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Women employed in the informal sector: Boon or bane?

  • Photo : Dennis C J / Research Matters
    Photo : Dennis C J / Research Matters

Increasing participation by women in the informal sector could provide a boost to the economy by increasing the income opportunity for a family, but how does it affect the individual's? Prof. Anjula Gurtoo, an Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru has studied the effect of this increased participation from two perspectives-- social empowerment and economic empowerment.

Proponents of gender equality and economists often endorse the idea of increasing employment of women in the various roles in the informal sector, including daily wage laborer, domestic worker, and even midwives. However, many feminists and political economists believe that such an economy could be a poverty trap, leading to impoverishment. They believe, the socially unequal relationships that are created by women joining the informal sector could negatively affect their psychology.

To empirically explore the question, Prof. Gurtoo surveyed 1276 female domestic workers from Karnataka, between 2014 and 2015. She then built predictor models based on two categories of experience—workplace conditions and employer-employee relationship. The results obtained were looked at from the perspective of social empowerment and economic empowerment. The results were analyzed using social support theory.

The study has revealed that employer-employee relationships is an important factor in determining the effect of increasing participation of women, and supersedes the workplace factors. The study also shows that, the socially unequal relationships between the employer and the domestic worker although empowers women, it could be liberating as well as incapacitating for the women. While a boost to the economic and occupations support dynamics, the unequal social status and treatment by the employer could also have a negative impact on the psychological well-being of the employee. An analysis of the results from an Asian developing country perspective, the study also reveals feudal orientations, pointing to an alarming lack of gender and social equality in the country.

Although empowering, several guidelines and interventions are required for the increasing participation of women in the informal economy to have positive impact for the women and the society, shows the study.