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Unformatted text preview: SPECIAL ARTICLE Economic & Political Weekly EPW july 24, 2010 vol xlv no 30 45 Empowerment Effects of the NREGS on Women Workers: A Study in Four States Ashok Pankaj, Rukmini Tankha This paper is part of a larger study sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women. We thank Govind Kelkar, Ravi Srivastava, Neera Burra, A K Singh, Indira Hirway, Jean Dreze and others for useful comments on the main study in a workshop. Ashok Pankaj ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) and Rukmini Tankha ( email@example.com ) are at the Institute for Human D evelopment, New Delhi. Using a field survey, this paper examines the empowerment effects of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme on rural women in Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. It argues that women workers have gained from the scheme primarily because of the paid employment opportunity, and benefits have been realised through income-consumption effects, intra-household effects, and the enhancement of choice and capability. Women have also gained to some extent in terms of realisation of equal wages under the NREGS , with long-term implications for correcting gender skewness and gender discriminatory wages prevalent in the rural labour market of India. Despite the difficulties and hurdles for women, prospects lie, inter alia, in their collective mobilisation, more so in laggard states. W omen’s empowerment was not among the original in- tentions of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ( NREGA ), and is not among its main objectives. However, provisions like priority for women in the ratio of one- third of total workers (Schedule II (6)); equal wages for men and women (Schedule II (34)); and crèches for the children of women workers (Schedule II (28)) were made in the Act, with the view of ensuring that rural women benefit from the scheme in a certain manner. 1 Provisions like work within a radius of five kilometres from the house, absence of supervisor and contractor, and flexi- bility in terms of choosing period and months of employment were not made exclusively for women, but have, nevertheless, been conducive for rural women. The flipside of the scheme is the nature of the job – hard man- ual work and wages based on piece rate – which make it difficult for women to earn minimum wages. Field reports suggest exclu- sion of single, divorced and separated, and old women in some places (Sainath 2007; Bhatty 2008). In addition, entitlement to 100 days of guaranteed employment is applicable at the house- hold level. In a male-dominant patriarchal society, it is difficult to believe that women’s decision to avail of employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme ( NREGS ) would get precedence over the decision of male family members....
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