Daily Editorial Analysis for 17th May 2021

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It is getting from bad to worse for women workers

Why in News

  • The COVID-­19 pandemic has destroyed millions of livelihoods and led to a sudden and large increase in poverty and a massive disruption of the labor market in India.
  • Women workers, in particular, have borne a disproportionate burden.

A widening gap

  • The gender employment gap was large and only 18% of working ­age women were employed as compared to 75% of men.
  • Reasons include a lack of good jobs, restrictive social norms, and the burden of household work.
  • The recent report of ‘State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid­19’ shows that the pandemic has worsened the situation.
  • The nationwide lockdown hit women much harder than men. Data from the ‘Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd.’ show that 61% of male workers were unaffected during the lockdown while only 19% of women experienced this kind of security.
  • Even by the end of the year, 47% of employed women who had lost jobs during the lockdown, had not returned to work. The equivalent number for men was only 7%.
  • Men were able to regain the jobs even though at lower prices they had the option of moving into fallback employment arrangements.
  • According to the survey, 33% of formal salaried men moved into self-employment and 9% into daily wage work between late 2019 and late 2020.
  • But, only 4% and 3% of formal salaried women moved into self-employment and daily wage work,
  • Nearly half of the women workers, irrespective of whether they were salaried, casual, or self-employed, withdrew from the workforce, as compared to only 11% of men.
  • Women tended to lose work disproportionately irrespective of the industry in which they were employed. For instance, the share of women in job losses in education was three times their share in that industry. This is also evident from health sector.

Growing domestic work

  • The household responsibilities increased for women with the extension of lockdown as schools and workplaces are closed.
  • The India Working Survey 2020 found that among employed men, the number of hours spent on paid work remained more or less unchanged after the pandemic. But for women, the number of hours spent in domestic work increased manifold.
  • In February-March, about 10%­20% of women reported spending between two to four hours on domestic work.
  • This increase in hours came without any accompanying relief in the hours spent on paid work.

The course to take

  • The following measures are needed now: expansion of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the introduction of an urban employment guarantee targeted to women as soon as the most severe forms of mobility restrictions are lifted.
  • Co-ordinated efforts by States to facilitate employment of women while also addressing immediate needs through the setting up of community kitchens, prioritising the opening of schools and anganwadi centres, and engagement with self-help groups for the production of personal protective equipment kits.
  • COVID-19 hardship allowance of at least Rs 5,000 per month for six months should be announced for 2.5 million accredited social health activists and Anganwadi workers, most of whom are women.
  • The National Employment Policy, should systematically address the constraints around the participation of the women’s workforce, both with respect to the availability of work and household responsibilities.


  • The time is right to imagine a bold Universal Basic Services Programme that not only filled existing vacancies in the social sector but also expands public investments in health, education, child and elderly care, and so on, to be prepared for future shock.
  • This can help bring women into the workforce not only by directly creating employment for them but also by alleviating some of their domestic work burdens, while also overcoming nutritional and educational deficit that we are likely to be confronted with as we emerge from this crisis.


Act west, think east

Why in News

  • India is sealing relationships with US, UK, Europe after the double reality check from China.
  • Almost unnoticed in the ferocity of the current Covid surge battering us, India’s foreign policy pivoted westwards, embracing partners and relationships that could have interesting implications for India’s future.

QUAD summit

  • A Quad leaders’ summit in March drew the curtains from the new focus.
  • For years the Indian system downplayed the importance of the Quad giving it some sort of an airy-fairy feel.
  • It took the reality check of a Chinese virus coupled with a Chinese invasion for the Indian system to smell the coffee.
  • The Quad summit was a seal on the India-US relationship, and a determined statement of how India sees its future with China.

India-Europe relationship

  • In the past month, India took two big steps: Crafting a post-Brexit relationship with the UK and putting its shoulder to the wheel of the India-Europe relationship.
  • For both, improved trade is the bedrock. It’s even more important for India.
  • After turning its nose up at RCEP in 2019, India has been in a somewhat forlorn space.
  • As the pandemic hit, calls for Atmanirbhar Bharat and resilient supply chains became the dominant narrative. Meanwhile, even a mini trade deal with the US proved elusive.
  • Taking advantage of Brexit, the enhanced trade partnership between India and the UK will start with market access to CBMs before graduating to an FTA.
  • With the EU, the two sides have to pick up the threads from 2013 – the world has changed since then – and hopefully close the gap on an FTA before we’re much older.
  • The FTAs should be preceded by an effort to build domestic consensus on the big issues: Goods, services, agriculture, government procurement; work on genuine ease of doing business, etc
  • India-EU FTA has been flogged for so long, there is a palpable lack of excitement this time, which perversely may be a good thing.
  • The UK deal is likely to be much faster because of vested interests on both sides.
  • The EU is different – much more rigid and more demanding of reciprocity, determined to leverage its strengths more than ever.
  • A good template for the upcoming negotiations should be the India-US nuclear deal, which proved to be transformational in its impact.
  • For years, India has treated the EU as an anomaly, preferring to build independent ties with France, Germany, the UK etc.
  • Few things changed:
  • Brexit cast off a big chunk of India’s engagement.
  • India’s interest in things like clean water, sanitation, smart cities naturally gravitated interest towards European countries that had solutions on tap.
  • India latched on to climate change as a leap-frogging opportunity, particularly after the Paris Accord.
  • France has become India’s go-to partner in Europe, cutting across sectors such as defence, strategic, nuclear and multilateral spheres, to the extent that it can almost replace Russia.
  • The Nordics are India favourites in areas like smart cities, 5G, AI and semiconductors. Outside the EU, the UK, with which India never quite severed its umbilical ties holds enormous promise.
  • The West (US and Europe collectively) was instrumental in the growth of China. Their idea was a prosperous China would become a more democratic China, not a threatening China.
  • Today, an EU-China trade deal is hanging fire because China is seen to be a strategic challenge to the West.
  • China’s BRI reaching up to Europe’s door is dividing Europe. Hong Kong, Uighurs, the Dalai Lama, Taiwan, South China Sea are bad enough, the fact that China is bidding fair to eating the West’s lunch is a bigger source of concern.
  • China was given a lot of wiggle room to remain authoritarian with little cost.
  • India should not expect that its transformation as a result of its engagement with the EU, US and UK will be anything but hard won.
  • That is recognized in New Delhi – one of the cleverer moves by India was to resume a human rights dialogue with Europe in April. This makes many difficult conversations much easier.


  • India is already a robust democracy and a market economy.
  • India can leverage a lot of its strengths: Technology advances; a western-oriented pool of 21st century talent; a climate change believer.
  • At current rates, India, aiming for 450GW in renewable energy would single-handedly move the needle on global climate change goals.
  • As a member of the Quad and at the geopolitical heart of the Indo-Pacific, India is a strategic opportunity for the West.
  • In collective gasp for oxygen, India’s daily death count, the current Covid surge has exposed every failure in the Indian governance structure: political, structural, functional – and moral. That should change.

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