- According to a 2018 study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 95% of India’s working women are informal workers who work in labour-intensive, low-paying, highly precarious jobs/conditions, and with no social protection.
- The World Health Organization bulletin says that “women’s informal work is central to the feminisation of poverty”.
- The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 more than doubled the duration of paid maternity leave for women employees to 26 weeks and made crèche facilities mandatory for establishments employing 50 or more women.
- However, these benefits are mostly enjoyed by formal sector women workers, constituting less than 5% of the women workforce.
There are three ways to enable women to take up more productive paid work and improve their maternal and child health outcomes:
- Extending the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) infrastructure;
- Revitalizing national crèche schemes, and
- Improving maternity benefits.
Expansion of the ICDS:
- Anganwadi centres under the ICDS provides maternal and child nutritional security, a clean and safe environment, and early childhood education, thus facilitating the ability of women to re-enter work post-childbirth.
- However it does not cater to children under the age of three and it functions only for a few hours a day, making it inconvenient to send and pick up children during work hours.
- Early intake of children in the Anganwadi centres can allow mothers to work and converge with the National Education Policy 2020 mandate that acknowledges quality Early Childhood Care and Education for children in the 0-6 age group.
Revitalize the crèche scheme:
- The National Creche Scheme lays out specific provisions for working women but has suffered diminished government funding.
- Public crèches can be operated at worksite clusters such as near industrial areas, markets, dense low-income residential areas, and labour nakas(informal road side labour market).
- Crèches closer to the workplace allow for timely breastfeeding and attending to emergencies.
- This model has been tested successfully by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) (an NGO)in some Indian cities.
- Where work occurs at a single site, such as a garment factory or construction site, worksite crèches will help; as seen in the construction site crèches run by Aajeevika Bureau (Ahmedabad) and Mobile Creches (Delhi).
- The funds collected under the construction cess can be earmarked for running crèches at construction sites.
Improving maternity benefits:
- Tamil Nadu(Dr. Muthulakshmi Maternity Benefit Scheme). has an expansive and ambitious scheme offering ₹18,000 in cash and kind for two live births.
- The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) limits the benefit to the first birth and has also reduced the amount to ₹5,000.
- The cash transfers under the PMMVY are insufficient, by both evaluations on the ground and the National Food Security Act (NFSA) benchmark, as well as for nutrition needs and wage compensation.
- The compensation, which is lower than the minimum wages, is inadequate in postponing the mother’s return to work for the first six months.
- The amount also does not match an inflation-adjusted NFSA benchmark (nearly ₹9,400 in 2022).
- The lack of affordable and quality childcare services and maternity benefits increase the burden on informal women workers, aggravating gender and class inequalities.
- It is imperative that we consider affordable and quality childcare infrastructure as an employment-linked benefit and as a public good.