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A comprehensive look at the inequalities women continue to face


Editors: Vibhuti Patel and Nandita Mondal
Publisher: Springer Nature (Singapore) / (e-book)

Vibhuti Patel and Nandita Mondal, as editors of this collection of essays, Gendered Inequalities in Paid and Unpaid Work of Women in India, have, in the introduction, provided a nuanced analysis of the political-economy angle of the changing contours of paid and unpaid work by women in India in the 21st Century. 

Patel sets the tone for the entire volume by analysing the macro-economic situation in India over a decade. She refers to women’s organisations and the debate on the decline of women’s participation in the workforce. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of women’s participation in formal and informal economies are also dealt with. In her chapter titled ‘Women’s Work: Worker’s Agency and Dignity of Labour Under Lens’, Mondal uses data collected from many sources to paint a picture of the position of women in various fields, and also to differentiate between ‘labour’ and ‘agency.’

‘Where Do Migrant Women Work? Glimpses of Paid and Unpaid Work Among Women Migrant Workers in Informal Sector in India’, written by Ananya Chakraborty, makes a convincing case for incorporating unpaid work as an essential component of ‘work’ and for accounting for women’s labour. The intrinsic value of the unpaid work that women perform is huge and ensures the smooth running of the social and economic system, the author notes.

Part II of the book is about ‘Women in the Urban Economy and Regional Diversity’. ‘Women’s Paid Work as a Bubble of Empowerment: A Case Study of a Social Enterprise Working with Women Artisans’ by Kaniska Singh and Asfia Jamalis is based on their field study and argues that though the existing economic activities could change gender relations to a certain extent, there is still a long way to go towards changing the narrative on gender roles, stereotypes and power relations.

Deepmala Baghel uses data collected by an MNC to explore the relationship between social context and role-stress among professional women in the chapter titled ‘Decoding Professional Women: An Analysis of Social Structure and Organisational Role Stress’. Aishwarya Chandran’s ‘Gender, Labour and the Social Reproduction of Motherhood: A Study of Commercial Surrogacy in Mumbai’ explores the objectification and commercialisation of the maternal body in patriarchal cultures in a globalised era.

Lalremruati Rodi and Rama Ramaswamy delve into various types of entrepreneurship and street vending in ‘The Travails of Women Street Entrepreneurs in Aizawl’ while Gayatri Sharma’s ‘Negotiating Rights for Street Vendors: The Importance of Incorporating a Gender Perspective’ is a policy paper in which the author discusses various gender issues in street vending by women. She has also discussed pertinent issues women faced during vending. 

‘Begging or Caste-Based Urban Occupations?’ written by Pournima Arvel presents the lived experiences of women of the indigenous Nagpanthi Dore Goshave Community that is often labelled as ‘beggars’, ‘homeless’, ‘criminals’ or ‘migrants’ / ‘nomads’. The research highlights several different perspectives on how caste-based occupations lead to stigmatised and even criminalised identities. Saptam Patel has written ‘Making Visible the Invisible: Women Artists’, analyzing how in the artistic field, the lack of ‘her story’ confirms the invisibility of women artists. Feminist art movements have attempted to break the glass ceiling in the art world but even today, men rule the art market.

Radhika Uppal and Amrita Gupta stress that it is significant to facilitate women’s participation in the workforce by generating sustainable employment in ‘Breaking Boundaries: Women in Non-traditional Livelihoods as Professional Drivers.’ Decent work is critical to reducing gendered gaps in the economy and society, they argue.

Part III is dedicated to ‘Women in Agriculture and Allied Occupations’. In a chapter on ‘Women’s Participation in Livestock Raising: Evidence from NSSO Employment and Unemployment Surveys 1993–94 to 2011–12’, R. Vijayamba presents a study that shows that age and education levels are crucial to determining women’s participation in raising animals. Reshmi, in ‘Precarity Among Women Workforce in the Handloom Sector at Sualkuchi, Assam’ says the work environment for women weavers needs a lot of improvement.

Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind, in her chapter on ‘Women’s Labour, Self-help Groups and Microfinance in a Neo-liberal World: An Interrogation of the Role of Self-help Groups in the Rehabilitation of Former Devadasis in Belgaum District of Karnataka’, writes that rehabilitation of devadasis (a female artist dedicated to the worship of a deity) was both a state-driven exercise as well as an exercise carried out in partnership with the voluntary sector in the region. ‘Economic Crises and Plantation Labour: Changing Contours of Women’s Work in the Tea Sector’ by Ashmita Sharma maps the changing trajectory of women’s work in the economy of the plantations.

Taken as a whole, this exhaustive collection of articles covers issues pertinent to women in formal and informal economies.

(This review of the book is by G. Uma, School of Gender and Development Studies, IGNOU, New Delhi.)