Here's Why PM Modi's Claim of Women's Empowerment in UP Does Not Hold Up

Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed recently in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj that the situation of women in the state has bettered under the BJP rule of last seven years, but the numbers say otherwise.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi held forth on women’s empowerment in Uttar Pradesh before a large audience of women in Prayagraj recently. But women’s participation in labour force in Uttar Pradesh is merely 9%; only Bihar is worse at 5%. In fact, 91% of women are out of labour market in Uttar Pradesh as per official data.

To quote the Prime Minister from the same rally, “Pratakshey kim pramanam” or what proof do you need for facts that are evident, he asked, implying that which is visible does not need proof. So in this piece, we delve further into a series of facts relating to the empowerment of women in Uttar Pradesh.

Also read: As Uttar Pradesh Heads to Polls, How Does the Yogi Govt’s Economic Performance Hold Up?

Amartya Sen had argued two decades ago that if we wish to measure women’s empowerment, we should examine four sets of indicators: their educational level; their ability to earn an independent income; whether they work outside the home (i.e. not in agriculture, where on the family farm they are merely unpaid family labour); and their ownership of assets. We examine indicators for most of these variables in this piece for Uttar Pradesh.

Jobs and education in Uttar Pradesh: How are women doing?

The Government of India’s Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) has been estimating the workforce and its features in each state of India since 1973-74. Between 2011-12 and 2018-19, joblessness worsened in the country sharply, reaching a 46-year high.

Uttar Pradesh’s economy had grown barely by 0.43% per year per person between 2017-21 (far removed from the doubling of farmer’s income promised between 2015 and 2022 by the Prime Minister).

The result was that the workforce fell in total from 2011-12 to 2019-20 for youth 15-29 years in India by -24.8%; in UP, it fell by -30.4%. It also fell for all those more than 15 years of age in India by -9.2%, but in UP, it fell by -17%. So much for the employment performance of the ‘double-engine sarkar’.

Also read: Women Informal Workers: Falling Through the Cracks in the Pandemic

The workforce decline in Uttar Pradesh, irrespective of categories, is of a far higher magnitude compared to the national level. Note that this is happening in Uttar Pradesh, which is among a group of Indian states that has youngest populations in the country. The total fertility rate (children born to women of reproductive age 15-49) was 2.7 in 2015-16 and came down to 2.4 in 2019-21 (still much higher than the India’s average of 2.0). Naturally, millions are entering working age every year in Uttar Pradesh, but those finding work is falling. That means the lumpenisation of youth is occurring on an unprecedented scale.

It is notable that girls in India are getting educated at least up to the secondary level to a much greater extent than ever before. In 2010, the secondary education enrolment in India was barely 58%, which jumped to 78% by 2015, but has since stagnated.

While secondary enrolment in India was 78% in 2019-20, it was only 66% in Uttar Pradesh (68% for boys, 63% for girls). These youth have aspirations for non-farm jobs, as agriculture, where their parents were engaged, did not offer any prospects for them. But those jobs do not exist locally (hence they migrate to the south and west of India, other than Punjab/Delhi).

Representational image.

The share of all Uttar Pradesh women who are literate has gone up to 66%, and for men to 82%, according to NFHS 5, 2021. Similarly, the share of Uttar Pradesh’s women with greater than 10 years of education is up from 33% to 39% between 2015-16 to 2019-21; that of men from 42% to 48%.

But those who are working is actually falling, suggesting that millions are growing up to be not in education, not in training and not in the labour force.

The figures of the girls and women in education increased appreciably in Uttar Pradesh, by about 2.48 million over the two years (2017-19), but this can hardly explain the absolute decline of 6.3 million women from the workforce, 2.5 times the increase of girls/women in education.

Rising education has meant that the share of ‘regular salaried workers (RSW)’ has gone up since 2012. However,  the quality of employment among such regular workers in Uttar Pradesh, in particular in urban areas, has worsened. For both men and women, the share of the regular workers in 2011–21 with “no written job contract” was high, 61% and 53%, respectively, in 2011-12. These shares have increased to 64% and 55%, respectively, in 2018–19.

