The current global economic meltdown has hit the lives of women workers as never before. The impact is more visible at the lower strata of the economic hierarchy,as traditionally women workers are more concentrated at the lower end of the labour intensive industries in the economy.
Recycling of waste material,construction,garment making,agricultural labour and small scale industry are some of the sectors which have been badly hit by the economic meltdown. This has severely impacted the workforce in these fields which is traditionally dominated by women.
By even the most conservative estimates,the number of female rag-pickers in Ahmedabad city alone stands around 30,000,who collect about 900 tonnes of waste daily. But the waste recycling industry is in a shambles now and in the last three months the prices of scarp have fallen by over 50 per cent. A large number of small scarp shops have closed down resulting in loss of livelihood for many women involved in the work.
The construction industry,which is also battling the meltdown,employs a huge women workforce. The Self Employed Womens Association (SEWA),which has created an organised workforce of nearly 70,000 women construction workers in the state,said,that before Diwali,getting work for 20-25 days a month was not difficult for these women.
But now there is hardly any work for more than 10 days in a month. The same goes for the men too,who are perceived to possess greater strength,necessary for manual labour.
The falling demand for readymade garments the world over has also contributed its share to the misery of the women workers in this sector in Gujarat.
There are about 80,000 women readymade garment workers in Ahmedabad constituting about 80 per cent of the total workforce in the sector.
Their situation is worsening each day with work available for only three days a week now. Most of them live in rented houses with 3-4 months rent already due, says Manali Shah from SEWA.
Meanwhile,the lack of working capital caused by the meltdown has led to the closure of various small and medium scale enterprises across the state. The women working in iron furnaces,steel and aluminium utensils manufacturing units,textile and power loom sector,small spinning and weaving industries are the worst affected lot.
A similar condition is also seen in the agricultural sector,which traditionally has been a family occupation. A few months ago,the mode of payment to women agricultural labour was cash as well as food. But now,only cash is offered and that too on delayed terms.
Explaining why a womans loss of livelihood is different from that of a man,which calls for immediate policy intervention,Mittal Shah,in-charge of urban activity, SEWA,said,The proportional contribution to the family welfare,out of the remuneration received,is different for the two genders with women contributing almost two times that of men.
So obviously,more money to women directly translates into better education for children,better healthcare for the elderly and better future for the whole family,Mittal added.