Female Labour Force Participation in India


According to a study published by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), there has been no rise in women work participation despite increasing literacy.

Status of Female Labour Force Participation in India:

  • According to ILO estimates, female labour force participation rate (FLPR) has decreased from33.8% in 2000to 27.3% 2015. ILO further projects that FLPR is expected to reach 24% by 2030.
  • India ranked 108th in Global Gender Gap Report 2017 by the World Economic Forum and was placed abysmally low at 139 out of 144 countries in the economic participation and opportunities parameters. This is despite increasing literacy levels and gender parity in educational attainment
  • Further, Labour Bureau’s employment figures show that there is a rise in the percentage of women out of labour force between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016 across all levels of education and age-cohorts.

  • In 2011-12, the largest proportion of female workers were distributed in agriculture (63%), followed by manufacturing (13%)

Reasons for Declining Female Labour Participation rates in India:

Demand Side Factors:

  1. Jobless growth: The sustained economic growth in India has not translated into more jobs. This jobless growth has been more prominent in sectors that employ women or are female friendly such as agriculture and manufacturing.
  2. Mechanization of agriculture: The share of women workers in the agriculture sector dropped from 42% in 2004 -05 to 35.5% in 2011-12. This decrease in FLPR in agriculture can be attributed to increased adoption of technology in agriculture.
  3. Crowding Out Effect: There has been a crowding out of female labour participation because of oversupply of educated workers relative to the growth in jobs considered appropriate by them.
  4. Lack of job opportunities deemed suitable by women:The persistence of stigmas against informal workhas led to a lower level of participation rates among women withmedium educational attainment
  5. Male education Effect: In a traditional gender biased society like India, there is discrimination againstwomen in terms of entry into the labour force. This is due to male education effect as male are generally more educated than women.
  6. Protective Legislation (Discriminatory Labour Laws):Indian labour laws both at centre and state levelhas limited the employment of women workers by putting restrictions on the working of women duringnight shifts,andalso thetype of operations that women can work in. For example:
  • The Factories Act 1948: Section 66 states that no woman shall be required or allowed to work except between 6 A.M and 7 P.M in any factory
  • Mines Act 1952:Prohibition on employment of women in mines below ground and mines above ground except between 6AM and 7PM
  1. Maternity Leave Hike: Women employment in India has been affected after the maternity leave hike from 12 weeks to 26 weeks(Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017) as start-ups and SMEs have become reluctant to hire them.
  2. Sex-based occupational segregation: According to NSSO, urban males accounted for 16% of India’s population, but held 77% of all jobs in computer-related activities in 2011-12. This shows, how gender has become a discriminatory factor for certain white-collared jobs.

Supply Side Factors

  1. Cultural norms and stigma: In a patriarchal society like India, cultural norms and stigmas attached to women working outside and participating in economic activities arerampant and impedes women from working.
  2. Working Environment:Lack of an enabling environment that allows women to balance out domestic chores and worksuch astheprovision of crèches and flexible working hours impede women from continuing jobs.
  3. Time: Traditionally, women have disproportionately borne the burden of domestic responsibilities as a result of which there is a wide disparity between men and women in terms of time spent in domestic duties. This is a key source of inequality between women’s and men’s participation in the labour force.
  4. Household Income Security: Due to rising household income in both rural and urban India, the financial necessity of women to engage in outside work has dropped. Further, most families are keen for women to stay at home as it is reflective of a rise in social status
  5. Discriminatory Wages: Significant wage differential in the labour market which exists at both at informal and formal sectors impede the participation of women in workforce.
  6. Migration: Concerns over safety and inadequate provisions of working women’s hostels when migrating to a major city for a job undermine the willingness of women to migrate for work.
  7. Challenges at workplace: Various challenges at workplace such as patriarchal hierarchy, sexual harassment, lack of safe mode of transport adversely impact women’s willingness to continue work
  8. Education: Education in India unintentionally perpetuate gender stereotypes through gender segregation in classroom and gender insensitive curriculum.
  9. Marriage:
  • Early age at marriage is a major reason for lower work participation among women
  • Further, in India, women education has partly been to improve the marriage prospects of women, rather than their employment prospects. This largely dilutes the important purpose of the education- financial independence

Measurement Issues:

There are two major measurement issues:

  • Unpaid domestic work/duties which remains unaccounted
  • Women performing domestic duties and at the same time engaged in free collection of goods such as vegetables, roots, firewood, cattle, cow dung and sewing, tailoring, weaving etc. These works are unpaid and women are categorized as non-workers.

