‘Building back fair’ with gender equality at the centre of the recovery policies

Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT South Asia and India at the CII IWN Women Nation Summit, Impact on Women in the Informal Economy

Statement | New Delhi, India | 25 September 2020
The organizers CII

Fellow speakers and

The audiences

Namaste and Good afternoon to fellow panellists and all participants.
• Let me begin by congratulating the organisers CII and Indian Women Network for shaping this two-day ‘Women Nation’ summit and bringing forward the need to discuss about Women in Informal Economy and Impact of COVID-19 on them.

• Panellists here today are national and international experts and we all may agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased vulnerability of those without voice and agency. We have witnessed the stories of loss of life and livelihoods, migrants walking back home with hunger and despair, most of them informally employed in the cities.

• ILO Policy Brief on gender-responsive employment recovery warned that women face greater care obligations, forcing them to cut down on paid working hours or to extend total working hours (paid and unpaid) to unsustainable levels. The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the entrenched gender inequalities in the labour markets, and has further exacerbated gender inequalities in unpaid care work.

• Women are typically found as own-account workers, domestic workers or home-based workers engaged in domestic and global supply chains. Also many women work in the health and social care sector, and have continued to work in trying circumstances, many times facing inordinate health risks.

• Violence against women has increased since the onset of the virus, prompting the UN to launch a ‘shadow pandemic’ public awareness campaign.

• I am certain that the pressure to retain the job and income and managing work life balance will be a tight ropewalk affecting mental well-being of many.

So, how do we build back better?

• We have witnessed government-extending cash in hand programmes targeted at women beneficiaries, dissemination of subsidized food grains and extension of small loans to farmers and self- employed. The pandemic is far from over yet and we all are learning to cope with it and resume our work by embracing practices, termed as ‘new normal’. To ensure that our ‘new normal’ is ‘better normal, what we need is Gender-responsive employment policies. We need to ensure that we are ‘Building back fairer’, as it brings gender equality to the core of the recovery effort.

• Let me explain the ILO’s COVID-19 policy response framework in this regard:

- The foremost pillar of policy framework is stimulating the economy and employment. This policy response should be gender inclusive and look at how the active fiscal policy, monetary policy and lending and financial supports offered to address COVID-19 take into account the gender concerns.

- The Pillar 2 about supporting enterprises, jobs and income. It demands enabling social protection to all, implementing employment retention and providing relief measures to enterprises. It is critical that sectors dominated by women are given equal priority.

- Pillar 3 is about protecting workers in the workplace. For women workers, who tend to dominate frontline jobs, in healthcare, para-medical, care work, domestic work, sanitation workers, and also workers in multitude of enterprises concentrated in the MSME sector and home-based enterprises need mechanisms and awareness to implement Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) measures at their workplaces.

A large proportion of women work as own-account workers or as street vendors, who are also at a high risk. We need policies ensuring healthcare access and insurance if needed along with social security in the form of income protection if infected.

- Pillar 4 is about social dialogue and building resilience of workers’ and employers’ organizations and capacities of government. Crisis such as COVID, requires a comprehensive and collective response. For this social dialogue is important. However, it is important that voices of women, especially from the informal sector are brought forward and heard.

For the informal workforce and especially women engaged in it, ILO also has a few specific recommendations

- We need to invest in the care economy and address the childcare deficit directly, particularly by improving access to affordable care services for children, but also for older persons and other dependent sick or disabled persons. The discussion to support women workers by addressing care work and violence and harassment need to be enhanced.

- We need to improve access to finance and assets as this is often cited as the major constraint towards formalization. Dedicated schemes and policies can promote and improve women’s access to finance.

- Women in the informal economy need to be organized. When supported, coordinated groups could help a great deal by advocating with policymakers. We need to empower them with knowledge about their rights and potential support available to them.

- Lastly, in the long term we need to strengthen efforts to support the transition from the informal to the formal economy. To protect work force from such crisis, we need to promote ‘Decent Work’.

• Going beyond the guidance about what needs to be done, ILO also offers support to countries on how it needs to be done. I would recommend the audience here to visit ILO’s dedicated portal ilo.org/covid19, which offers policy briefs and practical guidance along with regular updates on the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work.

• The two tools ILO offers for effective and fair development of policies are International Labour Standards and Social dialogue. International labour standards provide a strong foundation for the policy responses needed for sustained and equitable recovery. They encapsulate the idea of a human-centred approach. Social dialogue ensures consultation and collaboration among governments, workers and employers and their representatives.

As influencers, we need to remind our stakeholders about ‘building back fair’ with gender equality at the centre of the recovery policies. The crisis also offers us an opportunity to start building a new inclusive and sustainable society.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing fellow speakers.