In households with access to the government’s National Rural Drinking Water Programme, women spent on average 22 minutes less per day on care work and 60 minutes per day more on paid work, the Oxfam report finds. The results for households that had begun using LPG gas cylinders for cooking under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana programme were similar – 49 minutes less spent on care work and an hour more on paid work.
Such results highlight how the provision of basic infrastructure to communities can have significant benefits for women in terms of time-use allocation. However, these programmes require adequate long-term investment and effective management to ensure success, both elements lacking in the two schemes, critics pointed out.
For example, despite spending 90% of available funds, just 18% of the rural population was connected to piped water supply between 2012 and 2017, against a target of 35%. Poor execution of projects left them “incomplete, abandoned or non-operational”, a key failure of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme scheme, as per this 2018 report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, the government’s auditor.
Expensive cylinder refill costs are affecting Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, a scheme that Ghosh believes was “potentially very effective”. Up to 40% of households in Chattisgarh had never refilled their cylinder, followed by 17% in Madhya Pradesh, citing costs, according to a 2018 study by MicroSave, a consulting firm. Policymakers have so far failed to address how households will overcome the affordability barrier, with refills priced anywhere between Rs 700 and Rs 800, a significant portion of a poor household’s income. Prices can also fluctuate according to international fuel markets, meaning planning for this expenditure can be difficult.
“Most households can’t afford to keep buying gas cylinders after the first free one,” said Ghosh, “So basically the cylinder sits there, in pride of place, only to be used on a special occasion. The rest of the time they’re back to using firewood.”
Need for equitable social norms
Up to 48% of women currently stop working within four months after returning from maternity leave, while up to 50% more men are working between the ages of 15-24 and 25-34, the child-rearing period, found a study by Intellecap, an investor in social enterprises. Greater attention paid to childcare and maternity leave policies could help restrict the effects of a “motherhood penalty” which entails women dropping out of work, worrying about being absent from work for a long time and accepting less-satisfactory employment, as IndiaSpend reported in August 2018.
While private-sector provision for childcare is expected to grow at over 23% annually between 2017 and 2022, and the Maternity Benefit Act 2017 mandates employers with over 50 staff to provide crèches, options for the poorest in society remain limited.
Workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme are entitled to free onsite childcare provided by their employers, but in reality this is not enforced and many go without. Severe funding cuts to the centrally sponsored National Crèche Scheme meant that 8,143 crèches closed between 2013-’14 and 2016-’17, hitting those with no way of affording private alternatives the hardest, IndiaSpend reported in January.