The invisible women in India’s labour market

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India’s female labour force participation rates have been dismal over the last two decades. At 24.5% in 2018-19, its current participation rate is timely below the global average of 45%, and may be the lowest in South Asia.

Despite rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increasing educational attainment, rising household incomes, and declining fertility, women’s participation in the labour market has plummeted. Even worse, the gender hole in participation is overwhelmingly large and has been widening over the past decade or so. In addition, there are appreciable variations in the rates of women’s labour force participation between rural and urban areas (26.4% for rural as opposed to 20.4% for urban women), and pronounced disparities are witnessed across Indian states.

A couple of factors influence women’s decision to go into the labour market, including demand and supply-side drivers, prevailing socio-cultural and gender norms and attitudes. Specifically, women’s ability to work is influenced by their marital status, the number of children, caste, religion, gender, lack of fundamental education and vocational skills, and labour market discrimination.

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To be had evidence suggests that finding a paid job is much harder for women than men. And once they enter the labour market, women still face limited work options, have fewer learning and career advancement opportunities, and function in deplorable working conditions. They’re overrepresented in the casual economy, especially in vulnerable, low skilled and poorly paid jobs that have limited social security. Equally concerning is the gender-caste intersectionality that is predominant in India and is manifested in differential employment outcomes for women.

One of the vital often-cited explanations for the declining participation of women has been the upward thrust in enrolment in schools and colleges – making them “unavailable” for paid market work. While this is true, evidence suggests that the decline isn’t limited to young women workers, and women’s participation has decreased considerably across all age cohorts, particularly between 25 to 59 years.

Furthermore, the relationship between educational attainment and women’s labour force participation isn’t unambiguous. The to be had data from National Pattern Survey Office’s employment-unemployment survey and the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) depicts a U-shaped relationship between education and labour force participation rates of women, strongly evident on the subject of urban women. In other words, women with no or less education and women with tertiary levels of education exhibit the highest rates of paid work participation, i.e. they’re significantly much more likely to be employed than women who have completed secondary schooling. Even so, quite low labour force participation persists among highly educated urban women.

The low participation rates, alternatively, do not indicate that women are working less. Instead, women’s time and efforts are diverted to unpaid care work (such as raising children, taking good care of sick and elderly) and domestic work. Women spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work in India than men, especially whether married. While fundamental to the welfare of society and the economy, these activities don’t seem to be accounted for in the System of National Accounts and employment, which means that that they remain unrecorded, undervalued and, subsequently, find limited focus in policies and programmes aimed at bettering labour market outcomes. The Time-use Survey of 2019 shows that, on average, a woman spends 19.5% of her time each day in unpaid responsibilities in comparison to merely 2.5% by a man. The International Labour Association paper money that the unequal burden of unpaid care constrains women from participating in the paid market work as they’re “time-poor”.

Another remarkable obstacle is the lack of women-friendly jobs. Researchers have debated that the overall employment situation for women has not improved in the final couple of years and that the declining labour force participation is associated with their limited involvement in sectors that supply jobs in white-collar services and products.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only amplified these inequalities further. As per one recent study, the time spent on household and care responsibilities has increased by nearly 30% in India because of the closure of schools and care services and products. In consequence, women have dropped out of the labour market and possibly may never return.

Women face a couple of constraints in society, limiting their mobility and labour market choice, forcing them to take non-wage employment, like working on circle of relatives farms and rearing cattle, or remain out of the labour force. The need of the hour is to invest in gender-responsive policies to collapse these barriers to women’s economic engagement.

Policymakers must take a holistic and integrated approach to fortify women’s labour force participation and their overall labour market outcomes by enhancing access to well and impactful skill development, adequate maternity benefits and entitlements, access to affordable childcare facilities, household infrastructure and provision of other family-friendly policies to minimize the burden of unpaid care work and protected and convenient transportation and public infrastructure. Additionally, providing access to better-paid formal jobs or improve for women-led entrepreneurship opportunities, making an investment in public services and products and women-friendly public spaces and addressing discriminatory employment practices are also critical.

Imparting essential vocational and technical skills can have a remarkably recommended affect on increasing women’s labour force participation in India. According to a recent working paper by IWWAGE, more than a few forms of training, such as formal vocational training, hereditary training, on-the-job training, raise the probability of women’s labour market participation in rural and urban areas.

In any case, we also wish to invest in robust data and evidence systems to better measure and count women’s unpaid work and design gender-smart policies and programmes for women’s economic empowerment and overall well-being.

Ruchika Chaudhary is a senior research fellow, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), an initiative of LEAD at Krea University

The views expressed are personal

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