IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute and Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3)

High levels of female poverty, low female literacy and work participation rates, and high maternal and child mortality, indicate the extent of gender inequality in India.  Women in rural parts of the country attend to their regular household care and other domestic activities (assumed to be feminine duties) and work in farms, either as paid or unpaid workers and caregivers.

Moreover, there exists the phenomenon of out-migration from states like Bihar to other more developed states, due to lack of local livelihood opportunities.  These circumstances, combined with poor socio-economic indicators, accentuate rural women’s vulnerability – VillageMakers – and the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding these.

IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, with the support of Centre for Catalyzing Change’s (C3) Sakshamaa Initiative, conducted a telephonic time-use survey in rural areas of the state of Bihar. The survey was conducted during September and October 2020, and covered all 38 districts, hearing from 1039 VillageMakers in rural Bihar. It uncovered the extent to which domestic violence, child marriages, and unpaid work for women, were exacerbated during the COVID-19 lockdown due to restrictions in physical movements and increased loss of livelihoods.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified women’s vulnerabilities. As we seek to rebuild from the twin health and economic crises brought about by this pandemic, it is incredibly critical to ensure the active involvement of VillageMakers in decision-making within their families and households and the planning and implementation of programs that aim to impact their lives positively. They are among the hardest hit by this pandemic, but they will also be the backbone of rebuilding efforts if their involvement and leadership are leveraged for economic recovery. Foregrounding women’s voices is crucial to creating an equal environment that will help withstand further crises.

Findings of a rural telephonic-survey conducted by interviewing total, 1039 women VillageMakers from 38 districts of Bihar from September to October 2020 were shared by IMPRI Impact Policy And Research Institute, New Delhi. The survey results were discussed at a webinar held on January 29, 2021 conducted by IMPRI, in association with the Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3), New Delhi.

Study findings

  • Around 11 percent of the respondents were illiterate, and 40.7 percent of salaried respondents were graduates and above.
  • Around 13 percent of the respondents reported open defecation, which included 27 percent of casual laborers.
  • Around 84 percent of salaried respondents used LPG as their cooking fuel in contrast to only 37 percent of respondents engaged in casual labor.
  • Around 58 percent of respondents had a healthcare facility within 2 kilometers of their residence.
  • Among respondents who owned land, almost half had marginal holdings, and one-third had smallholdings.
  • Around 30 percent of the respondents were engaged in casual labour.
  • Close to half of the households had a yearly income of less than Rs 50000, and 53 percent of the respondents said that their family was in debt.
  • Around 57 percent of the respondents reported that men’s financial decisions were taken by men and 7 percent by women.
  • Around 55 percent of respondents reported that domestic violence against women is common in their village.
  • Around 47 percent of the respondents reported that they had observed untouchability based on caste in their community.
  • Coverage of different government schemes is far from becoming universal, and lack of awareness and eligibility are the two major impediments.

Study Findings: Impact of COVID 19

  • Around 72 percent of the respondents involved in casual labor said that they were unemployed during the pandemic.
  • Three out of four respondents reported that migrants have returned to their village.
  • Three out of four respondents reported having received benefits from the government’s relief package during the lockdown.
  • About 50 percent of the respondents felt an increase in care work at home during coronavirus pandemic.
  • More than 50 percent of the respondents felt deprivation in access to medical assistance, vegetable, sanitation, and hygiene facilities.
  • 72 percent of the respondents reported wearing masks as the primary precautionary measure taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by washing hands.
  • 47 percent of the respondents reported being anxious or worried during the pandemic, mostly due to fear of losing the job.

Key policy takeaways

  • Investment in basic structure to strengthen access to sufficient and affordable water, sanitation, and electricity supply to rural and remote areas supports women’s productive and unpaid care and domestic work.
  • Opening of Aganwadi centers in a phased manner to ensure the feeding and vaccination program for children and pregnant women. Distribution of IFA’s to adolescent girls without any gap.
  • Extension of Prime Minister Gareeb Kalyan Yojana benefits of providing food grains and staples for another quarter to help poorer households.
  • Providing each identified needy person a dollar a day (around Rs 2000 per month) to ensure that the poorest sections of the population can fulfill their dietary requirements.
  • Providing smartphones to ensure continuity of access to remote farms of education for the children, making families vigilant about the spread of COVID-19 and to enable smooth transfer of digital payment through welfare schemes to their bank accounts.
Dignified Assistance to VillageMakers

Dr Nivedita P Haran, retired Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Home Affairs, Government of Kerala, said it is common knowledge that there are poverty, violence, and lack of empowerment in Bihar. However, the shift in decision-making irrespective of the family’s economic status leading to joint decisions in financial and family matters is a remarkable improvement.

She further points out that the study shows that domestic violence is not totally linked to economic status, making it easy to handle. She also recommended Bihar Government officials to take the study findings and recommendations for setting specific targets of improvement through an action plan by respective divisions and taking input from the study in the upcoming budget preparation.

