Monday, March 29, 2010

Feminisation of poverty in Kerala

B R P BHASKAR
Gulf Today

Education has sharpened the Kerala woman's intellect, widened her outlook and tuned her social and civic senses, the state government proclaims at its website. But statistics belie the claim.

They show that the women in the state lag in many areas despite educational advance. On a superficial view, the women are in a happy situation. Kerala is the only Indian state with a favourable sex ratio. At the time of the 2001 Census there were1,058 females for every 1,000 males, and female literacy was 87.86 per cent.

The University Grants Commission's report for 2000-01 said enrolment of girls in higher education in the state was 3.3 per 1,000 people, while the all-India average was only 2.9. In the rest of India boys led in the matter of higher education. In Kerala, the situation was reversed. Boys' enrolment was only 1.9 per 1,000 people as against the national average of 4.8.

Ironically, educational achievements have not helped women to improve their position in the state's job market. The Economic Review presented in the State Assembly in advance of this year's budget says, "Women's education has not translated into employment."

It adds, "Low levels of female employment and persistence of gendered work structures limited women's claim to independent sources of income."

Male work participation in the state compares favourably with that in the country as a whole. A national survey conducted in 2004-05 showed that male employment rate was 55.9 per cent in the rural areas and 54.7 per cent in the urban areas.

The corresponding all-India figures were 54.6 per cent and 54.9 per cent respectively. Female work participation was much lower -- 25.6 per cent in the rural areas and 20.0 per cent in the urban areas.

The corresponding all-India figures were 32.7 per cent and 16.6 per cent respectively. This shows that while rural women are worse off than their counterparts elsewhere urban women are doing better.

Officials attribute the comparatively favourable situation of urban women in the state to education. This, however, is a matter which calls for detailed examination.

According to published official data, male employment in the primary sector in the rural areas, which was 54.3 per cent in 1993-94, dropped to 43.4 per cent by 1999-2000. During the same period, female employment came down from 51.4 per cent to 46.3 per cent. Women now outnumber men in this sector.

Male employment in the secondary sector rose from 17.8 per cent to 22.9 per cent in the rural areas and from 27.3 per cent to 33.3 per cent in the urban areas. The increase in female employment was more modest: from 27.5 per cent to 28.9 per cent in the rural areas and from 33.5 per cent to 36.0 per cent in the urban areas.

These figures show that women, who constituted a large segment of the labour force in the traditional industries, are retaining their dominant position even though male presence in this sector is growing.

Unlike in the primary and secondary sectors, men were ahead of women in the tertiary sector. While male employment in this sector was 33.6 per cent in the rural areas and 59.3 per cent in the urban areas, female employment was only 24.9 per cent and 56.1 per cent respectively.

Although urban women are not faring too badly in this fast growing sector, the rising proportion of women in agriculture and manufacturing industries point to increasing feminisation of poverty.

When the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the highly acclaimed poverty alleviation programme, was introduced in the state more women than men came forward seeking work.

Women account for less than half of all work under NREGS in the country. However, in Tamil Nadu (79.1 per cent), Rajasthan (69.6 per cent) and Kerala (66.0 per cent women are its main beneficiaries.

Apart from women, Dalits and Adivasis also form part of the poverty brigade. The Dalits, who constitute 9.8 per cent of the state's population, account for 16.0 per cent of all NREGS work. Adivasis, who form only 1.1 per cent of the population, get 8.6 per cent.

The Kudumbasree Mission, built around the Central government sponsored women's self-help scheme, has more than 180,000 neighbourhood groups in the state with a total membership of more than 3.3 million women.

Lowly jobs like garbage clearance, for which there are no takers in the state, are being entrusted to such groups.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 29, 2010.