PLATFORM ECONOMY: BOON OR BANE FOR WOMEN
Updated: Feb 2
At this time, the world is exponentially progressing towards digital technology as a result of internet expansion and technological advancement. Digital and technology-oriented initiatives are increasingly inspiring people to use digital platforms. This digital revolution has given advancement to the platform or the gig economy. Platform economy entails digital labor platforms where workers get connected to the service users who need to work upon requisition (The Future of Work for Women, 2020).
Image Credits: Sara Andreasson
Technology plays a significant role to amalgamate the platform economy or the gig workforce. The gig economy which is also known as platform, collaborative, or sharing economy, is speedily expanding (Samman, 2019). The gig economy embodies labor activities where the on-demand work is facilitated between the worker and the customer through digital platforms while these digital platforms serve as intermediaries and enable the customer to place an order for the service in lieu of a payment or a fee. At the same time, digital platform workers take up these tasks, particularly called gigs, and deliver their services; thus, these workers are called independent contractors more often than employees. The platform-based gig economy can be classified into two groups: first, is the digital gig economy which involves freelancing; second, is the physical gig economy which comprises on-demand work through digital applications, for example, Uber, Helpr, BookMyBai, and, Urban Company. However, this paper centralizes the digital gig platforms that cater to female workers with the skills that may or may not need some basic specialization levels. It emphasizes the female workers that are absorbed in jobs such as cooks, domestic help, beauticians, nannies, and drivers while it scrutinizes the hindrances that these women face with a gendered perspective in the view of their inclusion and willingness to continue working by the means of gig platforms.
At the offset of the gig platforms, it was perceived that gig jobs would open opportunities for women to earn, along with the household-based chores obligated by social norms for women. Gig platforms have the flexible feature inherent in them- which is seen as an opportunity for women as it enables them to balance their domestic responsibilities with their jobs. It is assumed that as the gig economy flourishes, it will take more female workers under its ambit which would lead to the empowerment and financial independence of women. However, despite the rapid growth of the gig platforms which were perceived to predominantly attract women, studies show that there has only been a small-scale improvement in women's labor participation. The gig platforms have not succeeded to increase the Female Labor Force Participation Rate (FLPR), which in due course is an indication of gender-based inequality.
The FLPR in India has been on a dwindle for over two decades. It has steadily dropped from 31.9 percent in 2000 to 21.8 percent in 2020 (Labor Force Participation Rate, 2020). The FLPRs in 2017-2018 for the urban self-employed population and urban casual workers, were 34 percent and 13 percent respectively, compared to 42 percent and 14 percent respectively in 2011-12. This implies that the participation rate has been diminishing in both the categories which can include gig workers very well.
It has been manifested in studies that the nature of work that these gig platforms offer to women is consistently gendered. These gig platforms provide women to undertake assignments that are either vastly stigmatized, for example, beauty and massage services or specific works that come under formal care, for example, nursing and nannies. Services such as beautician jobs through these gig platforms are denounced as it requires the worker to take up home services which entail body contact with strangers. An ethnographic study done on women in the beauty sector finds that the sectors which are female-dominated are often undervalued and belittled (Ticona & Mateescu, 2018). Along with this, the gig platforms seem to have occupied both men and women in the labor markets.
However, there have been problems relating to the gender pay gap and unequal payment opportunities. Studies have discovered that men earn approximately 7 percent more per hour than women (Cook et al., 2020). This is mainly because of limiting factors such as issues relating to women's security at the location of work, women having less experience in the specific field, or perhaps women tending to leave jobs frequently, especially after they start their families. In their study of the social and economic problems faced by women in the third world nations, Benería and Sen (2010) have sought to convey insights on the gendered division of labor and how it is apparent as women are perceived as fragile and less able to do more physical work than men. Against[KB1] this background, unendingly, there have been false generalizations based on gender which have consistently obstructed women's participation in labor and their self-reliance.
Correspondingly, media and numerous reports advocate that the percentage of women working at mid or high executive levels (medium and high skilled) are minimal, and more women work in the sectors where traditional and low skilled jobs are offered, for instance, tailoring and caregiver services. This is mainly because of the informal and flexible nature of work that they offer which is subsequently seen by women to help them in handling their work and family life.
Looking at these indicators, it can be affirmatively said that inadequate representation of women in the platform economy is indicative of two prevailing problems. One, being the grassroot difficulties such as socio-economic constraints and patriarchal practices that obstruct women’s development. Second, relates to the challenges faced by women in entering the workforce, for example, low skill training, low literacy levels, low digital skills, and a small ratio of available jobs that women prefer. The GSMA[KB2] Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019 shows that in India, only 16 percent of women are mobile internet users (GSMA, 2019). The digital gender divide remains a pertinent issue and it hampers women's participation and employability. In their studies about smart economics, Chant and Sweetman (2012) state that investing in women and upgrading their skills give them more authority to empower themselves. They also state that investing in women leads to the advancement of economic development as it generates meaningful social returns, and it bears fruit that is handed down from generation to generation. In this context, the sentiment of “you teach a woman, you teach a generation,” holds strong; as making a woman educated and enlightened, is no less than a revolution.
