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Citation Information

Type Journal Article
Title Gendered Risks, Poverty and Vulnerability in India: Case Study of the Indian Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (Madhya Pradesh)
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
URL http://kms2.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ESDP/140772/ipublicationdocument_singledocument/b7a10ae6​-60a7-431b-bbea-aa4684653a25/en/6254.pdf
This study is part of a larger research project that involved a number of different countries in Africa (Ethiopia and Ghana), Latin America (Mexico and Peru), South Asia (Bangladesh and India) and Southeast Asia (Indonesia and Vietnam). All the research partners had the same goal of assessing the gender dimensions of social protection programming as well as its impacts on people?s well-being. This report specifically examines the gendered dimensions and impacts of the Indian public works programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Poverty is highly concentrated in rural areas in India. The poor largely rely on daily wage labour, and many are landless. An overall decline in agriculture is of particular concern given the sheer number of people – more than half the population – dependent on the sector for their livelihoods. Although the Indian economy has enjoyed substantial growth rates, second only to China in the Asian region, inequality has been increasing. The challenges to poverty reduction in India are not just economic, but are also strongly influenced by social inequalities based on caste, ethnicity, gender, age and religion, for example. For instance, in 2000, the poverty headcount in rural areas was highest among scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) at 45% and 37%, respectively, compared with 21% among non-SCs/STs. Women also face specific gendered risks and vulnerabilities: they receive up to 30% lower wages than men in casual labour – and 20% lower for the same task (World Bank, 2009). Women constitute two-thirds of the agricultural workforce but own less than one-10th of agricultural lands (NAWO, 2008), and they spend a disproportionate amount of time compared with men on domestic activities – women work 457 minutes per day compared with men who work 391 (ibid).
The government of India has taken an „inclusive growth? approach to poverty reduction, with one of the main flagship programmes being MGNREGA – a public works programme reaching up to 45 million households aimed at supporting a transformation in rural livelihoods and agricultural productivity in India through public works.
Drawing on a mixed methods approach, our research was conducted in four research sites (villages) in two districts in Madhya Pradesh (Khargone and Betul). This paper assesses the extent to which MGNREGA incorporates an understanding of gender inequality to support the inclusion of women, especially those from marginalised communities, in India?s poverty reduction and growth processes.
Looking at the design of MGNREGA using a gender lens shows that it incorporates a number of features that explicitly tackle some of the challenges women face in the rural economy and, to some extent, women?s differential experiences of poverty and vulnerability. MGNREGA promotes women?s participation in the workforce through a one-third quota in each state; provides crèche facilities and preference to women, especially single women, to work close to their residence; promises equal wages to both men and women workers under the provisions of the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976; suggests that banks or the Panchayat (local government) should consider both individual and joint accounts (where household members are co-signatories) to avoid crediting household earnings solely to the male household head, which would leave women with no control over their earnings; suggests that adequate representation of women among worksite facilitators be ensured; and recommends that women be represented in local-level committees and the social audit process, as well state and central level councils.
While these are important first steps, an analysis of the impact of MGNREGA at the individual, intra-household and community levels suggests that there is room for improvement in the concept and design of MGNREGA to better address gendered risks and vulnerabilities, and also that significant investment is needed to build the capacity and awareness of the local government implementing body to ensure that these features are adequately implemented.

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