“Learn from states like Tamil Nadu, where the literacy was very low, high open defecation level, fundamental public health and immunization at its lowest level 30 years back, but within 20 years they have done immensely well”, says Dr Nivedita

Literacy among the women is the significant empowerment, which decreases the incidences domestic violence, dropout from schools and increases girl child’s, health and hygiene”, says Dr Nivedita.

“Such studies are eye-openers and should put a sense of responsibility and more importantly a sense of shame among the public, and non-public servants, the cooperation of non-state actors need to happen in Bihar,” Says Dr Nivedita.

Mrs Mahua Roy Chaudhary, Project coordinator, Governance and Knowledge management, Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, Jeevika shared facts on open defecation and pointed out that in 2014 only 30percent of the household had access to toilets compared to study projections which depicts only 24percent going for open defecation which is a huge change in five years due to pro-women government policies.

“We need to understand about the various government programs taken up by Bihar government exclusively for people, as Bihar government has also given Rs 1000 directly in the account of women for empowering them.” Says Mrs .Mahua

Prof G Sridevi, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Central University of Hyderabad highlights that in India, the socio-cultural norms prevalent in rural areas have prevented women from having equal rights, access to education, access to land, and most importantly, not allowing to be part of the decision making at the household level.

Also, women’s representation in decision-making as an elected member in panchayats is deficient. Hence, women are always under-represented in various walks of life. Though economic empowerment and change in the societal patterns have made the women question the established norms, this has only resulted in increased domestic violence and atrocities.

“The gender gap report of 2020 indicates that it will take 95 years to close the existing gender gap in political representation. If we want to have economic parity and equality, it will take 257 years, which explains the kind of inequality existing within the society”, says Prof Sridevi

“Women at global-level represent two-third of the workforce in the health sector, but interestingly, there is a huge pay gap between men and women, considering the pay gap in terms of the Indian context. It is 35 percent compared to the global average of 16 percent”, says Prof Sridevi.

Prof Sridevi also underlines that although Uttar Pradesh and Bihar’s per capita income seems to be a performer. On the contrary, they fail in providing equal access to resources to all the sections of society. She also focussed on providing access to education and strengthening self-help groups for providing equal access to resources to women.

“We need to address issues related to social inequality which will in turn automatically lead to a reduction in political and economic inequality.” Says Prof Sridevi

Mr Braj Kishore Pathak, Officer, Jeevika, Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, State Rural Livelihoods Mission, Bihar, says that now females in Bihar have emerged as decision-makers. He further says that migrant workers returned to Bihar were provided with adequate facilities during COVID-19 pandemic. Around 18 lakh ration cards were provided to households and financial support of Rs 1000 per family to help the women workforce during the pandemic. Further, he appreciates Bihar state government’s efforts to empower workers by providing them skills to earn a livelihood with in-state without migrating.

Prof Nalin Bharti, Professor, Indian institute of Technology, Patna shared the Bihar is one of the states which is very densely populated. He disagrees with the concept of a migrant worker. He elucidates his point by saying that countries like Japan and Singapore do not treat their own workers as migrant workers, unlike India. He believes migrant word dissociate one psychologically; he mentions Kerala’s concept where workers from other states are called ‘Guest Workers’.

“The pandemic has allowed us to rethink the concept of the migrant worker,” says Prof Nalin.

“Bihar is one of the fastest-growing states since many years, but the growth which Bihar has achieved has not been able to transform into development. The study shows that connectivity between growth and development is not up to the mark, and we need to dwell upon it,” says Prof Nalin

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI, pointed out there are around 10 lakh self-help groups in Bihar, and they need to be strengthened. He also mentioned that study focussed on the social group that has been excluded, which are casual laborers and rural women. He says the upcoming Bihar Budget and suggests the need for financial assistance of cash transfer of Rs 2000 for marginalized people in Bihar and a smartphone to strengthen the development of Bihar.

“The pandemic was not only a public health crisis but also an economic crisis and its impact in creating a social crisis, thereby magnifying certain social problems should not be lost sight of. The pandemic has magnified certain problems such as economic, health, social, and gender-related issues. Let’s address them” Says Dr. Nivedita.

“Let’s make the Self Help groups, women groups in rural Bihar as the agents of change that can improve the face of Bihar” Says Dr Nivedita.

Mrs Mahua Roy Choudhury mentions Bihar’s Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana’, aiming to empower ultra-poor households traditionally engaged in production, transportation, and selling of country liquor/toddy. The scheme covers the ultra-poor from SC/ST and other communities by diversifying livelihoods, capacity,y building and finance access to finance.

“Such findings and recommendations are essential to design an inclusive, intersectional recovery program as we seek to build from the pandemic crisis,” says Dr Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change.

YouTube Video for Release of study Findings Rural Telephonic Time Use Survey Study in Bihar- Life in the Era of COVID-19: Impact on VillageMakers of Bihar and Future Prospects

Picture Courtesy: She The People