Wage inequality and the burden of unpaid care has pushed more women out of employment and into poverty. Women’s earned income in India was just one-fifth that of men’s even before the pandemic. Globally, and in India, more women have lost jobs during COVID-19. A recent report by the Center for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University in India shows that during the first lockdown in 2020, only 7 per cent of men lost their jobs, compared to 47 per cent of women who lost their jobs and did not return to work by the end of the year. In the informal sector, women fared even worse. This year, between March and April 2021, rural Indian women in informal jobs accounted for 80 per cent of job losses.
Indian women also spend more time doing unpaid care work at home than men. On an average, they spend 9.8 times more time than men on unpaid domestic chores and 4.5 hours a day caring for children, elders and the sick. During the pandemic, their share of unpaid care work grew by nearly 30 per cent.
The socio-economic toll on women and girls have long-term consequences, unless policies and actions deliberately target and invest in women. There is a risk that the exodus of women from the workforce could become permanent, reversing not only gender equality gains, but GDP gains. UN Women data  also shows that more girls than boys were left out of school during the pandemic and 65 per cent of parents surveyed were reluctant to continue the education of girls and resorting to child marriages to save costs. This can create an entire generation of young women without education and employment opportunities.
Women and children from the community assembled at a Saheli Samanvay Kendra (SSK) community centre in Batla House, Okhla, New Delhi. SSK community centres have been set up by the Indian Government across the country to act as local incubation centres to promote women’s self-help groups, provide skills training and public health information. The SSKs operate within “Anganwadi” centres that are part of the Indian public health care system, providing basic health care services in rural and marginalized areas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these centres have remained open, providing free meals, immunization and health check-ups for children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and helping women access government assistance programmes. In the SSK centre in Batla House, women also learn tailoring and sewing, computer skills and beautician training. Photo: UN Women/Ruhani Kaur