A survey conducted by Observer Research Foundation and World Economic Forum states that, 35 percent of the women are disinterested in the gig economy work because of lack of job security and uncertain employment status (Terri Chapman, Samir Saran, Rakesh Sinha, Suchi Kedia, 2018). In India, there has been limited research in the arena of the platform economy and the challenges that several women come across. Nevertheless, based on the existing literature, one can explore the gender dynamics pertaining to the gig platforms, particularly in the setting of emerging prospects in pink-collared jobs.
Pink-collar jobs, which are historically perceived as women’s work, are care-jobs that include beauty services, nursing, social work, and child work. Despite the flourishing gig platforms, there are several security issues that concern women workers to work in this sector and hinder their compatibility and regularity to perform. Firstly, gig platforms do not have a dispute redressal mechanism. In case of a dispute between a worker and a customer, these platforms do not have the commitment or liability to get involved in compensations and demands. These platforms only provide short-term and economical ways to solve any dispute as a substitute for litigation measures. Platforms claim responsibility for feedback resolution with the obligation to any liability (Kasliwal, 2020). The lack of accountability of gig platforms taking disputes and the subsequent risk of retaliation from the customer’s side makes the worker reluctant to raise genuine disputes. In this case, as the permitted dispute resolution system is not in place, there are chances that the one who is more powerful will have an advantage. Therefore, the absence of a fair redressal system restraints women to raise their voices, as they fear lengthy processes and consequential threats to their employment. There are a lot of women workers who are primary earners in their families, and they cannot afford to risk their jobs for expressing their legitimate concerns in disputes (United News of India, 2018).
Secondly, currently in India, there are no comprehensive regulations in place to regulate and monitor these gig platforms. As a matter of fact, the Code on Social Security does not provide for the protection of female labor (The Code on Social Security, 2020 | PRS India, 2020). Workers at the gig platforms are referred to as “independent contractors,” which delineates them as ineligible for any social security benefits. Though the Code aims to set up a national security board for unorganized workers to provide social benefits to gig workers, an absence of a proper database framework of gig platform workers which will facilitate the government to deliver services, is a challenge still to be resolved. There is a lack of a safety net for female gig workers which is spotted as the key criticism of the platform economy. For a safer digital workspace, the current framework for platform economy is inadequate as there is a failure to monitor and hold platforms accountable for any irrationality.
Thirdly, in the functioning of gig platforms, one of the inconsistencies is the absence of an emergency mechanism for the workers to ensure safe exit after rendering the services. Citing the increased crimes against women, an emergency button mechanism becomes substantial for women workers who find themselves in an unsafe environment. Additionally, platforms have no provision for registering a harassment case for gig workers. For example, if there is any incident of harassment by the customer towards the worker, the event will be termed as a dispute which has to be resolved by the involved parties independently. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 defines a workplace as “any place visited by the employees during the course of employment including the transportation (Bothra, 2014).” This Act provides women employees to claim responsibility against the harasser and encompasses both organized and un-organized sectors. However, gig platforms classify workers as “independent contractors,” and hence they are not covered within the ambit of the Act. Any step taken in the direction of making the workers depend on the platforms in the cases of these events will persuade a sense of security among female gig workers.
To facilitate and succeed in the participation of women workers through the gig platforms, it is imperative to remove these barriers. The entry of women into the job market enables them to be financially independent and empowered, especially in a societal structure that is patriarchy-driven. It is important to accept that in the absence of informal gig work, many women choose not to enter the labor market. These platforms offer women to build their own agency along with being self-employed. It will be useful to work on the lines of these restraints to ensure equality and equity in women's participation in the economy. To defy the gendered notions, legislations must open up the ways for women employment through gig platforms by facilitating women to raise disputes to guarantee ease of work, providing them with digital safety and space to report harassment cases, proper database framework of the gig workers which can help workers in availing the social security benefits. Women-friendly policies in the gig economy will help women to get a better and safe workplace which will ultimately increase their working efficiency. The platforms must be effective in providing healthier conditions to women, such as the digital and physical safety of female gig workers, along with a systemic framework, as the upcoming time will only see a greater degree of gig work.
· Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen. (2010). Accumulation, Reproduction, and Women’ s Role in Economic Development: Boserup Revisited, 7(2), 279–298.
· G.P, P. (2020). Domestic work in the platform economy: reflections on awareness of worker’s rights.
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· Kasliwal, R (2020). Gender and the Gig Economy: A qualitative study of Gig platforms for women workers.
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· GSMA. (2019). The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019 (p. 52).
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· Bothra, N. (2014). The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. In SSRN Electronic Journal.
· Ticona, J., & Mateescu, A. (2018). Trusted strangers: Carework platforms’ cultural entrepreneurship in the on-demand economy. New Media and Society, 20(11), 4384–4404.
Hunt, A., Samman, E., Tapfuma, S., Mwaura, G., Omenya, R., Kim, K., Stevano, S., & Roumer, A. (2019). Women in the gig economy: Paid work, care and flexibility in Kenya and South Africa. November, 92.
[KB1]If quoting directly from an article or an author’s work and mentioning it in the beginning of the sentence, you don’t need to give their citation at the end of the paragraph. [KB2]What is GSMA? Give the full form. Cover Image: Deccan Herald
About the author: Poorva is currently in her 1st year of Master's in Public Policy from JSGP. She is keen on exploring the domains of Renewable Energy, Public Health, and Refugees.