Women’s participation in the Indian workforce is a pivotal aspect of the nation’s socio-economic landscape. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, it is imperative to assess the strides made towards gender equality, especially in the realm of women’s employment.

According to the 2011 Census data from the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, 149.8 million women were employed in India, comprising 121.8 million in urban and 28.0 million in rural areas.


Labor-Force Absence during PLFS 2019-20: The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) for 2019-20 reveals a decline in women’s labor force participation, notably during the Covid-19-induced lockdown from March to June 2020.

Trends in Female Labor Force Participation Rate (FLFPR): FLFPR for working-age women dropped from 47% in 1987-88 to 23% in 2017-18 but showed a partial recovery to 30% in 2019-20.

Rural and Urban Disparities:

  • Rural FWPR decreased from 53% (1987-88) to 25% (2018-19), attributed to gendered occupational segregation and skill disparities.
  • Urban FWPR declined from 25% (1987-88) to 18% (2018-19), influenced by societal norms. However, it increased to 21% in 2019-20.

Occupational Shifts and Education Impact:

  • In 2018-19 to 2019-20, rural FWPR increased, with more women engaged in agriculture and home enterprises.
  • Education-wise, rural FWPR improved among non-literate and basic school-educated women.
  • Urban FWPR gains were consistent across education levels.

Gender Wage Disparities: Despite progress, modest gender wage disparities persist. Female salary increased from 71% to 75% of male wages between 2009-10 and 2019-20.


The recent data from September-December 2021 by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) indicates a concerning decrease, with the female labor force participation rate reaching 9.4%, the lowest since 2016.

Census 2011 reveals a marginal decrease in the work participation rate for women, which is 25.51% compared to 25.63% in 2001. However, there is an overall improvement from 22.27% in 1991 and 19.67% in 1981.

While strides have been made, there is a pressing need for comprehensive strategies to address the challenges hindering women’s full and equitable participation in the workforce. The pursuit of gender equality remains an ongoing imperative for India’s sustainable development.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish December 4, 2023