Women Navigating Indian Gig Economy: Challenges & Possibilities

Women Navigating Indian Gig Economy: Challenges & Possibilities

By: WE Staff

In July 2023, thousands of female gig workers in India united in a nationwide protest against the app-based company, Urban Company. This platform provides beauty and home care services, yet the female gig workers found themselves disillusioned and frustrated by the company's new rules and stringent rating requirements. These stringent policies had led to the arbitrary blocking of their accounts, a move that jeopardized their livelihoods and financial stability.

This protest marked a historic moment as it was the first-ever nationwide labor action organized by female gig workers in India. These workers, often marginalized and underrepresented in the rapidly expanding platform economy, used this opportunity to demand their rights and respect. Their collective action sheds light on the issues plaguing female gig workers, such as precarious employment conditions, inadequate pay, and the absence of social protections.

Rise of The Gig Economy & Women's Participation

The gig economy refers to the system of work where workers are hired for short-term or temporary tasks, usually through digital platforms or apps. The gig economy is growing fast in India, with nearly eight million workers in 2020-21, and is forecast to expand to 24 million workers by 2029-30, according to government think-tank NITI Aayog. The gig economy offers flexibility, autonomy, and higher earnings for workers, as well as lower costs and higher efficiency for employers.

However, women make up a very small part of the industry and are mostly concentrated in sectors like beauty services, domestic work, healthcare, and education. According to a report by ActionAid India, only 29% of gig workers in India are women, compared to 40% globally. Moreover, women earn less than men in the gig economy, with a gender pay gap of 35%. The report also found that women face multiple barriers to entry and retention in the gig economy, such as lack of digital literacy, access to smartphones and internet, safety concerns, social stigma, and unpaid care work.

Challenges Faced by Female Gig Workers

Female gig workers face several challenges in their work, such as low wages, lack of social security, limited bargaining power, and algorithmic discrimination. Many female gig workers are paid below the minimum wage or even below the poverty line. They also do not have any benefits like health insurance, pension, maternity leave, or sick leave. They are dependent on the platforms or apps for getting work assignments and ratings, which can be arbitrary and unfair. They have no control over their data or privacy and can be deactivated without any notice or explanation.

Female gig workers also face gender-specific challenges, such as sexual harassment, violence, abuse, and exploitation from customers, employers, or intermediaries. They also have to balance their paid work with their unpaid care work at home, which limits their availability and mobility. They also face social stigma and discrimination from their families and communities for working in non-traditional sectors or outside their homes.

Opportunities for Female Gig Workers

Despite these challenges, female gig workers also have some opportunities to improve their situation and empower themselves. One of these opportunities is to organize themselves into unions or collectives that can represent their interests and demands. For example, the All India Gig Workers' Union (AIGWU) is a national platform that brings together gig workers from different sectors and regions. The AIGWU has been supporting female gig workers in their protests against Urban Company and other platforms. The AIGWU has also been advocating for a national policy on gig work that can ensure fair wages, social security, grievance redressal, data protection, and collective bargaining for all gig workers.

Another opportunity for female gig workers is to access training and skill development programs that can enhance their digital literacy, employability, and entrepreneurship. For instance, the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) is a non-profit organization that provides digital literacy training to women from marginalized communities who want to join the gig economy. The DEF also helps them access smartphones, internet connectivity, bank accounts, digital identity cards, and online platforms that can connect them to work opportunities.

In conclusion, female gig workers in India play a vital role in the platform economy, contributing significantly to the nation's growth and development. Their dedication and hard work deserve not only respect and recognition but also the protection of their rights. These women possess untapped potential to transform not just their own lives but also their communities, fueled by their remarkable courage and unwavering determination.

It is imperative that society rallies behind these women in their struggles and aspirations. Creating an enabling environment that values their labor and upholds their dignity is not just a moral imperative but also an economic one. These female gig workers are not mere laborers; they are agents of change, capable of reshaping the landscape of work in India. By acknowledging their importance, providing support, and fostering an atmosphere of inclusivity, we can harness their full potential and usher in a brighter, more equitable future for all.