Impact of Low Female LFPR:

  1. On personal and Familial Life: Poor women participation in work impedes women’s decision making powers at home, impedes autonomy in fertility and child bearing decisions. Further, engagement in work other than domestic duties is essential for good mental health.
  2. On economy: The Economic Survey 2017-18 observed that lower women engagement in labour force adversely affects the growth potential of the economy. A McKinsey Global study in 2015 found that India could increase its GDP by 16-60% by 2025 by enabling women to participate in the economy at par with men.
  3. On society: The under-representation of women in the workforce is also a societal loss and hinders women empowerment. Greater engagement of the women in workforce is a key enabler in reducing gender discrimination and enhancing women’s role as an active member of the society.

Steps taken by Indian Government to encourage women participation in workforce

Constitutional Provision: Article 16: Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State

  1. Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP): The scheme aims to provide skills that give employability to women and to provide competencies and skill that enable women to become self-employed/entrepreneurs.
  2. Scheme for Working Women Hostel: The scheme aims to promote availability of safe and conveniently located accommodation for working women, with day acre facility for children, at places where employment opportunities for women exist
  3. Mahila E-Haat: It is a direct online marketing platform leveraging technology for supporting women entrepreneurs/SHGs/ NGOs for showcasing their products / services.
  4. Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers: It seeks to provide day care facilities for children (0-6 years) of working mothers.
  5. Equal Remuneration Act, 1973: provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work of similar nature without any discrimination.
  6. Minimum Wages Act, 1948: The wages fixed by the appropriate Government are equally applicable to both male and female workers and the Act does not discriminate on the basis of gender.
  7. Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008: The act seeks to ensure social security to the workers including women in the unorganised sector
  8. Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) Scheme: It provides cash incentives to pregnant and nursing mothers to partly compensate wage loss both prior to and after delivery.
  9. Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017: It provides for enhancement in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks and provisions for mandatory crèche facility in the establishments having 50 or more employees. However, the provisions have largely been responsible for low hiring women in formal sectors especially in start-ups and SMEs
  10. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013: It seeks to protect women against sexual harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organised or unorganised
  11. Skills for Employability: The Government has been providing training to women through a network of Women Industrial Training institutes, National Vocational Training Institutes and Regional Vocational Training Institutes.
  12. Advisory on Factories Act: The government has issued an advisory to the States under the Factories Act, 1948 for permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures
  13. The government has also prioritized women in many schemes such as MUDRA scheme, STAND UP India, MGNREGA etc to boost women employment.

Way Forward:

  1. Skills Training:
  • It is important to expand skills training for women to boost their employability in different sectors. The Skill India programme should be coordinated with initiatives to create jobs that are focused on sectors conducive to jobs that have a natural affinity for women.
  • The private sector could also take active part in training women entrepreneurs. For example: Unilever’s Shakti program, which has trained more than 70,000 rural women in India as micro-entrepreneurs to sell personal-care products as a way of making its brands available in rural India
  1. Equal pay: 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.
  2. Gender diversity policies and practices in private-sector organisations: Private sector companies should focus on human resources policies and practices to promote gender diversity. There should be specifies company measures to recruit, retain, promote and develop women. Companies should also take measures to tackle unconscious biases amongst both men and women workers.
  3. Employment Quotas:gender-based employmentquotas can play an important role to put more women in visible positions and possibly change social normsaround women and work.
  4. Non-farm job creation for women: India needs policy measures and job-creating investment in the industrial and services sectors that would be able to absorb additional labour migrating from agricultural sector. For example: Make in India could focus on sectors conducive to female employment such as ready-made garment manufacturing, electronics assembly etc.
  5. Assuring safe access to work: It is important to improve existing transport and communication networks and provide safe accommodation for women who travel to or has migrated for work.
  6. Role of society:The responsibility for eliminating unequal treatment and ending violence and harassment falls on all areas of society. Governments, workers’ and employers’ groups need to establish and strive to implement legislative frameworks that ensure equal access for women to labour regulation, social security and safeguards against sexual harassment
  7. Early Interventions: Interventions should be made earlier in the lifecycle of girls through school outreach campaigns to promote girls in leadership roles, raise the economic aspirations of both girls and their family members, and boost educational choices by girls.
  • For example: Planning Ahead for Girls’ Empowerment and Employability (PAGE), 2013. The programme which targeted girls aged 15-17 in select Delhi government schools had to components Empowerment and Employability. It aimed at enhancing decision making powers and positively influence their aspiration for higher studies and for a career.
  1. Reducing Time Burden: Government policies favourable towards reducing the time burden of women on domestic dutiesand care responsibilities must be implemented. It is important to enhance social infrastructure and services such as access to safe water and clean fuels in homes, better transport
  2. Behavioural Changes:
  • The government policies should focus on behavioural changes that make female employment more acceptable in the society
  • There should be communication programmes on gender equality in secondary education to help students imbibe equitable gender norms.
  • Further, there should be awareness programmes that acknowledge child care as the responsibility of both parents.
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