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- The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that the labour participation rate of rural women was 9.92% in March 2022 compared to 67.24% for men.
Findings and associated concerns
- According to CMIE, millions who left the labour market stopped looking for employment possibly because they were too disappointed with their failure to get a job and under the belief that there were no jobs available.
- In countries like the U.S., Canada and Australia, such workers who are willing to work but give up searching for work for various reasons are called ‘discouraged workers’ and they are included in the unemployed category. This phenomenon, not captured in India by any official labour force surveys, is wrongly described as women “dropping out” or “leaving the labour market” giving the impression that this was a choice made by them, whereas, actually, women are pushed out of employment. The CMIE provides valuable inputs for urgently required government intervention in rural India.
- Ground-level realities are worse than what the CMIE suggests and what the government denies. Women who belong to landless households or with meagre landholdings cannot afford the luxury of being “discouraged.” These are the “compulsory” workers.
Reasons for the fall in women’s Labour Force Participation in India
- Between 1977 and 2017, India’s economy witnessed a surge in the contribution of services (39 percent to 53 percent) and industry (33 percent to 27 percent) to GDP.
- The proportion of rural men employed in agriculture fell from 80.6 percent to 53.2 percent, but rural women only decreased from 88.1 percent to 71.7 percent (NSSO data).
- In agriculture, and as the use of seed drillers, harvesters, threshers and husking equipment increased, men displaced women. In textiles, power looms, button stitching machines and textile machinery phased out women’s labour.
- Nearly 12 million Indian women could lose their jobs by 2030 owing to automation, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report.
The income effect
- With increasing household incomes, especially over the last three decades, the need for a “second income” reduced. Consequently, families withdrew women from labour as a signal of prosperity.
Gender gaps in higher education and skill training
- Tertiary-level female enrolment rose from 2 percent in 1971 to only 30 percent in 2019 (World Bank data).
- As of 2018-19, only 2 percent of working-age women received formal vocational training, of which 47 percent did not join the labour force (NSSO, 2018-19).
- Consequently, women form only 17 percent of cloud computing, 20 percent of engineering, and 24 percent of data/artificial intelligence jobs (WEF, 2020).
- Unpaid care work continues to be a women’s responsibility, with women spending on average five hours per day on domestic work, vs. 30 minutes for men (NSSO, 2019).
- Women face inordinate mobility restrictions such that only 54 percent can go to a nearby market alone (NFHS, 2015-16).
- Women regularly sacrifice wages, career progression, and education opportunities to meet family responsibilities, safety considerations, and other restrictions.
- In this context, the COVID-19 pandemic has come as a shock, resulting in massive job losses for women, especially informal workers, and slower recovery of women-led micro-businesses.
- It has also increased domestic work, deepened gender digital divides, disrupted girls’ schooling and placed millions of female health workers at risk.
Low female Labor Force Participation Rate is a drag on GDP growth and a higher growth path.
China has 64% of its women working, which is one of the highest rates in the world. In the US, the rate is over 56%.
Even countries like Nepal and Bangladesh are doing much better than India.
While the number of women employed in salaried jobs in the country has increased by 8 percent (from 13 percent in 2011-12 to 21percent in 2017- 18) with the addition of 0.71 crores new jobs for female workers, the overall participation of women in India’s workforce in on the decline, revealed the Economic Survey 2018.
According to NSO-EUS and PLFS estimates, the female labor force participation rate for productive age-group 15- 59 years
shows a declining trend in the country. The female labor force participation declined by 7.8 percentage points from 33.1 percent in 2011-12 to25.3 percent in 2017-18.
Though the female labor force participation rate is higher in rural areas than in urban ones, the rate of decline has also been sharper in rural areas compared to urban areas, resulting in increased gender disparity in India’s labor market.
In urban areas, female labor force participation more or less remained constant.
According to the PLFS, the female workforce population ratio for the productive age group (15-59 ages) stood at 23.8 percent (25.5 percent in rural areas and 19.8 percent in urban areas) in 2017-18 as compared to 32.3 percent in 2011-12.
The number of self-employed women in the country has decreased from 7.2 crores in 2011-12 to 5.54 crores in 2017-18.
Women casual laborers have decreased from 3.97 crores in 2011-12 to 2.86 crores, while the share of women employers has remained constant at 0.6percent over the years.
At 17% of GDP, the economic contribution of Indian women is less than half the global average and compares unfavorably to 40% in China.
Other challenges faced by Women Workforce in India
- More women in the rural area in the labor force Compared to Urban areas.
- Gender wage gaps remain in every employment.
- Double burden on women: Balancing employment and domestic responsibilities (including household chores and care giving).
- Safety concerns, Sexual harassment at work place.
- Migration, Unfair Sex ratio, Environmental degradation have added to the women’s vulnerability.
- India is a male dominated Society in which the Economic, Political, Religious, Social and Cultural institutions are largely controlled by men.
- Control over women’s livelihood Choices and Sexuality has existed and evolved over Centuries through various discriminatory Social Practices and Institutions.
- Despite laws, gender based discrimination against women Continue in Indian Society. Clearly shows the laws and gaps in their implementation.
- Structure of Judicial remedies is still insufficient to serve the needs of women, Particularly Poor and marginalized women, in accessing justice.
- Development Programmes introduced to bring gender equality have Produced mixed results. Legislative Changes have faced resistance in their implementation due to Social, Cultural and religious Custom.
- There is no comprehensive policy support and there is a lack of its effective implementation.
