Making Gig Work Work For Women in India
By Isha Sharma
Claudia Goldin, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, identified two critical phenomena that contribute to the gender wage gap. The first is occupational segregation, which highlights how women are concentrated in specific jobs and industries that are economically undervalued. The second is the hours gap, which states that women are more likely to work in jobs with flexible hours due to family responsibilities and safety concerns.
These trends have led to more women joining the gig and platform-based workforce. Gig work aligns well with traditionally feminised work, such as beauty services and domestic work, particularly given its ability to access flexible hours. Moreover, it has allowed groups previously underrepresented in the labour force to access the labour market, such as mothers and women with disabilities.
While gig work is opening up new opportunities for women to enter the workforce, which is essential to achieving gender equality as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, the challenges women face in the gig economy require attention.
02/ Women in the Indian Gig Economy
Gig work is not a new concept for women in India — it has long been a vital source of income for women. This has ranged from working as day labourers, artisans, domestic workers, within agricultural labour, and other informal sector jobs. The 2018 International Labor Organization report showed that there are 15.1 crore women employed in India’s informal sector1, working in sectors such as domestic work, home-based work, waste-picking, construction, and street vending.
The e-Shram national database shows that women make up a larger share of the unorganised sector workforce than men — as of March 2022, 52.7% of the 28.7 crore registered unorganised workers are women2. However, this number could be an underestimation as not all informal workers are registered with e-Shram.
03/ Gig Work Goes Digital
The digital revolution has created a paradigm shift in the gig economy. In the last decade, the proliferation of technology and startups has overhauled India’s employment landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic has further expedited this transformation, with startups now playing a pivotal role in establishing and expanding the platform gig economy in India.
According to NITI Aayog, the number of gig workers in India is expected to increase from 77 lakh in 2021 to 2.35 crore by 20303. Women in India participate in various types of gig work, including ride-sharing, food delivery, freelancing, and domestic services. They work as drivers, delivery partners, online tutors, and freelancers, providing services through platforms such as Uber, Ola, Zomato, Swiggy, Freelancer, Upwork, Urban Company, and many others.
While the growth of the online platform-based gig economy has piqued an increase in women’s participation in it, there are still several significant barriers women face in entering the gig economy. This includes relatively unequal access to digital technologies, safety constraints, and limited ownership of mobility assets, such as cars and scooters. Women’s participation is also largely restricted to feminised roles, such as beauty services, healthcare, and domestic work, which constitute a small fraction of available jobs.
04/ Evolving Policy Framework
Recently, the Indian government has taken measures to recognise and define the rights and entitlements of gig workers. For example, the 2023 Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill outlines the responsibilities and accountability of employers towards gig workers. Similarly, the Code on Social Security (2020) aims to provide social security schemes for gig and platform workers. This law consolidates nine existing laws and covers multiple benefits, including life and disability coverage, accident insurance, health and maternity benefits, and old age protection. In addition to this, the Code establishes a Social Security Fund, which is to be funded by contributions from aggregators and platforms, amounting to 1–2% of their annual turnover. While the Rajasthan Bill is active, there has been little information on the implementation plan for the Code on Social Security.
The recent legislative measures taken to support gig workers are undoubtedly positive. However, it is essential that we also consider the unique challenges faced by women gig workers. Currently, the Social Security Code only provides maternity benefits for establishments employing over ten workers, and the definition of ‘establishment’ does not extend to the unorganised sector. As a result, there are multiple gaps, where women gig workers’ needs are not addressed. Robust, customised solutions must be implemented to target the specific obstacles women gig workers face. A lack of doing so may lead to women gig workers exiting the gig economy, leading to a widening gender gap.
05/ The Role of Private Players
Female gig workers play a crucial role in the workforce, and their contribution to the economy is significant. Digital platforms can enhance female labour force participation and improve labour market outcomes for women. To fully realise this potential, it is crucial to not only account for the unique welfare needs of gig workers but also address the socio-cultural norms that have long limited women’s opportunities.
To establish a supportive ecosystem for women’s economic participation and employment, platforms should invest in measures such as guaranteeing safe transportation options, well-lit environments in frequented areas, and access to toilets. They should also provide childcare and other time-saving measures and ensure equitable access to education, skills, and technology to develop women’s human capital.
Social protection and welfare programs sponsored by the government can play a vital role in increasing women’s labour participation. These programs can help improve the social and economic safety net for women, thereby enabling them to participate more fully in the gig economy.
06/ The Haqdarshak Solution
While India is yet to develop specific social protection measures designed for women gig workers, amplifying the reach and penetration of existing government schemes can be a building block in achieving equity for women gig workers. Haqdarshak has been working with gig economy platforms and workers nationwide to enable welfare scheme linkages. So far, Haqdarshak has supported nearly 40,000 gig workers with government welfare schemes linkage and e-Shram registration in collaboration with Uber, Urban Company, and Zomato.
Haqdarshak enables welfare schemes and social protection for gig workers through eligibility screening, ensuring they are screened and informed about eligible welfare schemes via its multilingual app and setting up touch points across cities. Haqdarshak also connects the gig worker to welfare schemes and benefits like insurance schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (Ayushman Bharat), e-Shram Enrollment, and pension schemes such as Atal Pension Yojana.
India’s working-age female population is more diverse than ever, with women from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and varying levels of education and skills participating in the gig workforce. However, while the gig economy may bring more women into the labour market, there are central issues around women’s workforce participation that need to be addressed.
Women platform and gig workers must have full access to social protection to secure their access to income and healthcare, including coverage for unemployment, maternity, employment injury, sickness, old age, disability, loss of income provider, and child maintenance. Such protection is necessary to realise their human right to social security and improve labour market efficiency. With adequate social protection and gender-inclusive policies, women gig workers will be enabled to sustain gig work, thereby contributing to the overall growth and diversity of the labour market.