On Women’s Backs: India Inequality Report 2020


Published in January 2020, Oxfam India's On Women’s Backs: India Inequality Report 2020 discusses unpaid care work done by women and girls, as well as the incidence of violence against them. It presents the results of a survey of 161 people conducted in Delhi and Udaipur.

Women are seen as carriers of social and biological reproduction, the report states. They contribute to the 'care economy' through physical and psychological forms of unpaid work. (Care work refers to domestic labour performed in households such as cleaning, cooking, washing, looking after children and the elderly, among other activities.)

This 76-page report has four parts – ​Gendered norms: breeding inequality​ (Part I); ​Unpaid care work: the canvas of inequality​ (Part II); ​Paid work, unpaid care work and violence against women​ (Part III); and ​The way forward​ (Part IV).


  1. According to data from International Labour Organization, women in India’s urban areas spent 312 minutes per day on unpaid care work, and those in rural areas spent 291 minutes per day. Men spent 29 minutes a day on unpaid care work in urban areas, and 32 minutes a day in rural areas.

  2. The report states that women suffer from extreme forms of income and ‘time’ poverty. This  affects their physical and emotional health and results in fewer aspirations for education and paid work.

  3. Studies depict that school education has little social value for women in India. For a girl to get married, her caste and economic status matter more than education levels.

  4. According to data by the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, around 40 per cent of all girls aged 15 to 18 years were out of school in 2018, and 65 per cent were engaged in household work.

  5. Among all categories of women in India, the report notes, those who have attained secondary and post-secondary education have the lowest female labour force participation (FLFP) rate.

  6. According to the National Statistical Office’s Periodic Labour Force Survey of 2017-18, the unemployment rate among young females of 15 to 29 years, is 13.6 per cent in rural and 27.2 per cent in urban areas.

  7. At 17 per cent, India has one of the lowest rates of women’s contribution to the gross domestic product in the world.

  8. According to a survey on household care conducted by Oxfam in 2019, women spend 42 minutes longer on paid and unpaid care work, and 48 minutes less on leisure activities, in households where men and women expressed that it was acceptable to beat women.

  9. The 2019 Oxfam survey also found that 64.7 per cent of women who failed to fetch water or firewood for the family were harshly criticised, and 42.2 per cent were beaten. Roughly 67.9 per cent of women who failed to prepare meals for men in the family were harshly criticised and 41.2 per cent were beaten.

  10. The report states that physical violence in households largely goes unreported in India. In a survey of 161 people in Delhi and Udaipur, the authors found that six of the 18 men interviewed admitted having been violent with their wives.

  11. A majority of the 42 women and girls interviewed in Udaipur said that they had never faced sexual harassment on the way to, or at, the workplace. Yet most of them also said that the fear of sexual harassment is what kept them from entering educational institutions or work.

  12. The report cites Violence against Women: A Field Study by Ahmedabad-based scholar Leela Visaria, an article published in 2000 in Economic and Political Weekly, saying that many women in Gujarat’s villages cited their ‘mistakes’ in household work as the reason they faced violence. In Visaria’s study, 67 per cent of women gave meals not being served on time as a reason, and 51 per cent said that it was the taste of the food that caused conflict.

  13. According to National Family Health Survey data from 2015-16, 23 per cent of all women aged 15 to 49 years had faced physical or sexual violence.

  14. Citing National Crime Records Bureau data, the report states that crimes against women in Delhi decreased from 2016 to 2017, but the number of cases in the cities were far higher than other metro cities. About 21.7 per cent of cases of crime against women were recorded as ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’.

  15. Studies on domestic violence in rural India – the report states – show that women’s financial autonomy reduces their vulnerability to physical violence within marriages.

    Focus and Factoids by Nayanshree Hemlani.