You’re Fired: How Lockdowns Showed Urban Indian Women The Door

The fast-vanishing gender gap at the workplace in big cities turns out to be a myth

Nadim Siraj

May 9, 2022: The elite waterholes of urban India, lit up by jazzy neon lights and reverberating with chatter in trendy English, often give the impression that women in the country’s big cities have come a long, long way when it comes to financial freedom.

They have indeed come a long, long way – but on a path spiralling downwards, as women’s unemployment data from two years of the coronavirus pandemic has now exposed.

Incredible as it may sound, latest statistics show that urban women suffered job losses disproportionately – and by a massive, massive margin – due to lockdowns and subsequent disruptions that battered the country.

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Women accounted for only 9% of total employment in urban India, but they accounted for an unbelievable 76% of the job losses due to pandemic-related shutdowns. This chilling data has been compiled by the widely cited financial watchdog, CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy).

The result of this unusual phenomenon, of women in the cities bearing the brunt of lockdowns, has naturally witnessed a sharp plunge in the labour participation of the female workforce.

The female labour force participation rate among urban women was abysmally low at 9.4% in 2019-20. This has since fallen to 7% in 2021-22, according to the CMIE’s data.

The tragic revelation has yet again proved that whenever major economic shocks take place, it’s the working women in society who disproportionately lose way more jobs than men do. This phenomenon historically holds true for both urban spaces and rural settings.

The overall statistics for women, covering both urban and rural India, is not hugely different either. Women accounted for less than 11% of all jobs in 2019-20. But they accounted for about 52% of the 7 million overall job losses since then, as per the latest numbers.

The CMIE also observes that there’s no trend in India yet that shows women are joining the work-from-home labour force in good numbers.

India’s mainstream media, which operates like a cabal of likeminded propaganda offices bankrolled and steamrolled by companies and the state, is hardly expected to make this revelation a priority in its news coverage. The development will be covered, but it won’t get the weightage that is given to news related to petty politics and typically trending noise.

There are two reasons for it. One, popular media organisations are too corporatised as well as caught up in covering an overdose of politics, and hence, are unable to report on sensitive matters such as women’s dwindling financial freedom – unless they are spoon-fed to do so to serve some agenda. Two, the staff composition at media outlets is itself somewhat discriminatory in terms of gender equality.

In fact, the widening gender gap over jobs is not just restricted to India. Last summer, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) had said that inequalities between women and men in the world of work that were exacerbated during the pandemic-related measures will persist in the near future. Globally, between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment fell by 4.2%, representing a drop of 54 million jobs, while men’s employment declined by 3%, or 60 million jobs. That’s according to the ILO back in July 2021.


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