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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 17 August 2021


  • Bringing women into the workforce

Bringing women into the workforce


  • As we celebrate India’s 75th Independence Day, there are many reasons to cheer for all those committed to gender equality. Women have made rapid strides in access to education, even at the secondary and tertiary level. 


  • GS Paper 1: Women Empowerment and Associated Issues

Mains Questions:

  1. Robust medium-term policies are needed to stimulate demand and supply of female workers in the economy. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Status of  Female Labour Force Participation
  • Reasons for low female labour force participation
  • Suggestions to improve FLFP
  • Conclusion 

Status of  Female Labour Force Participation:

The recent release of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2019-20 clearly establishes women’s exclusion from the labour force. A review of the PLFS 2019-20 and the earlier surveys highlights the glacial pace of improvement in women’s labour force participation and employment, and signs of Covid-linked distress.

  • First, the gap between the male and female labour force participation continues to exceed 45 percentage points. 
    • The Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) for working ages (15 years and above) declined from 47 per cent in 1987-88, hitting its nadir at 23 per cent in 2017-18.
    • FLFPR has now recovered marginally to 30 per cent in 2019-20. In comparison, men had an LFPR of 92 per cent and 77 per cent in 1987-88 and 2019-20 respectively — more than double the FLFPR.
  • Second, even as the proportion of rural women at work increased, they remained predominantly employed in agriculture as wage labourers. 
    • Between 1987-88 to 2018-19, the rural female workforce participation rate (FWPR) fell from 53 per cent to 25 per cent. This decline was driven by gendered occupational segregation and continued gender gaps in skilling, which create barriers to women’s employment in the manufacturing sector. 
    • However, between 2018-19 to 2019-20, the rural FWPR increased from 25 per cent to 32 per cent, the proportion of women employed in agriculture rose from 72 per cent to 76 per cent, and the share of rural women working as unpaid helpers in household enterprises rose from 38 per cent to 42 per cent. 
    • These rapid changes which occurred just in the last one year clearly reflect the distress caused by Covid-19 for rural women.
  • Third, urban women’s employment grew only marginally, and in sectors with greater exposure to the risks posed by Covid-19. 
    • The urban FWPR declined from 25 per cent in 1987-88 to 18 per cent in 2018-19, largely driven by rapid increases in urban household incomes and continued pressure of unpaid work and social norms, with families not requiring “secondary income earners”, that is, women to work. 
    • Between 2018-19 to 2019-20, urban FWPR rose from 18 per cent to 21 per cent. However, this increase in FWPR was driven by increasing participation of women in the trade, hospitality, hotels, and restaurants sector (from 14 per cent to 22 per cent), and in construction, even as the proportion of women employed in manufacturing, professional, social and government services declined. 
    • Moreover, the casualisation of the urban women’s labour increased, clearly indicating that even though more urban women were at work, their employment is riskier and working conditions more precarious post Covid-19.
  • Fourth, the greatest increases in FWPRs were seen at the extremes, either amongst women with the lowest or highest levels of education. 
    • In rural areas, FWPR amongst non-literate women grew by 9 percentage points, and amongst those with upto primary education by 7 percentage points, whereas graduates saw the lowest increase of 3 percentage points between 2018-19 to 2019-20. 
    • On the other hand, in urban areas, increases amongst non-literate women, those with upto primary education, and graduates were equivalent of 3 percentage points.
  • Fifth, gender wage gaps have narrowed very slowly, except for casual rural workers. Overall, the female wage increased from 71 per cent to 75 per cent of the male wage over the last decade, between 2009-10 to 2019-20, with nearly half the increase coming in the last year. 
    • However, for casual rural workers, the female wage fell from 68 per cent to 64 per cent of the male wage in the last decade.

Reasons for low female labour force participation

  • Lack of comprehensive policy support and effective implementation: While several policies exist to enable financial support, training, placements and outcomes, few national polices focus on providing support services, such as lodging, safe and convenient travel, migration support and childcare, that enable women to access skilling programmes or be part of the workforce. 
  • Education-Employment Trade-off: Demand for employment for high school and university graduates has not kept pace with the large supply of women looking for such work. Therefore, more educated women do not wish to work in jobs that do not match with their aspirations and there are not enough salaried opportunities available for women with moderate levels of education like clerical and sales jobs. 
  • Gender Pay Gap: According to Global Wage Report 2018-19, India has one of the highest Gender Pay Gap of 34%. This pay gap is due to occupational segregation; cultural barriers (including less education opportunities available to women); and unpaid household work done by women. 
  • Competing Outcomes of the Household and Labour Market: 
    • A large proportion of the women who left the labour market are married. Also, husband’s income (and education) contributes to the withdrawal of women from the labour force through a household income effect. 
    • Maternity factor: Many women who join the workforce are unable to re-join after having a child. Maternity benefits Act 2016 increased cost for companies and may have discouraged them from hiring women. The estimated loss of female jobs was between 1.1 to 1.8 million for 2017-18, over and above the usual job loss due to attrition related to maternity. 
    • Non – availability of quality day-care is one factor which inhibits women from returning to work after their maternity leave. Similarly, if women’s perceived productivity at home is greater than their returns in the labour market, women are likely to withdraw from the labour force. 
  • Barriers to migration for women as in the last decade, there has been only a marginal increase in the proportion of rural women (of working age) who worked in urban areas. Even international migration for work remains a challenge for women. Women comprise less than one-fourth of the total Indian migrant stock. 
  • Social Norms and Agency: Deep-rooted social norms, lack of agency and gendering of occupations often leads to women having little choice in their employment and work decisions. 
    • Discrimination: Employment and wage gap between male and female cannot be explained only by differences in education, experience and skills, but the unexplained aspects attributed to discrimination. 
    • Socially disadvantaged women are more likely to be in roles without written contracts, with less paid leaves and shorter periods of engagement. In some communities, may be a stigma attached to women working outside the home (especially to certain job-roles considered menial)-which increases family and societal pressures to drop out. 
  • Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: Around 31% of the firms are not compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act (POSH), which mandates “Internal Compliance Committees” (ICCs) being constituted. 
    • Between 2014 and 2015, cases of sexual harassment within office premises more than doubled- from 57 to 119- according to NCRB data. 

Suggestions to improve FLFP

  • Reorienting Policy Design:
    • Modifying outcome metrics for labour market programmes by including enabling factors such as safety, aspiration alignment and so on. 
    • Convergence with programmes for adult education, literacy and advanced skill training and higher education. Education ecosystem needs to go through a set of system strengthening initiatives, including the introduction of digital and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in schools. 
  • Programme Innovation – Using tax policies to incentivise women into the labour market on both the demand and supply side. By introducing tax incentives for enterprises that have internal complaint mechanisms, gender friendly transport services and so on. 
  • Communication and Behavioural Change – Investing in large-scale social campaigns for changing social norms which break gender stereotypes, which includes women as well as redefining the role of men in households. 
  • Support Services for Entry and Continuation:
    • Providing arrangements for childcare at training centres, better stipends for travel, lodging, boarding and other expenses incurred during programme participation. 
    • Providing support to women who migrate in search of work and jobs. 
    • Developing forums for informal and formal mentorship and connections to female role models and women in leadership which is to be achieved not by tokenism but by increasing the ease of economic and political participation. 


  • The issue of wider, deeper and more meaningful participation of women not just in the workforce, but also in legislatures, police, armed forces and the judiciary, is a complex but very critical issue. Effort, therefore, is needed to amplify the gender-sensitivity of programmes. This can be achieved for a policy by enhancing its quotient of programme components that cater to women’s all-round needs.

Source: Indian Express

March 2024