India has seen a really fast economic growth in the past three decades. However, the trends in female labour force participation rate have not been in line with the economic growth rate rather, they have been declining. This trend of the past three decades puts a question mark on inclusive growth and our aim of establishing an equitable society.
There are various reasons for low participation of females in workforce in India:
- 1.Lack of opportunities: Around 3/5th of total female workforce is engaged in agriculture- fall in availability of farm jobs coupled with the lack of economic opportunities in non-farm employment. Mechanization of farm and non-farm activities has also reduced opportunities for work. Gender disparity in labour market in India is widespread – low labour force participation, inequality in wages, more vulnerable employment particularly unpaid family workers among women. decline in animal husbandry in rural areas, fall in international demand for products of labour-intensive industries, changing domestic responsibilities have also contributed to the decline.
- 2.Educational factors: Illiteracy amongst women is highly prevalent especially in rural areas. Also, the data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) show that education and employment have a U-shaped relationship (a rise and subsequent decline in employment with the rise in education levels). Work participation drops sharply for women with primary and secondary education and rises only with college-level education. Further, the non-availability of white collar jobs, disproportionate long hours and lesser job security narrow downs the job opportunities for educated women in India.
- 3.Domestic duties and childcare burden: the time spent on unpaid work, especially on unpaid care and domestic chores has hindered women’s participation in the labour force. Of late, with a reduction in family sizes and distress migration of rural males, the burden of unpaid work on women has been increasing disproportionately. The burden of domestic work and unpaid care inhibits women’s ability to acquire skills for better jobs, leading to a vicious cycle of women being kept out of the labor force. Lack of adequate and affordable childcare facilities prevents women to step out of their houses.
- 4. Gender Bias: There is a low social acceptability of women working outside the household. Whenever economic conditions improve, the women are nudged to not pursue career or look out for jobs. Constraints in form of casteist and patriarchal notions of purity and pollution where women are prohibited from certain jobs, especially in the food processing, sericulture, and garment industries has added to the low participation. Factors like social background and place of residence also add to the lack of women’s participation in the workforce. Moreover, rural societies are segregated rigidly on gender basis dictated by patriarchal norms that are further perpetuated by religious taboos and cultural biases.
- 5. Lack of access to safe and secure workspaces on one hand and the widespread prevalence of poor and unequal wages on the other deters women from taking up jobs. The female workforce participation is higher in rural than in urban areas. But opportunities in villages are very limited, in agriculture or small petty manufacturing, trade, working as family helpers, or home based workers and so on.
- 6. Under-reporting:Finally, though most women in India work and contribute to the economy in one form or another, much of their work is not documented or accounted for in official statistics, and thus women’s work tends to be under-reported. Therefore, mis-measurement may not only affect the level but also the trend in the participation rate.
- 1. Backing up general education with technical one: Skill training of women in job roles aligned to the gig, platform and care sectors as well as other emerging sectors such as those covered under the Production-Linked Incentive Scheme needs to be encouraged. Online skill training can also be beneficial to women who face constraints in physical mobility due to social norms, domestic responsibilities or concerns over safety.
- 2. Strengthen sectors where women predominate – health and education : There is a need to focus action on girls’ school completion rates and improving the environment that makes it conducive for girls to attend schools. Expenditure on basic services like education and health do not just impact educational and health outcomes, it has implications for employment as well, particularly for women – both rural and urban- as a considerable share of women are employed in these sectors. As these two sectors expand, employment opportunities are surely to grow, especially for women. And as education improves, health prospers; it has long term implications for the quality of the labour force. This again has more positive consequence on the female labour force as women face more discrimination.
- 3.Transforming agricultural employment: Transformation of allied activities like dairy, animal husbandry, and agro based processing along with removal of gender based labour market imperfections can help to transform agricultural employment from a low end to a high end one and thus accelerate and redistribute growth.
- 4.Supporting women entrepreneurship: financing, SHGs etc
- 5.Semi-urban areas- need for development: It is crucial to enhance public investment in infrastructure for the semi-urban areas, the tier-II, tier-III cities, and even small towns, so that there are more work opportunities nearby (Mehrotra, 2016).The development has to be holistic with strong infrastructure network, roads, lights and safe transportation, and housing facilities for single women,that will ease the entry and retention in the labour market and will thus promote access to high productivity waged work or an expected market in the proximity. AMRUT scheme increasing entrepreneurship modernizing and increasing the role of SHGs access to finance.
- 6.Finance: Enabling women to acquire both physical assets (through credit facilities, revolving funds, etc.) and employable skills is crucial for them to take up employment opportunities in new and emerging sectors.
- 7. Providing Child Care Services: This initiative will significantly support women in managing their care responsibilities, enabling them to devote sufficient time to paid employment.Investments to set up child care services through collaborative models in office complexes and with industry associations in industrial corridors are also important. The National Creche Scheme which lays out specific provisions for working women has suffered diminished government funding. Revitalising the provisions of the scheme and adding a network of public and workplace crèches can be hugely beneficial.Public crèches can be operated at worksite clusters such as near industrial areas, markets, dense low-income residential areas, and labour nakas.
- 8. Making workplaces gender friendly: Menstrual leaves, equal wages for equal work, strengthening complaint resolution mechanisms, providing safe transportation facilities etc.
Gender equality in the labour market is not an end in itself but a key means to achieve wider human development goals that include poverty reduction, increased productivity and aggregate output, reduced fertility, infant mortality, and child labour; and greater decision making and bargaining power for women within households and outside.
Additional data: SDG 5-Gender Equality; Global Gender Gap Index 2022 –India’s rank: 135/146