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Right to Work: A Far Cry for Women


In 2016, an opinion poll conducted by the ILO and Gallup across 142 countries and territories found that a majority of both women (70%) and men (66%) expressed a preference for women to engage in paid work, even including women who were not part of the workforce. This preference was widespread globally, including in traditionally low female labour force participation regions like the Arab world.


GS Paper- 2

  • Issues Related to Women
  • Gender
  • Employment
  • Issues Relating to Development

Mains Question:

The disruption of economic opportunities for women in terms of skilling, wealth accumulation, and overall well-being, as highlighted in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 , underscores the need to address broader gender gaps in households, societies, and economies. Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words).

Women in Workforce: Data:

  • The global female labour force participation rate stands at just over 50%, compared to 80% for men. In India, this rate is only 37% according to PLFS-2022-23.
  • Furthermore, approximately 2.4 billion working-age women worldwide face barriers preventing their equal economic participation due to legal restrictions in 178 countries.
  • In 86 countries, women encounter job restrictions, and in 95 countries, equal pay for equal work is not guaranteed.
  • The global gender pay gap is staggering, with men earning $172 trillion more than women over their lifetimes, which is nearly twice the world’s annual GDP, as reported by the World Bank in 2022.
  • On average, women earn only 51 cents for every dollar earned by men globally, and this figure drops to 33 cents and 29 cents for women in low and lower-middle-income countries, respectively, according to the ILO in 2023.
  • The Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group has emphasized that women cannot achieve workplace equality if they face unequal conditions at home.
  • Notably, across the globe, 118 economies provide 14 weeks of paid leave for mothers, and 114 offer paid leave for fathers, but the median duration is just one week.

Limitations faced by women:

Job Gaps:

Women also face various limitations in their job search, encounter different challenges than men, and often cannot secure employment on short notice, resulting in a significant “jobs gap.” This gap is more pronounced for women at 15% compared to men at 10.5%.

Insecurity of employment:

Even when women do secure employment, it is frequently in the informal sector, lacking legal protections, social security, and decent working conditions. For every five jobs created for women, four fall within the informal economy, whereas for men, the ratio is two out of every three jobs, according to the ILO.

Concentrated in a few areas:

A 2023 LinkedIn report based on data from 163 countries indicates that women continue to be overrepresented in certain industries, such as Healthcare and Care Services (64.7%), Education (54.0%), and Consumer Services (51.8%). In contrast, they are underrepresented in industries like Retail (48.7%), Entertainment Providers (48.4%), Administrative and Support Services (46.5%), Real Estate (44.7%), Accommodation and Food (43.3%), Financial Services (42.4%), Oil, Gas, and Mining (22.7%), and Infrastructure (22.3%).

Under-represented in STEM areas:

In well-remunerated STEM occupations  expected to grow in the future, women constitute only 29.2% of the workforce. In the emerging field of AI, women account for just 30% of talent as of 2022, potentially leading to the creation of biased algorithms that lack women’s perspectives. Additionally, in 2023, women hold only 32.2% of senior leadership positions across all industries, remaining outnumbered by men.

Initiatives in this regard:

  • Despite these disparities, the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs Survey reveals that over two-thirds of surveyed organizations have implemented Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs.
  • These initiatives include mentoring, sponsorship, leadership training, caregiving policies, and increased flexibility in working arrangements to address gender gaps in the workplace.
  • However, the World Bank’s 2022 report points out that indicators related to pay, parenthood, and workplace conditions have improved only modestly, indicating that there is more work to be done.


The disruption of economic opportunities for women in terms of skilling, wealth accumulation, and overall well-being, as highlighted in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, underscores the need to address broader gender gaps in households, societies, and economies. As labor markets evolve in the post-pandemic era, efforts should focus on leveraging frontier technologies, enhancing education and capacity-building for improved employability, productivity, and wages, as well as establishing new working arrangements that enable both men and women to balance caregiving responsibilities with work.

February 2024