ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Overcoming Precarity: How Informal Women Workers Coped During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns worsened the working conditions for women in the informal economy, resulting in loss of jobs, food insecurity, and reverse migration from cities to rural areas, more often than not along with their families. This article presents findings from an evaluation and looks at how informal women workers, such as domestic workers, beedi rollers and agricultural workers, fared in the states of Jharkhand and West Bengal during the pandemic. It looks at the impact of collectivisation efforts through SEWA’s programme to assuage the socio-economic challenges that emerged for these informal women workers.

The Macro Frames of Microwork

Based on a qualitative study of women microworkers on Amazon Mechanical Turk, this paper explores the gendered modus operandi of global platform capitalism. For women from households negotiating caste and class status in small-town South India, digital labour platforms like AMT are the optimal choice; an answer to both economic necessity and familial validation. Women must, however, endure the platform’s coercive disciplining, striving to meet its unknowable metrics. With the pandemic, even as they are forced to contend with the oppressive precarity of digital labour—reducing job availability, falling pay, longer hours and the risk of suspension—work on AMT, paradoxically, becomes non-negotiable. The artificial intelligence-based regimes of the platform economy urgently need a norm shift towards gender equality and redistributive justice.

The Continuing Saga of Women’s Work during COVID-19

This paper employs a social reproduction framework to argue that the two main institutions of capitalism—the markets and the state—have failed to adequately provide for the working people of India during the pandemic while fostering gender inequities. While the demand for gender equity in the domestic sphere and the workplace is not new, the pandemic further underscores its urgency.

Money or Medium?

Women’s empowerment in the informal economy is mainly understood through a solution-based approach: improving access to finance or giving informal women workers avenues to express and acquire their political voice. Yet, little consideration is given to the root cause of their precarity, which, in the end, disempowers the very tools that can secure women’s rights in the informal economy.

Violence in Times of COVID-19 Lack of Legal Protection for Women Informal Workers

The present article is contextualised within the increasing cases of violence and harassment in the lives of women workers in the informal sector and deeply entrenched labour market discrimination in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The article tries to analyse the impact of the pandemic particularly on the women workers in the informal sector through an examination of existing legal protection measures, access to social security and the issue of violence and harassment.

The Nokia SEZ Story

The closure of Nokia's mobile phone assembly plant in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, just eight years after it commenced production, illustrates how corporations can quit operations at a point when it is no longer profitable for them to continue, while the impact of such closures on workers is profound. The special economic zones policy of the state actively promoted corporate-led industrialisation promising employment, and creating aspirations among young workers. There was no accountability or labour-centred exit policies factored into the state's industrial policies when state governments welcomed private investments. With the closure of Nokia, not only have promises been broken, but its workers and supply companies have lost their livelihoods and future possibilities of work.

Globalisation and Informalisation

Globalisation has had a twofold impact on working women - growing informalisation and fragmentation of work on one hand and expansion of opportunities, on the other. However, the onus of protecting worker rights lies with the government, which more often than not abdicates its responsibility. A recent international workshop in Seoul concluded with six core demands that included among others - implementation of core ILO conventions and setting up secure social safety nets for women workers.
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