Women form a significant part of our society and thus their participation in the workforce is a driver of economic growth and indicates the potential for a country to grow and develop more rapidly. A developing India should certainly mean an increased female labor force participation, however, the data doesn't seem to agree with this theory. The continuing declining trends of women’s participation in the workforce has come as a surprise to the researchers and raises some important questions : “ Are Indian women not choosing to work?” or “If they are choosing to work, is society giving them enough opportunities , capacities and freedom to get involved in productive work?” and “Even if they have engaged in productive work, are women getting recognized for the significant amount of work they perform as unpaid labor?” and “ If these falling participation rates continue in the near future, will the declining trends start to question women’s ability to work in some specific domains?”
The answers to all such questions surface from some common economic and societal theories that have their roots in the past. And it's quite disappointing that what we today call as ‘Modern India’ still lacks a solution for this problem.
The first issue to address here is “Why is the women's ratio in the workforce so low in India”. Researchers from Harvard Kennedy School in 2017 have pointed out that a significant population of Indian women has actually expressed their willingness to work but there are many reasons that restrict them to rise as independent workers. The first major factor is the involvement in domestic duties that is primarily seen as a female’s area of work. The societal image of a woman in Indian households is that of a caregiver which often requires them to prioritize household chores. Such expectations often lead women who wish to work to face opposition by their families. According to the National Sample Survey of 2014 “60% women in rural areas and 64% women in urban areas spend most of the time in household chores because they believe that no other member will carry out domestic duties”. These norms have persisted in India since the last two decades. In the presence of such narrow views, women in India often tend to give up on being a part of the economic growth even if there is no external deterrent in their line of work.
The second factor revolves around the freedom and mobility to travel. The first concern that comes to mind when women step out for work. is the question of safety at travel and workplace. While women may be prone to violence at any point of time, those with night working hours have an ‘add on challenge’ to find safe and secure transportation. This often leads to denial of permission from the families to women who seek to work at far off places. Restrictions in travel options often lead to restrictions in their job options as well.
The third factor that has added to low levels of women’s participation in the workforce is ‘Wage Gap’. Report from India’s leading diversity and inclusive consulting firm Avtar Group reveals that “ women are paid 34% less than men for performing the same task with the same qualification”. This gender wage gap in India is unexplained and is thus possibly discriminatory in nature. Over the years , the wage earning abilities of women have improved in relation to men, however, the discriminatory element of gender wage gap has increased as well. Two main reasons that have come in line with the gender wage gap is - Maternity leave and the denial of women for working at night due to travel restrictions.
The second issue that needs to be addressed is “why women’s participation in the workforce is continuously declining?”. One reason that explains the falling rates of Female Labor Force Participation Rate is that more women are heading towards education. As more and more women are reaching out to educational institutions ,Female LFPR is continuously declining . This is seen as a positive indicator. Another factor that is seen as a positive indicator is the increasing household income. As the income level of households is enhancing, families want their women to leave work and stay at home. These factors are detrimental to women’s growth and independence. They explain the 38% decline of the Female Labor Force Participation Rate
The other 62% declining trend of Female LFPR is explained by some negative indicators. One key factor in this regard is the lack of job opportunities for women. A significant part of India’s growth has been jobless, that is, most of the jobs that have been created in India have been irregular , like the ones in the domain of construction, which is often not attractive to educated women. The other sectors that have seen job creation and maximum hiring are Telecom, Insurance, Gas, Power and Mining which are male dominated fields of work. Earlier the work that women did in the field of agriculture is now being done by machines. Thus, mechanization and advancement of technology has also led to a significant decline in women’s labor as compared to men on Indian farms.
According to the 2020 data of Labor Force Participation Rate, Female Labor Force Participation Rate of India is least in South Asia and is continuously declining which is a matter of concern. Berta Esteve Velarte, a professor in London School of Economics and Political Science in her work, “Gender Discrimination and Growth : Theory and Evidence from India” has pointed out that “ an increase of 10% in the female to male ratio of total workers would increase per capita net domestic product by 8%”. Another report shows that an increase in Female LFPR will enhance India’s GDP by 27%.
Growth in women’s participation in the workforce will not only generate economic benefits but social benefits as well. Independence of women helps them to assume a greater role in household decision making. Economically independent women also prove to be better keepers of themselves as well as their family’s health, can better educate their children and thus enhance human development levels.
Women’s education level is also increasing, However, a rise in education levels of women does not necessarily mean an increase in women’s workforce participation in future until perspectives are changed and past rooted structural problems are addressed. GOI’s Mudra scheme under Jan Dhan Yojna, Beti Padhao Beti Bachao, growth of MSMES, idea of pink manifesto; all such schemes are small steps in this regard. However, these schemes should not be one time and should be consistently enhanced to bring a long term positive change. The government can also consider some targeted solutions like improving transport infrastructure. According to the IHDS Survey, it was found that “construction of either kutcha road or pukka road increased women’s participation in non farm work by 1.5 and 1.4 percent respectively." Through rural funding, jobs should be created in sectors that appeal to rural women with higher degrees. Women also spend a lot of time in search of jobs. Thus, making available online job options through platforms like Linkedin, Internshala etc. can be a great help in this regard.