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Women in Jobs in India

Women in Jobs in India

The declining numbers of women in jobs in India require introspection followed by suitable actions. The jargon used is ‘Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR)’ which is the percentage of the total women within working-age seeking work; it includes both those who are employed as well as those who are unemployed but seeking work.

India has one of the lowest female participation rates in the world which is 21%. In other words, 79% of Indian women (aged 15 years and above) do not even seek work. India’s 21% female LFPR is not even half the global average (47%). Countries with which India typically compares itself such as China, the US, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have two-to-three times higher participation rates for women.

Only 18.6 percent of working-age women in India participate in the labour force, three times lower than men, says the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2020. According to the World Bank, Indian women’s participation in the formal economy is among the lowest in the world—only parts of the Arab world fare worse. The economy has grown, educational attainment has increased, fertility rates have fallen, but women are not participating in the formal economy. On the contrary, their participation is declining.

Studies show that family income, marriage, childcare and decisions on children’s future, public safety, and political disempowerment affect women’s economic participation. Moreover, changing cultural expectations that restrict women is perhaps the harder part.

Using 48 Acts, 169 Rules, and 20 Notifications/Orders, Trayas, a regulatory research and policy advisory company, constructed an index comparing 23 states on how much economic freedom they give women. The index shows the extent of law-based discrimination to ultimately repeal these stifling directives. If Indian women participated in the labour market at the same rate as men, over 200 million additional workers could be mobilised. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2025, equal opportunities for women in India could add $700 billion to the economy.

The ‘State of Discrimination Index’ tracks how states treat female jobseekers on four freedoms: to work at night; to work in jobs deemed hazardous; to work in jobs deemed arduous, and to work in jobs deemed morally inappropriate. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa provide the greatest freedom for women to choose work, while Odisha, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal impose the most restrictions. States give the least freedom on the employment of women in jobs deemed arduous and on the employment of women at night in factories. Working on the night shift is the most legislated subject, and state rules related to The Factories Act, 1948, contain the most restrictions.

In India, laws often seem to hold women’s biological imperative above their standing as individuals. This approach has deeper repercussions: women remain ensconced in unpaid care work and their work and incomes are devalued. Laws that prohibit women from working on, or even near sophisticated machinery, leave them wanting in skills and training.

The fall in India’s overall female LFPR is almost fully because of the fall in rural India. It is another matter that urban female LFPR was always pretty low but the dip has been caused by fewer women in rural India being counted as part of the labour force.

An investigation into the statistics of the Indian workforce according to employment type reveals that in urban areas, the share of salaried / wage earning females is more than males. In rural areas, the participation of self-employed females is higher than that of males. Employment in casual labour is almost at par for both genders in rural areas, while it is slightly higher for males in urban areas.

Another interesting trend to note is that in rural areas, women in jobs are maximum in the agriculture sector, followed by manufacturing, construction, trade, and the hospitality industry. In urban areas, female workforce participation is maximum in the manufacturing sector, followed by hospitality, construction and transport, storage and communications.

Within the self-employed category, where the employment share of females is highest at 63% in rural areas, these figures are misleading as most women are employed as unpaid family workers on family farms and family businesses, engaging in activities like taking care of livestock etc.

Given the numerous kinds of barriers that women face in obtaining and retaining suitable jobs, entrepreneurship provides an alternate avenue to productive participation in the workforce. However, India is not performing well on the index of female entrepreneurship either, with only 21.49% of total establishments and 13.41% of non-agricultural establishments in India being owned by women. Several structural barriers exist, including limited avenues for women to enter only select business domains. But the most noteworthy barrier is posed by accessibility to finance for setting up businesses, with around 70% of women surveyed across four cities citing access to credit as a barrier.

During field visits where met many rural women seeking work. Source: Author.

For Rural Areas:

A fall in LFPR among rural women has been witnessed. The image above was one such conversation with women in a village of Maharashtra. These women, although keen to work, were not able to participate due to lack of employment opportunities. With the agricultural sector not providing adequate opportunities to women, re-imagining Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) could be a silver bullet for rural women. Already over 50% of MGNREGA participants are women, however, the kind of jobs available remain restricted to agriculture, irrigation, and sanitation which still tend to be fairly arduous for women. There is an opportunity here to reimagine MNREGA to offer jobs in healthcare, community and education. Frequently MGNREGA demand outstrips supply; the government has an opportunity to correct this by simply looking at a few states as a pilot to assess the impact of the income multiplier.

For Urban Areas:

Pressures of the hybrid work regime are prompting more women to quit, taking a toll on India Inc.’s attempts to foster workplace diversity. Among the primary reasons: lack of childcare infrastructure in offices and pressure from schools for dedicated focus on child’s education as in the days of online schooling. Therefore, the provision of crèches should not remain only in policy documents but rather be implemented across the sector. Sometimes maternity benefits which are a welfare mechanism and more such necessities discourage companies from hiring women workers. To address this challenge of women in jobs, economic incentives might work. China is already considering providing preferential tax rates to companies that have higher women percentages employed.

Women’s economic empowerment has been shown, many times, to be the best available weapon against poverty. Women in jobs in India would also enable to reduce gender inequality of all kinds.

The beneficial effects of full inclusion for women would be visible at the institutional and national levels. Including women in the financial system contributes to institutional profit and also reduces risk, increases transparency and also adds stability to the entire economy. Allowing women to participate in international trade increases a nation’s resilience and innovation.

Most importantly, studies show that teams of males and females make better investments, produce better products, generate higher returns, and have fewer failures. At home, couples who share housework and paid work have closer relationships with children, more egalitarian values, less interpersonal tension, and more productivity.

Indian women have to at a length to find, and continue the work. This is not only limited by the availability of jobs but also the access to it sans restrictions.  There is a long way for India to create an equitable labour market from a gender perspective. The change in the mindset is slow, but can be seen happening at some levels. Once continuously persisted for the change, the LFPR would increase in urban and rural areas. 

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