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Title: Visible contribution of invisible hands in informal sector in Nepal with special reference to home-based women workers
Authors: Bania (Tuladhar), Reena Shova
Keywords: Informal economy
Home-based work
Informal work
Home-based women workers
Issue Date: 20-Nov-2017
Abstract: The purpose of the study is to highlight women's growing involvement in informal sector work based on international references and national labour force surveys. In todays' world, the informal sector represents an important part of the economy and the labour market in many countries, especially developing and transition countries. So this study has purposed to document the fact that informal sector has acquired great significance over the years as a source of employment and livelihoods for an increasing number of people, especially women. The involvement of large numbers of women in the informal sector is a result of their low status in society and denial of opportunities in the formal sphere of employment. Women's low status is evidenced by their subordinate roles both at home and at the workplace. The present study is focused on the study of home-based workers which is a sub group of whole informal workers. In the context of definitional controversy and absence of sound harmonized method to measure women's paid work done at home and home premises. Those who have worked closely with women in the informal sector, argue that the informal sector is even larger than official statistics suggest. The argument is based on the fact that much of women's paid work not just their unpaid housework is not counted in official statistics. So on the base of available evidence of related studies, the purpose of this research is to point out that, if the magnitude of women's invisible paid work, particularly home-based remunerative work, were to be fully counted, both the share of women and the share of informal workers in the work force would increase. Some of the major documents, that were reviewed in the course of desk study are the main sources from ILO, UNIFEM, UNFPA, Plan Documents of Nepal, International and national organizations associated with informal workers like WIEGO, SEWA, Home Net etc.This study has documented the existing condition of women in informal sector in Nepal on the base of data provided by national labour force surveys. To understand home-based workers actual working condition and the contribution they make to household economy, a field survey is conducted in Kathmandu valley following a sound statistical method. A description of background characteristics as collected of the total 375 women home-based workers in the present study provides a perspective of the social status of these women workers. For the respondents, social, familial, and educational obstacles remain that hinder them from achieving their potential. As founded from the review it is seen that, as estimated by ILO, in all regions of the developing world informal employment (outside of agriculture) represents nearly half or more of total non-agricultural employment. An increasing share of the workforce in developed countries also works under non-standard arrangements, including part time and temporary work and self-employment. Half or more of female non-agricultural workers are in informal employment in seven of the 11 Latin America countries and in four of the six Asian countries for which data are available. In the context of Nepal, the labour force survey conducted in 2008 has estimated around 2142 thousand people aged 15 and over to be currently employed in the non-agricultural informal sector (70 percent of total non-agricultural employment) as compared to 1657 thousand in 1998/99 (73 percent of total non-agricultural employment). Distribution by sex show that males employed in the non-agricultural informal sector increased by 31.1 percent and for females by 26.1 percent in 2008 as compared to 1998/99. As estimated by ILO, there are over 100 million home-based workers in the world and more than half these numbers are in South Asia, of whom around 80 percent are women. Therefore, rather than receding, home-based work is in fact a vital and growing part of economic modernization. Its growth is exponentially linked to the globalization of industry and the never-ending search for less costly sources of labor and more efficient means of production by big companies. Home-based workers comprise a significant share of the workforce in key export industries, particularly those involving simple manual tasks such as labour-intensive operations, simple machines or portable technology. This is largely applicable to the textile, garments, footwear and handicrafts industry. Most home- based products such as handicrafts, handlooms and textiles have significant employment and export potential. As in other developing countries, Nepal too has a large number of people working at their homes. Traditional skills, local sources and informal sector of these home workers contribute largely to the development of the country. But the contributions of these workers have not been mentioned anywhere. In a sense they have been invisible and unheard of to the responsible organizations and industries. The issue of home-based work and workers in informal sector in Nepal has been surfaced, and a recognition of their existence made, only after the Kathmandu Declaration, 2000. The Kathmandu Declaration was enunciated with an intrinsic objective of bringing 177 Convention into motion. Thus it is considered to be one of the most significant instruments to foster and facilitate the welfare and development of home-based workers. The major workforce of the country is engaged in informal sectors in Nepal. It is estimated by NLFS-2 that of the male non-agricultural