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Gender Dimensions of Unorganized Sector: Accounting Women on e-Shram Portal

In India, 38.2 per cent of the population are employed and the unorganized sector represents over 81 per cent1 of the total employment in the country. Women workers make up a disproportionate part of the unorganized sector as part-time or full-time domestic help, street vendors, subsistence farmers, seasonal agriculture workers, handloom and handicraft workers, frontline workers, to name a few. Most often, women working in the unorganized sector are offered lower wages, have a poor, unsafe working environment, and have no access to social and welfare security schemes. Moreover, they have an increased burden of unpaid care work given household and work responsibilities.

Like many other sectors, official statistics on women and their work in the unorganized sector was unavailable. This lack of data has impeded government and other relevant agencies such as development organizations’ ability to understand the various issues that impact women in the unorganized sector differently or solely. Further, it also obstructed any evidence generation on trends related to the women workforce in the unorganized sector. Post-March 2020, India witnessed massive reverse migration of unorganized workers, including women from urban regions to villages under troubling scenarios when the government imposed the lockdown as a concerted effort to flatten the pandemic’s curve. The unavailability of data exacerbated the conditions for the migrant workers, particularly women given they were excessively impacted since the government could not provide immediate relief because the unorganized workforce was unaccounted for in any database.

To address the above data gap, the Ministry of Labour & Employment in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre launched the e-Shram portal in August 2021. The portal’s objective is to develop a centralised database of all unorganised workers that are seeded with Aadhaar. The portal is the first national database of unorganised workers including migrant workers, construction workers, gig, and platform workers. Any worker between 16 to 59 years of age working in an unorganized sector is eligible to register on the portal. It has workers’ details such as name, occupation, address, educational qualification, skill set and family details. This will enable the government in extending social security schemes and employment benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. The government has opened the portal for self-registration and through assisted approach by visiting nearest Common Services Centers (CSCs) (i.e., access points for delivery of various e-governance and business services to citizens in rural and remote areas of the country under the Digital India Programme2). The portal issues an e-Shram card (or Shramik card) upon registration that assigns each worker a lifetime unique 12-digit identification number to enable them to access social security and employment benefits.

Data on the portal shows that a substantial proportion of women are registering themselves on the platform. To date, over 46 million workers have registered themselves on the portal, of which 50.2% are women3. The data shows that a significant number of women workers in domestic and household work i.e., over 3.6 million have registered themselves on the portal. This is one of the major categories of occupation where women representation is higher than men. Other than this, women form a significant part of sectors like apparel, agriculture as crop farm labourers and health as ASHA/ANM workers.

Accounting for women in the unorganized sector who are mostly unaware of their rights, entitlements and other accessible provisions given mobility constraints, unpaid care work burden, limited bargaining power and other social/gender biases is a major step towards reducing gender inequities.

It is important to understand that accounting for women in the unorganized sector, who are part of the vulnerable population, will help women workers be insured under various social security welfare schemes like Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-Dhan (PM-SYM) Pension Yojana and National Pension Scheme for Shopkeepers, Traders, and the Self-employed Persons. It also provides registered workers with an accidental insurance cover of INR 200,000 under the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY)4. In a scenario of a national pandemic, this database might be used to provide necessary assistance to the eligible unorganized workers.

To further increase the accessibility and efficacy of the portal for women, an awareness campaign should be designed to increase its outreach and include women beneficiaries. Collaborations with other ministries/departments such as the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Women & Child Development, Ministry of Rural Development, to name a few, can be undertaken to increase women registration across offline and online registration modes.