- There is a lack of match between the aspirations of more educated women and the quality and availability of jobs. Further, there is a lack of salaried opportunities available for women with moderate levels of education.
- Increased attendance and higher participation of women in education.
- Insufficient formal wages and poor job opportunities are other reasons for the decline.
- While social norms and family commitments are important issues, factors such as terms of employment, working conditions, mobility limitations, and hiring practices also make things difficult.
- Women’s workforce participation is declining in rural India and is low and stagnant in urban India, primarily due to the shrinking of the agriculture sector.
- Lack of formal enterprises and the absence of having 200 cities with 30-minute safe commutes explain a lot, if not most, of this tragedy.
- A large proportion of the women who left the labor market are married.
- Many women who join the workforce are unable to re-join after having a child.
- If women's perceived productivity at home is greater than their returns in the labor market, women are likely to withdraw from the labor force.
- Barriers to migration for women, Discrimination, Sexual Harassment at the Workplace are other factors.
Steps taken by Government to improve women labour force participation
- Scheme for Adolescent Girlsaims at girls in the age group 11-18, to empower and improve their social status through nutrition, life skills, home skills and vocational training
- Pradhan Mantri Mahila Shakti Kendra scheme, promote community participation through the involvement of Student Volunteers for the empowerment of rural women
- National Crèche Schemeto provide daycare facilities to children of the age group of 6 months to 6 years of working women who are employed.
- Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK)to provide micro-credit to poor women for various livelihood support and income-generating activities at concessional terms
- Working Women Hostelsfor ensuring safe accommodation for women working away from their place of residence.
- SABLA Scheme, Providing life Skills and Supplementary nutrition to out of School girls
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013 -Cover all women, of all age , both in public and private sector, whether organized or unorganized.
- The Government enhanced paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, provision for mandatory crèche facilities in the establishments having 50 or more employees, permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures, etc.
- The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 now subsumed in the Code on Wages, 2019 provides that there shall be no discrimination in an establishment on the ground of gender in matters relating to wages by the same employer, in respect of the same work or work of similar nature done by any employee.
- To enhance the employability of female workers, the Government is providing training to them through a network of Women Industrial Training institutes, National Vocational Training Institutes and Regional Vocational Training Institutes.
- 'Mission Shakti'.
The Mission Shakti, includes the components such as;
- National, State and District level Hubs for Empowerment of Women.
- Women Hiplines, One Stop Centres.
- Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Sakhi Niwas (Working Women’s Hostels).
- Palna (crèches for children of working women) etc.
- The schemes of One Stop Centres and Universalization of Women Helpline are implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to support women facing violence or distress of any kind which may adversely affect their participation in the workforce.
Importance of Women in the workforce for India
- IMF: India’s GDP could expand 27%if the number of female workers increases to the same level as that of men.
- India could boost its growth to 9% per year if around50% of women could join the workforce.
- Financially independent and greater control over their own lives.
- They will stand against physical and emotional abuse.
- They will handle social issues and pressures on their own.
- Good for the overall economy.
- McKinsey Global Institute report 2016: increasing gender parity, India can add $700 billion to the global GDP.
- Because women bring new skills to the workplace, the productivity and growth gains from adding women to the labor force are manifold.
- Men’s wages will also increase as a result of greater inclusion of women in the labor force since productivity will increase.
- Women help build an inspiring work culture by bringing in healthy competition, fostering teamwork, bonding and thereby helping the company grow to its full potential.
Suggestions to increase women workforce
- Need to Integrate Policy of Work, Livelihoods, Earnings and Poverty, Re‐think and Integrate macroeconomic Policy with Social Policy.
- Convergence with programs for adult education, literacy, and advanced skill training and higher education.
- Using tax policies to incentivize women into the labor market on both the demand and supply side.
- Communication and Behavioural Change.
- Support Services for Entry and Continuation: eg- child care facilities, migration facilities, forums for informal and formal mentorship and connections.
- Infrastructure and norms play a crucial role in impeding women's sentry and sustenance in the workforce. The gender-sensitive infrastructure included full-time creches for children, affordable and safe working women's hostels, and basic public provisions such as piped water, hygienic washrooms at public places and safe public transport for enabling women to access decent and dignified livelihood opportunities.
- Improve women’s access to Credit, skills, marketing.
- Pay regular wages to Asha workers, Anganwadi teachers and helpers, cooks for mid‐day meals and regularize their employment.
- Improve working conditions for women.
- Investments in childcare facilities and toilets for women at all workplaces.
- Sensitisation on issues such as sexual division of labour within the home through large scale media advertisement.
- Implementation of minimum wage laws.
- Enable universal access to high quality public health care facilities and support for women's care.
- All women workers should have identity cards and be covered under Unorganized Sector Social Security Act, 2008.
- Secure and uphold women’s ownership rights over basic productive resources like land - Create equal rights to property.
- Focus on primary health so that private expenses and indebtedness on account of health and hospitalization can be eliminated.
- A minimum social security package available to all citizens that include life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and pensions offered through multiple distribution channels.
- Safer transport and cities, Change at home with an equitable distribution of work traditionally done by women.
- Change in Social norms and mindsets towards girls and women can be brought about through institutional initiatives. This involves the family, Community, religious and educational institutions.
- Strengthen and ensure implementation of economic and Social Policies for gender equality.
- The ‘compulsory’ woman worker must be recognised and protected by laws and policies that address her issues, while India celebrates the 75th year of Independence.