employed, 83.8 percent were informally employed and among female non-agricultural employed, 91.8 percent were informally employed. Home Based workers are an important group among these informal sector workers. Based on different study on home based workers it has been estimated that there are least 22 million home based workers in the country. It is true that women choose to work at home for number of reasons like flexibility of time and work hours allows them to combine income generating works with domestic chores and care work. At the other place, women are conditioned by prevailing gender norms to assume the triple workload and/or to restrict their mobility. But the findings of the present study points out the actual fact that, most women are engaged in unrewarding, unremunerative, hard work for many hours each day at home, merely because there is absolutely no choice or alternative. They choose home-based activities to supplement inadequate source of income for the family. Many women in this sector are never sure of making a net profit. All they know is that there is some turnover of cash which is generated by being involved in trading of their products. Our findings suggest that all these factors contribute to the concentration of women in home-based activities and to gender segmentation. Although by definition, the informal economy is unorganized, this is not an accurate description. It is not true that it is difficult for informal workers to get organized themselves or they are prevented from being organized. There are many instances of organization of workers in the informal economy identified in the course of present study the context of Nepal who have started to work on some labour issues where unfair and exploitative practices are visible. For example, trade unions have begun to enter the informal world in recent past. NGOs have also come into the scene, particularly after 1990. However the task is vast and definitely takes a long way to go. Principally, there are two main types of home-based workers, piece-rate workers and own-account workers. It is important to distinguish between them, both conceptually and statistically. So the present study has done a comparative study of the two groups. Based on the information of collected from both quantitative and qualitative method the study finds the challenges and issues of home-based work are somewhat different for the self-employed and piece-rate workers although their features are common in many aspect. Piece rate workers face the problem of exploitation, low wages, and no secure contracts, cheating by middlemen, unsafe and unhealthy working environment. In addition, they have to pay for many of the non wage costs of production costs of space and storage, utilities and equipment. The self employed on the other hand, lack access and competition in market, availability of raw materials, lack of financial sources, poor technology of production. While piece-rate workers need a guarantee of minimum wages, fair wages based on skill and productivity above the minimum wages, employment security and social protection, regulating the long working hours and a decent work environment, self-employed need transportation, storage, marketing, credit and enterprise security support. The Nepalese Labour Act stipulates that women are legally entitled to equal pay for similar jobs and to enjoy a series of gender-related privileges, such as maternity leave, social protection in health at the workplace. Legislation against the discrimination in jobs and wages is confined within the Constitution of Nepal 1990. However, women labourers in both of the types of home-based work as seen from the present findings to continue to be deprived from any legal protection if there be any. The findings from the present survey based on 375 observations, it shows the self employed group earns an average monthly income of Rs.6413, while the piece rate group earns monthly Rs.3938. Combined both of the groups, monthly income of the respondents is Rs.4572 and annual income is Rs.59436.6. The main reason for piece-rate workers' income to be low is due to their dependency on employers and middlemen who exclusively exploit them in wages. While in case of self-employed, they have their own right to fix prices for their products given they do no loose market. The present survey also indicates that women home based workers income comprises a significant part of the household income and their contribution to their household economy is substantial. Their share in household income is found to be 29.65 percent. The share of self-employed in household income is even higher 36.12 than that of piece rate workers which is 27.42. This invisible informal worker, namely home-based workers do contribute to household economy. Different socio-economic and individual characteristics are seen to affect the contribution made by them to household economy. The fact here is that the products are visible, but the producers remain invisible. In the absence of institutional support and specific policy measures to enable home-based workers to build a direct linkage with mainstream markets, women home-based workers are left marginalized in Nepal. It is imperative therefore to ensure that the government takes unified steps to enable better access and liberalized trade for them. The absence of official statistics to count the size and contribution of home-based activities has left them invisible.
Description: A dissertation submitted to the Dean's Office, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Tribhuvan University in fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Economics Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2014.
Appears in Collections:300 Social sciences

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