Working women too with a dream of good childcare

Working women too with a dream of good childcare


  • The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 (March 8) is ‘gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’. However, gender equality is still a far cry for India’s female informal workforce.

Key Challenges

  • According to a 2018 study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 95% of India’s working women are informal workers who work in labour-intensive, low-paying, highly precarious jobs/conditions, and with no social protection.
    • A World Health Organization bulletin says that “women’s informal work is central to the feminisation of poverty”.
  • Benefits of Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 are mostly enjoyed by formal sector women workers, constituting less than 5% of the women workforce.

    Working women too with a dream of good childcare
    Photo Credit: Sudipto Mondal
  • Lack of access to quality childcare services forces women workers to leave the labour force, ceasing their earning, and exposing themselves to discriminatory employment practices, and to significant economic and health risks.
  • India has paid less attention to address concerns around childcare support for informal women workers.
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) does not cater to children under the age of three.
    • Second, it functions only for a few hours a day, making it inconvenient to send and pick up children during work hours or avail take-home rations provided to pregnant women and households with younger children.
  • National Creche Scheme has suffered diminished government funding.
  • Women in informal employment did not have maternity benefits until the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, entitled pregnant and lactating mothers to a cash transfer of at least ₹6,000.
    • The cash transfers under the PMMVY are insufficient, by both evaluations on the ground and the NFSA benchmark, as well as for nutrition needs and wage compensation. The amount also does not match an inflation-adjusted NFSA benchmark (nearly ₹9,400 in 2022).
    • Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) limits the benefit to the first birth and has also reduced the amount to ₹5,000.
  • The lack of affordable and quality childcare services and maternity benefits increase the burden on informal women workers, aggravating gender and class inequalities.

India’s Step Ahead

  • India is ahead of many advanced nations in instituting maternal health benefits, and its statutory maternity leave is among the global top three.
  • The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 more than doubled the duration of paid maternity leave for women employees to 26 weeks.

Way Forward

  • Three ways to enable women to take up more productive paid work and improve their maternal and child health outcomes:
    • extending the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) infrastructure;
      • Extending the hours of Anganwadi centres can also address time constraints for working women.
      • Expanding the care worker infrastructure, especially the Anganwadi worker and helper, who are already overburdened and underpaid.
    • revitalising national crèche schemes
      • Revitalising the provisions of the scheme and adding a network of public and workplace crèches can be hugely beneficial. Public crèches can be operated at worksite clusters such as near industrial areas, markets, dense low-income residential areas, and labour nakas.
      • This model has been tested successfully by Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Sangini in some Indian cities.
      • Where work occurs at a single site, such as a garment factory or construction site, worksite crèches will help; as seen in the construction site crèches run by Aajeevika Bureau (Ahmedabad) and Mobile Creches (Delhi).
      • The funds collected under the construction cess can be earmarked for running crèches at construction sites.
    • improving maternity benefits
      • Right to Food ( demands that universal and unconditional maternity entitlements of at least six months of the minimum wages for pregnant women and lactating mothers be implemented.
      • States such as Tamil Nadu (Dr. Muthulakshmi Maternity Benefit Scheme), Rajasthan (Indira Gandhi Maternity Nutrition Scheme), Odisha (Mamta Scheme), Gujarat (Kasturba Poshan Sahay Yojana), and Chhattisgarh (Kaushalya Maternity Scheme) try to bridge the coverage gap, incentivising health-seeking behaviours.


  • Presently, it is up to individuals and families to find a resolution to this tension of a worker-mother, putting women, girls, and children at a gross disadvantage. It is imperative that we consider affordable and quality childcare infrastructure as an employment-linked benefit and as a public good.


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