Moreover, both men and women have become more vulnerable with respect to access to social security and eligibility for paid leave. The percentages of urban RSWs having no social security have increased from 54% to 64% for men, and 51% to 55% for women between 2011–12 and 2018–19, which indicates informalisation of the regular salaried employment.

There is a general improvement in standards of living even in Uttar Pradesh. The Prime Minister said that registration of the 3 million PMAY houses built, 2.5 million houses were registered under women’s name. It is also true that the National Family Health Survey 5 (2019-21) states that the population living in households with electricity went up from 72.6% in 2015-16 to 91% in 2019-21 (even though rural Uttar Pradesh received 16 hours a day electricity); those with an improved sanitation facility up from 36.4% to 69% (though nowhere close to the 99% claimed by the current Uttar Pradesh government); those with clean fuel for cooking rose from 33% to 49.5% (it is another matter that they cannot buy the gas, given that the price has been raised by central taxes to nearly Rs 1,000).

But with per capita income growth down to 0.43% per year over 2017-21, and youth unemployment shooting up, and millions of migrants returning to work again in agriculture from their city work after the pandemic, the resulting fall in wages is bound to have raised poverty in rural Uttar Pradesh. We have already estimated that the rural poor numbers rose in India between 2013 and 2020 from 217 million to 235 million in rural India.

Government efforts to create jobs?

Soon after Prime Minister Modi came to power, PM Mudra Yojana was announced. The government has relied upon MUDRA Yojana to get banks to hand out loans to small borrowers. In 2018, when the economy was stagnating badly, Mudra was publicised as a job-generation scheme. The Prime Minister said in the parliament, “We gave loans to 13 crore (130 million) youngsters through the MUDRA scheme.”

However, since 90% of the loans were issued under the Shishu category (less than Rs 50,000), they could not have generated many jobs. Besides, the default rate for that category is the highest. But the then Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad did not hesitate to make the typically exaggerated claim, “We have given loans worth Rs 4 lakh crore (Rs 4 trillion) to 80 million (eight crore) people.” “If each employed at least one person, 40 million (four crore) jobs were created automatically.”

The reality has been revealed by the government of India’s own PLFS data. These loans have been obviously given to self-employed people, who are engaged in a vulnerable form of informal employment.

Representative image. Photo: nevil zaveri/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Between 2012 and 2019, the worker participation rate (i.e. share of working age population actually working) fell sharply in Uttar Pradesh from 54% to 46.4%. In this, the share of rural females who were self-employed barely changed from 80.5% to 81%; the share of urban females who were self-employed fell sharply from 66.7% to 41%.

Also read: India’s Female Labour Participation Rate Falls to 16.1% As Pandemic Hits Job Sector

In other words, in absolute terms, those engaged in self-employment dipped. So, MUDRA proved useless in creating jobs. Among all urban males, the share of those self-employed fell from 52% to 47.5%, though it did rise for rural males from 62% to 67% (but with falling workers, the total numbers may have remained constant).

The loan mela-type Mudra scheme was a political move to give away money. Not surprisingly, almost immediately bad debts started piling up, due to which the scheme has continued to remain a headache for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and banks. From 4.35% of Mudra advances in 2016-17, bad loans shot up to 9.3% in FY19, as political parties organised camps to canvass Mudra loans for their supporters. In 2019-20, Uttar Pradesh was the second-largest in sanctions, while Bihar was well ahead of Gujarat and neck and neck with Maharashtra.

Bankers told the Business Standard, “Often the staff at branches was too eager to give loans, just to meet the target. Once the loan is given, there is virtually no effective mechanism that can be employed to get the repayment.”

Government jobs in Uttar Pradesh

There are about 5 lakh vacancies in the Uttar Pradesh government. While the vacancies for teacher jobs in government schools are around 10.6 lakh across the country, Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 2.17 lakh, according to 2020-21 estimates from the Union ministry of education.

The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) reports that against sanctioned strength in Uttar Pradesh of police personnel of 4.15 lakh as many as 1.11 lakh posts have been lying vacant.

In addition, Hindi daily Amar Ujala recently published a list of vacant posts in government in various departments, which does not include state public sector undertakings for aided institutions. It appears that despite some efforts to fill some of these posts, the overwhelming majority seemed to have remained vacant, as validated by several newspaper reports.

Santosh Mehrotra is a human development economist with a special research interest in UP.