and the former Assam Chief Secretary, Harendra Nath Das, inagurated the annual lecture organised by the Brajamohan Sarma Memorial Trust.

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