Feminisation of Labour
In the last 15 years of post-liberalisation Indian economy, we find that more and more women from rural & semi-rural areas, from poor economical, social and educational backgrounds, from minority communities are coming out to work. Economic compulsion is the main reason for many such entrants into the labour market. An overwhelming majority of these women are finding work in the informal or unorganized sector. This is because firstly, it is impossible for them to enter the formal sector and, secondly because they are literally being lured into the informal sector, where, in the post liberalisation scenario there is an enormous demand for their labour. Labour market in India has been deregulated and protections from labour legislations withdrawn. The employer- employee relationship is of flexible nature like contract, casual, temporary, piece-rate etc. In fact this kind of flexible labour relationship has become so closely associated with high female employment that it has earned the name ‘feminisation of labour’.
Why and when do employers prefer to recruit women?
Women have been preferred, as in the textile and computer chips industries, when the work involves dexterous use of nimble fingers in jobs that are minute, repetitive, and monotonous and require good eyesight and tremendous concentration.
Most of the new entrants into the job market are very young unmarried women – working for the first time. They are ignorant about the nuances of the market, have little expectation about career prospects and do not act as pressure groups. In fact this arrangement is a stop gap one for them as they wait to get married while their employers exploit their youthful diligence to make huge profits.
In these jobs, employers pay very meagre wages, do not offer any prospects for career promotion in the long run, or, on the job training facilities. Women are preferred in these dead–end jobs as men would not easily accept them. Labour rights and employment related benefits like paid leave, sick leave, maternity leave, pension or insurance do not enter these modern part time jobs, contract services or piece-rate arrangements.
On the other hand, they help the employers to reduce labour costs to the minimum because the hourly wages or consolidated wages offered in such jobs are much lower than what prevails for similar or even lesser tasks in regular jobs.
The next question that automatically comes to mind is why do women themselves accept this position of disadvantage in the labour market?
The answer is that for most women in the ‘modern’ industrialised world – there is little question of choice. There is no doubt that women’s twin responsibilities at home and outside restrict their time and mobility for productive work and limit their choice of income-earning activities. Women drop out of the labour market during their child-bearing age after being employed for a few years. Later, once the children start going to school, they try to fill in the vacuum by re-entering the labour market. The long break lowers their skill-level and bargaining capacity to a large extent. Such women inevitably accept any job that is available to them and once they fall into the slot, their career becomes stagnant. Thus the middle aged married women represent a large segment of exploited labour in the capitalist production process.
Feminisation of labour has not only led to greater exploitation of women, it has also aggravated the sociological divides within families. The way men have reacted to ‘feminisation of labour’ is evident in the increased level of alcoholism and drug abuse, violence & abandonment of their families and reduced contribution to family maintenance.
So one has to wait to see if ‘feminisation of labour’ would be able to withstand the backlash stemming from this ‘crisis in masculinity’ and lead to a more equitable gender relation in future!