In late 2020, the International Monetary Fund launched a Youth Fellowship Contest to give aspiring young leaders a chance to share their views on COVID-19 responses and global efforts to build back better – towards a greener, fairer and more inclusive recovery.
Out of around 700 submissions from around the world, our EPRM alumna Krithiga Narayanan – a multi-platform journalist from India – was chosen to be one of 26 IMF fellows from 25 countries. She joined a range of bloggers, journalists, community leaders, communications experts, young professionals and students on a training programme with senior IMF staff that covered issues such as inclusive growth, gender equality, climate change and fintech. The programme also featured media experts from The Financial Times, CNBC and Politico, who trained fellows in multimedia storytelling.
After completing the training programme and taking part in events at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings, fellows were asked to share their policy proposals to address the current crisis, and how best to ensure a greener and more inclusive recovery after the pandemic: one that creates more jobs and opportunities for youth. Krithiga was one of four final winners, and her submission on how to create more remote jobs, provide technical support and skills development for young women in urban and rural areas in India can be found below.
Gender-inclusive policies for a faster recovery
According to the IMF World Economic Outlook of October 2020, India’s GDP is expected to have contracted severely, by 10.28 percent. A sharp decline in consumption, which caused a reduction in domestic demand and a collapse in investment, has been cited as among the reasons for this contraction. The IMF also estimates a decrease in India’s per capita income and a rise in inflation, which is reflected in higher food prices and supply disruption. IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath, while presenting the World Economic Outlook, said that in order to protect vulnerable people, a strong safety net should be available for those who lose jobs, and new opportunities should be provided for the unemployed to help them transition into new sectors. IMF research says that lockdowns tend to have a disproportionate effect on economically vulnerable people such as women and youth. Women are more vulnerable to job losses, and existing gender inequalities are increasing due to the pandemic. In India, women represent nearly 48 percent of the population, but their labour force participation rate is just 20 percent, and their economic contribution is only 17 percent of India’s GDP, which is less than half the global average. Hence, promoting gender equality needs to be prioritised for a faster, stable, and resilient recovery.
Gender-inclusive policies are the need of the hour: they will lead to more participation of women in the labour force, which would boost economic growth, provide security for the vulnerable, and help create a more equal society. Urgent policy intervention is required for the creation of jobs for young women in both the formal and informal sectors in India. This will help women who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and allow new female workers to join the labour force quickly. But there are many structural and sociocultural barriers that make it difficult for women to seek work and enter and stay in the workforce. Some of these barriers are inadequate public transportation, unsafe public spaces, poor enforcement of sexual harassment laws, discrimination in the workplace, unequal wages, and patrilocal early marriages that place the burden of caring for the family entirely on women. The social status of families is also perceived to be low if women go to work, and certain jobs are not socially acceptable for women. Hence, the existence of such barriers must be acknowledged and addressed in order to increase the economic participation of women. These barriers must also be taken into account when policy measures are designed and implemented. Policy interventions that promote gender equality can help bring about a cultural shift in India regarding working women.
Indian women in both urban and rural areas are more likely to enter the workforce if jobs are available near their homes. This reflects factors such as cultural norms and mobility constraints. Decentralised job opportunities for young women, with new job clusters in formal and informal sectors equally dispersed in both urban and rural areas, are vital. To create more jobs, women’s entrepreneurship in small and medium enterprises is also important and should be encouraged in sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, textiles, media, health, technology, food, education, and services in both urban and rural areas. But women-led entrepreneurial ventures in India struggle to create jobs because of challenges such as lack of funds, difficulties in market penetration, gender bias, the digital divide, lack of qualified employees, and a complex regulatory environment. Policy initiatives for women’s entrepreneurship should hence help with fundraising, ease of doing business, infrastructure, business support, and skill development. Companies should also be incentivised to hire more women.
Policy initiatives must help create more remote jobs by providing necessary technical support and skill development. This will empower young women with mobility constraints to join the workforce. Urban online food delivery platforms that were started recently, such as FoodCloud and The Yummy Idea have helped empower many Indian women to start food businesses from their homes. The digital divide between urban and rural areas should be addressed by providing low-cost internet services and technology, which will help increase market penetration and empower more women from both urban and rural areas to join the workforce. The Indian government’s current fiscal relief measures are mostly in the form of lending support and credit guarantees.
This can be further expanded to more direct fiscal support, especially for gender-inclusive policy measures. Even though the IMF predicts GDP growth of 8.8 percent for India in 2021, the recovery is set to be uneven and uncertain. Hence, we have to act now to promote gender equality and help build a more equal society for a faster and stable recovery. Countries cannot achieve economic growth when women, who represent nearly half of the population, are left behind.
Adapted from an article on the IMF website. Read the original article.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.