[Answered]“India’s female labour force participation rate ranks much low and is declining.” What are various reasons for low labour force participation of women in India? Suggest some measures to correct the labour market’s gender skew.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. Discuss the issues of low labour force participation of women in India and reasons for the same.

Conclusion. Way forward.

India is trying hard to become a superpower and to realise its dreams every stakeholder needs to be held accountable and every resource needs to be used. Gender equality in every field is a given requisite for this which therefore warrants a closer look at the labor force participation in India. Issue like low female labour force participation need to be resolved if India dream to become a superpower.

Low labour force participation of women in India:

  1. According to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Report, 2019, 1.3 billion women were in work in 2018 as compared to 2 billion men– a less than 2% improvement in last 27 years.The report highlighted that women are paid 20% lower than men, as a global average.
  2. Women remain underrepresented at the top, a situation that has changed very little in the last 30 years. Less than one-third of managers are women.
  3. The female labor force participation rate (FLFPR) in India has been one of the lowest among the emerging economies and has been falling over time. This has resulted in a decrease in the ratio of working females to the population of females in the working age group.The FLFPR in India fell from 31.2% in 2012 to 23.3% in 2018. Further, the FLFPR for rural areas has declined by more than 11% in 2018.
  4. In rural areas, not only are women withdrawing from the labor force, they are also being outcompeted by men in the existing jobs. This situation necessitates a deeper understanding of issues that hinder female labor force participation.

Reasons for low labour force participation of women in India:

  1. Lack of opportunities: In recent times, rural distress has affected women the most as income-generating opportunities have disappeared. The problem of ‘labour demand constraints’ or the lack of suitable job opportunities is acute for women in rural India, with a fall in the availability of farm jobs and the lack of economic opportunities in non-farm employment. Mechanisation of farm and non-farm activities has also reduced opportunities for work.
  2. Women education: 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. Unpaid work: A 2018 study has found that the time spent on unpaid economic activities performed at the household and community levels by women is one of the important determinants of the FLFPR. So, the time spent on unpaid work, especially on unpaid care and domestic chores has hindered women’s participation in the labour force.
  4. Gender bias: 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 income of other members of the household, 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. Changing family nature: 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.
  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.
  7. Other factors: Like lack of sanitation, sexual harassment at workplace, unsafe travelling, poor childcare facilities and care homes for the elderlyetc. has prevented women from working in the industries.

Way Forward:

  1. Child-care subsidies should be provided to free up mothers’ time to enter the labour force which would have significant implications in increasing female employment.
  2. Additionally, child-care subsidies can also have positive spillover effects on the education of young girls for they no longer have to be left behind to take care of their younger siblings.
  3. Policy makers in India and throughout the region should take a comprehensive approach to improve labour market outcomes for women through improving access to and relevance of education and training programs, skills development, access to child care, maternity protection, and provision of safe and accessible transport, along with the promotion of a pattern of growth that creates job opportunities.
  4. The state governments should also make policies for the participation of rural women in permanent salaried jobs.
  5. There is a need to generate education-based jobs in rural areas in the industrial and services sectors
  6. The governments should also generate awareness to espouse a positive attitude towards women among the public since it is one of the most important impediments in women’s participation in economic activities.
  7. Local bodies, with aid from state governments, should open more crèches in towns and cities so that women with children can step out and work. The crèches will open employment opportunities for women.
  8. Higher social spending, including in education, can lead to higher female labour force participation by boosting female stocks of human capital.
  9. Initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, and new gender-based quotas from corporate boards to the police force can spur a positive change. But we need to invest in skill training and job support.
  10. The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value that is protected by Indian law must be put to actual practice. Improved wage-transparency and gender-neutral job evaluation is required to achieve this end.
  11. It is important to improve existing transport and communication networks and provide safe accommodation for women who travel to or has migrated for work.
  12. For political empowerment of women, their representation in Parliament and in decision making roles in public sphere is one of the key indicators of empowerment.

 Women continue to face many barriers to enter labour market and to access decent work and disproportionately face a range of multiple challenges relating to access to employment, choice of work, working conditions, employment security, wage parity, discrimination, and balancing the competing burdens of work and family responsibilities. In addition, women are heavily represented in the informal economy where their exposure to risk of exploitation is usually greatest and they have the least formal protection. The goal is not merely to increase female labour force participation, but to provide opportunities for decent work that will, in turn, contribute to the economic empowerment of women.

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