Gender Sensitisation in the Census

By: Suman Prashar
The process of collecting census data in India has been riddled with gaps in gender data specifically pertaining to women’s contribution to India’s economic activity and female work participation rate. This paper traces gaps persistent in the Census since 1971 along with changes accomplished in 2011.
Gender Justice

The Census of India is an authentic source of information on housing, demographic, social and economic aspects of population at the lowest administrative levels; village in rural areas and ward in urban areas and is widely used for policy and planning purposes.

The Indian census is carried out on house to house basis by a personal visit of enumerators. It adopts extended de facto methodology whereby all the persons living in households during the major part of enumeration (9th to 28th February) are eligible for counting. Guests and relatives living in the household during the enumeration period are counted as part of the household. Conversely, persons staying elsewhere during this period are counted where they are. The underlying idea is to count everyone only once without omission or duplication.

Article 6 Fig 1

As per the 2011 Census, though both male and female populations have registered growth, the gap between them has steadily increased from 20 million in 1971 to 38 million (Table 1). Despite the fact that the instructions for collection of information in the field have remained gender neutral, sex differentials in data, especially relating to women, have drawn the attention of researchers and planners and the Census Organisation has been making a continuous effort to net gender sensitive information. One of the most under reported aspects relate to the netting of women’s contribution in economic activities, particularly in unpaid work that women are engaged in. In 1991 Census, the rider that the unpaid work in family farms and family enterprises is to be included became part of the ‘individual slip’ so that the enumerators are constantly reminded about it. Earlier, it was only included in the Instruction Manual. This was followed by extensive publicity campaigns on television and on the radio to generate awareness. Though female work participation rate (WPR) improved from 19.7 in 1981 to 23.1 per cent in 1991, the data continued to show regional disparities in terms of WPR and adult sex ratio. For example, in Punjab female WPR was reported to be mere 4.4 per cent which one could see was far from the reality – the actual contribution of women in the productive work would naturally be much higher.

Rural-urban and regional disparities were rather stark as was the growth of female workers in certain parts of the country. Low visibility of women in workforce could be gauged from the fact that 38,038 villages did not report any female worker in the 1991 Census, even though these villages had a population more than 200 persons each – 17,422 villages in this group in fact had more than 500 persons each.

Fig 2. Definition of work in 2011 census Work is participation in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wage or profit. Such participation may be physical and /or mental in nature. Work involves not only actual work; it also includes effective supervision and direction of work. It even includes part time and unpaid work on farm, family enterprise or in any other economic activity. The persons who are engaged in cultivation or milk production even solely for domestic consumption are treated as workers.
Fig 2. Definition of work in 2011 census
Work is participation in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wage or profit. Such participation may be physical and /or mental in nature. Work involves not only actual work; it also includes effective supervision and direction of work. It even includes part time and unpaid work on farm, family enterprise or in any other economic activity. The persons who are engaged in cultivation or milk production even solely for domestic consumption are treated as workers.

To counter this, the 2001 Census saw an extended definition of work: it included milk production for domestic use as an economic activity. This particular activity has been counted as work in the 2011 Census too. The definition of work has also been made clearer. The data on workforce participation rates for 2011 is yet to be released and we have to wait a while to see if these changes have impacted the overall work participation record.

The past few Censuses have been marked by training and publicity for both the enumerators as well as the public in general about the activities that constituted work. At the same time, possible causes for gender bias creeping into the data collection and dissemination were evaluated resulting in changes in the wording of questions and the instruction manual. Another example can be cited from the fertility question which is related to children born in the family: generic words like male/female were replaced with daughter and son in the questionnaire to establish an emotional quotient and not to inadvertently miss married daughters born to the enumerated. Gender sensitisation efforts were carried forward in the entire 2011 Census processes as a cross cutting strategy. Efforts focussed on inclusion of vulnerable groups; training and outreach programmes were targeted towards inclusion of economic activities of women in the organised and the unorganised sector. Another innovative tool used in the 2011 Census was the use of an e-learning module on special gender themes like female head of the household, female workers, migration, disability and fertility etc. Animated role plays and quiz in simple but interesting and interactive narratives were presented to make complex concepts simpler and comprehensible even for uninitiated enumerators.

The sensitisation exercise has proved to be a mixed experience as far as the current results show. The 2011 Census has recorded the pushing up of the overall sex ratio, while the child sex ratio in the age group 0-6 has plummeted from 945 in 1991 Census to 914 in 2011 (Table 1). This is a trend that has also been observed in the previous decades leading to several administrative, political and legal set ups including the amendment to Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (1994) and a hoard of other initiatives.

 

Endnote

The first snapshot of population for the year 2011 showed encouraging results in sustained female population growth, improved overall sex ratio and female literacy. However, certain areas require concerted and continuous attention due to persisting gaps: female workforce participation continues to remain under reported, so does female literacy. There are districts where child sex ratios are very low – less than 900 and so on. Final population data on other indicators when released would reveal change, if any,
in the structure of work force and other indicators. This would also determine a course of action and policy for promoting gender equality and development.

 

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