Evidence and studies indicate that such population criteria have deprived women, especially those from disadvantaged groups in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Bihar of the opportunity to participate in Panchayat and Municipal elections.
By Nibedita Phukan
Following the implementation of the regressive Two-Child norm population policy in Assam, the government has introduced a significant initiative known as the Mukhya Mantri Mahila Udyamita Abhiyan (MMUA), aimed at promoting women’s entrepreneurship. These two policies are closely interconnected, primarily due to the conditions tied to the Two-Child Norm. With the nation grappling with a severe unemployment crisis, women are disproportionately affected, particularly post-COVID-19, where only 24% of women are part of the labor force, leading to a substantial decline in women’s work participation rates in India.
In Assam, the workforce participation rate of women falls below the national average, revealing a disparity that requires attention. In rural Assam, only 17.9 percent of women are engaged in the labour force, lagging behind the national average by 9.2 percentage points. The urban region follows a similar trend, with a participation rate of 13.3 percent, lower by 3.7 percentage points compared to the national figures, as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey-2020-21. Analyzing the data by age, it becomes evident that as women age, they are more likely to be part of the labour force, but this probability decreases for elderly women.
In the current precarious economic landscape, self-employment emerges as both a risky and vulnerable option. Women venturing into entrepreneurship by securing loans from the government must carefully consider various associated factors. The repayment of the loan is contingent on the profits generated, adding another layer of complexity to the entrepreneurial endeavour.
Access to the Mukhya Mantri Mahila Udyamita Abhiyan is subject to various conditions, with the most prominent being the population norm. If the Assam government aims to promote and increase women’s participation in economic activities, a revaluation of the conditions tied to the Mukhya Mantri Mahila Udyamita Abhiyan (MMUA) is imperative. SC and ST women must not have more than four children, while others have three. We are living in a time when no one wants more than two children. This population criterion is understable if families are large. Analyzing the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) data, Assam has already reduced from 2.2 (NFHS 4) to 1.9 (NFHS -5), falling below the replacement level. Caste and education level-wise data reveal an average of 2.3 children per woman with no schooling, 1.7 for SC, 1.5 for ST, and 1.6 for OBC. Religion-wise data echoes a similar trend, with 1.6 for Hindus, 2.4 for Muslims, and 1.5 for Christians. Notably, the mean number of children is slightly higher in the older age group of 40-49.
As a former member of the National Coalition Against Two Child Norm and Coercive Population Policies (NCTCN), secretariat held by Centre for Health and Social Justice CHSJ, New Delhi, I have witnessed evidence and studies indicating that such population criteria have deprived women, especially those from disadvantaged groups in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Bihar (Local Urban Bodies), of the opportunity to participate in Panchayat and Municipal elections. There is concern that this criterion may disproportionately impact women above 40 from disadvantaged groups, the poorest, marginalized communities, and minorities. Implementing disincentives and exclusions based on the number of children in a family is considered undemocratic and violates several international treaties ratified by India.
Despite being framed in the name of women’s empowerment, the Two-Child norm is perceived as a regressive measure for Assam. To foster women’s economic empowerment effectively, the Assam government should reassess the conditions attached to the MMUA. This re-evaluation should consider the challenges and uncertainties of self-employment, especially in the current economic climate. Creating an environment that facilitates and supports women’s active participation in economic activities requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs. By addressing these challenges and promoting inclusivity, the government can pave the way for enhanced economic opportunities for women in Assam.
Nibedita has worked with the development sector for more than 18 years, primarily in roles related to research, policy advocacy, and strategic partnership building in the fields of gender, reproductive health, and climate change.