Faculty Working Paper: Smita Ramnarain (Associate Professor, Department of Economics)

Discussant: Ping Xu (Associate Professor, Department of Political Science)

Crises of Social Reproduction, Gender, and Workfare: Understanding the Impact of NREGA

  • Date: October 29, 2021
  • Time: 3:00 PM EST
  • Location: This event was on Zoom and has concluded.


The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the vital importance of social protection programs such as workfare in mitigating crises. And yet, acute crises such as pandemics are layered upon existing vulnerabilities and inequalities of gender, race, caste and ethnicity. In this paper, we consider how one of the largest workfare programs in the world, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA, or NREGA) in India, was embedded within a prolonged and chronic agrarian crisis in the pre-COVID period, with particular class, gender and caste implications. Applying a social reproduction feminism (SRF) framework to the crisis literature enables us to illustrate how the agrarian crisis was a crisis of social reproduction for labor, and how the gendered and caste-based organization of reproductive labor in response to the chronic agrarian crisis created distinctive outcomes for the participation of marginalized groups in NREGA. The empirical links we detail between the pre-COVID agrarian crisis, and women’s and marginalized castes’ participation in NREGA suggest that social protection programs that do not consider the labor of social reproduction, and are unaccompanied by broader forms of socialization of such labor may fall short of mitigating deep-rooted inequalities.