Status of Women Workers in Indian Gig Economy

Status of women workers in Indian gig economy


The gig economy was a term coined by Tina Brown in 2009 when the economy of the USA was crashing which had led to a financial crisis of more than a year long. It was at this time that part-time jobs or temporary jobs were the only alternatives to survive in the worst financial crisis. A point of consideration is that these gig workers take the risk of the burden from organisations to individuals on the whole. This is in contradistinction to the conventional role of 9 to 5 jobs.

The gig economy workers are not new and they’ve been there since the time of the expansion of the online platforms which had taken the world by storm. The Covid-19 pandemic has been attributed to be one of the worst peacetime global contractions since the times of the Great Depression of the 1920s The growing role of the gig economy was obvious during the COVID-19-induced lockdown, with significant expansion of the online retail industry. Employers preferred their employees to ‘Work from Home,’ reducing staff strength and engaging freelancers or outsourcing jobs to decrease overhead expenses and engage skilled services during the lockdown period.

Traversing the Potential of Gig Economy in India

The Gig economy in India has not yet developed to its full potential but it is estimated that within 8-10 years, the number of Flexi or gig employment might reach 90 million, with total transactions worth more than $250 billion, providing an additional 1.25 per cent to India’s GDP. According to the Indian Economic Survey 2020-21, the wider adoption of e-commerce and online retail has dramatically increased the growth of the gig sector considerably. This Further ensured that India emerged as one of the largest markets for Flexi staffing, globally.

As a result, the gig economy has gained popularity among Indians to explore new avenues. The advantage of the gig economy is that it gives both service seekers and providers more flexibility in their employer-employee relationships. The Covid-19 pandemic induced lockdown and limited the movement of people which in turn expanded these digital platforms businesses and increased demand for home delivery of essential goods and services.

The demand and supply curves were exponentially increasing and so were the profits of these platforms. This period emerged as a work from home and spending more time with family for many privileged strata of the society. But for the rest, it meant pay cuts and losing their jobs.

In such a scenario, a sudden shift towards these platforms, provided the workers flexible working hours, engaging in non-traditional jobs, diverse exposure to online working, to choose one’s task and where and when to perform. With regards to employers of these platforms, they are reaping benefits too such as they can avail cheap labour, unbarred by contracts of permanent employees, skilled labour for a particular task unlike in permanent employment where an individual must be multi-tasking in all spheres of employment concerned, no sick leaves and holidays ensuring all-time work, saves office space and other equipment and enjoys absolute freedom in their business.

Women Workers in Gig Economy: Fight for Digital Rights over Digital divide based on Gender

As per a study from the World Bank, with a special focus on women workers in India, it raised concerns over the gradual declining rate of female labour force participation from 30.27% in 1990 to 20.8% in 2019.  This in turn raises the question of why so few participate among so many women in India and why are their numbers decreasing gradually in the coming years. This was a scenario before the pandemic hit us. Although their numbers have shown very little improvement after the pandemic too. The answer could be the digital divide among women workers especially in the gig economy which was favourable to the employment growth in pandemic times. As per the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, the digital divide is unfavourable to women as only 21% of women in India are internet users which in turn contributes to their low growth in the digital economy.

As per the report ‘India’s Emerging Gig Economy: The Future of Work for Women’ by Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), New Delhi. The report highlights that the gig economy is facing the issue of being under-regulated in India which further takes the course of both exploitation and discrimination of women workers. Their employment status has been kept hanging whether they ay are considered as employees/platform workers/independent contractors or not, although that issue has been put to rest by the introduction of the Code on Social Security, 2020. But it has created further challenges of overlapping definitions within the code, further adding to the already existing ambiguity of its implementation. For example, the code fails to acknowledge domestic work, in which a considerable number of women work.

The majority of women are involved in feminized working domains such as beauty services, nursing, caretaking activities etc on these online platforms. In the report, an interview had taken place which involved 88 women working in Urban Company leading online platform for providing beauty services.

The survey further affirmed that women workers belong to an age group of 20 to 35 years of age and are relatively young, almost 80 per cent of them are married, which further affirms that women are keeping shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts to serve their family needs and there is less hesitancy to work on online platforms. That shows work-life balance is attained conveniently. Most of them are high school passed which is 72 per cent whereas else 21 per cent are graduates.

SOURCE: Report ‘India’s Emerging Gig Economy: The Future of Work for Women’ by (IWWAGE), New Delhi

The number of Trained Professionals at Urban Company:


SOURCE: Report ‘India’s Emerging Gig Economy: The Future of Work for Women’ by (IWWAGE), New Delhi

Over the previous few years, the size and revenue of Urban Company have exploded. It had only 1,700 educated service professionals in 2016, but that number has grown rapidly (at an average annual growth rate of 128% from 2016 to 2020) and now stands at 20,000. Women account for 8,000 (40 per cent) of the total 20,000 service professionals in 2019 who are mostly engaged in the beauty, spa, and fitness industry (see table). The women’s professional growth size expanded at 169 per cent over a year, compared to men’s who grew at 113 per cent. This further shows that women are inclined to work but not at the cost of their safety. A need for better working conditions and standards remains pivotal which can be eliminated by proper laws on these frameworks. It also noted that women earned between thirty thousand to forty thousand salaries through urban company platforms.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act provides for the protection of women in workplaces but it fails to protect women workers in the gig economy leaving them at the mercy of the employers. They technically do not have any legal protection for the same. Their safety and security are compromised as a result which further determines their entry and exit into the workforce.

It was further affirmed, that on average men earn 7 per cent more than women per hour due to limiting factors such as location (male drivers are willing to offer rides in areas where they may be a high crime rate and increased safety risk) which is often reflected in ride accepting strategies, user ratings provided on platforms. Often lower ratings provided by customers adversely affect the income of the platform workers and other added benefits associated with employment was also observed.


The gig economy encourages flexibility in timings and part-time work with an assured decent standard of income which is favourable to women workers. It has provided job opportunities and further addressed the ever-increasing unemployment issues in the country during the pandemic. Opportunities provided by the gig economy, have accelerated the growth of the female labour participation rate which is abysmally low in India.

But further Growth of women is inhibited in the gig economy by stereotypes, lack of infrastructure, social security, insurance, maternity benefits schemes, dispute settlement mechanisms, low wages in comparison to their male counterparts. The above underlying issues can be resolved by framing separate laws and regulating the gig economy through various platforms. The potential of the gig economy is ever-widening but their vulnerable state and issues may call for jeopardizing the future of women platform workers in particular if remained unregulated.

Further, the movement of women workers in the gig economy should be encouraged that is from the conventional domestic spheres to other spheres. As often these workers are associated with beauty and caretaking activities which make their position limited to the traditional roles of women.

Anubhuti Awasthi
Hi! I am Anubhuti Awasthi. I am pursuing B.A. LL.B (Hons) from Amity University, Lucknow. Reading and writing keep me alive. I like to explain legal concepts easily. I have a keen interest to take part in moot court competitions and public speaking. I've been an active volunteer of the human rights cause and have worked for it through the various initiatives led at my alma mater. No wonder I've continued to do intensive research and studies on human rights, socio-environmental issues, and criminology. I am driven to contribute my bit towards society at large, by using law as a weapon.