Women in Urban Informal Work and Covid-19 in India


The International Centre for Research on Women released this report in 2021 as part of a three-country (India, Kenya and Uganda) research study. The report analyses the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic as well as the policy responses to it during March 2020–February 2021 on women engaged in the urban informal economy in India.

The report evaluates the workers’ vulnerability to events like covid-19. Towards this goal, it defines vulnerability as “the diminished capacity of an individual or group to anticipate, cope, resist, and recover from the impact of any hazard.” It is determined by the access to social and economic resources a person or a community has. The report relies on interviews as well as review of other data such as Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) to make its observations and recommendations.

This report is divided into six sections: Covid-19 policies and women in informal work in India (Section 1); Introduction (Section 2); Findings (Section 3); Key takeaways for further research (Section 4); Delhi: Covid-19 and state response (Section 5); and Conclusion (Section 6).


  1. Over 50 per cent of women working in rural and urban areas do so in informal sectors, whether it be in households or informal businesses.
  2. Concerning the urban female workforce, the report notes, that 87 per cent of workers do not have social security benefits. It also adds that about 77 per cent women are not provided with written contracts and as many as 80 per cent cannot avail of paid days off.
  3. According to the report, surveys among women working in a variety of occupations showed that nine out of every 10 informal workers reported increased stress due to uncertain working conditions and income.
  4. Policy responses such as the Atma Nirbhar relief packages were inadequate to meet the needs of the urban poor. The report adds that the cash transfers of Rs. 500 under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) were not only insufficient but also failed to reach many people who needed the benefits but did not have the necessary PMJDY accounts.
  5. During the covid-19 pandemic, when the job market was already very precarious, sexual harassment at work also rose, the report states. However, most women were afraid to report it for fear of losing their jobs.
  6. Between 2020-21 and 2021-22, India's gender budget outlay was reduced by 26 per cent. This was despite women being disproportionately affected by covid-19.
  7. Following the lockdown, women employees were more likely to face wage penalties. In comparison to men, women who had been employed before the pandemic were less likely to join the workforce after, the report states.
  8. Due to limited access to services, movement constraints, and health personnel being rerouted for covid-19 management, reproductive health worsened and access to abortion was negatively affected. The difficulty in obtaining family planning tools like condoms or contraceptives also led to an increase in unplanned pregnancies, the report notes.
  9. Due to the closing of schools, the necessity to care for the sick and elderly, and the increased demands by families as a result of people remaining at home all the time, women's unpaid care and domestic work expanded significantly during covid-19. Domestic violence cases also surged nationwide but access to support services was hampered due restricted mobility, a lack of privacy, and limited phone use.

    Focus and Factoids by Aishwarya AVRaj.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Sharmishtha Nanda, Nilanjana Sengupta, Srishty Anand, Sneha Sharma, Kuhika Seth


International Center for Research on Women, New Delhi