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Women workforce in the country fell to 18 per cent in 2019 from 37 per cent in 2006, non- government organisation Azad Foundation said on the International Women’s Day. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report this year ranks India at 149th position out of 153 countries on economic participation and opportunity. According to the Foundation, the Global Gender Gap Report estimates that raising women’s participation in the labour force can increase India’s GDP significantly. The declining women’s labour force participation, gender pay gap, high rates of informal work with lack of social security are seen as impediments to the goal of gender equality and empowerment of women in India. Over the last few years more women have taken up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses and are aspiring to enter the workforce. However dropout rates among women is also high, particularly around marriage, maternity and motherhood. There are options like working from home, creches and so on, yet a lot more needs to be done.

Key findings:

  • 79% of all PhDs scholars in India are women and it is a good sign which was not seen in previous decades.
  • Irrespective of employment category (casual and regular/salaried), organised or unorganised sector, and location (urban and rural), women workers in India are paid a lower wage rate.
  • Percentage of UG degrees that women hold is about 56% and PhDs is 42%.
  • The gender pay gap was 34 per cent in India, that is, women get 34 per cent less compared to men for performing the same job with same qualifications.
  • In the organised sector, women professionals even in the highest ranks of labour (legislators, senior officials, and managers) are also paid less compared to their male counterparts. However, these women constitute only one per cent of the total female work force and the gap is lowest as they are aware of their rights.
  • The wage difference is lesser for more skilled workers and more for semi-skilled or unskilled workers. Across enterprise type, wage difference is less for government/public sector and public/private limited company.
  • Large pay gaps in terms of average daily wages exist in male and female wage rates of casual and regular workers in rural and urban areas and the gap is narrower for regular workers in urban areas. On the other hand, for casual workers, wage gap is narrower in rural areas.
  • While inequality in jobs has increased, inequality in education has decreased between boys and girls. But this situation further exacerbates the crisis in jobs when it comes to women. Even as girls frequently outperform boys in school examinations, they are not finding suitable jobs for the skills that they have.
  • While both men and women are diversifying out of agriculture, almost 75 per cent of rural women are still engaged in it. A patriarchal ideology and local socio-cultural traditions confine women to the village where agriculture continues to be their most important (but insufficient) source of food and income. Male outmigration has also pushed women into taking on more responsibility of own cultivation and to perform wage labour to ensure households’ daily survival.

Reasons for Declining Participation of Women in Employment:

  • It appears that there are some non-economic, social and cultural factors. When increase in family incomes are there, due to the cultural factors, women leave the work to take care of the family.
  • The major pulldown is among the rural women as per Ministry reports where agriculture is shrinking and we donot have a robust manufacturing sector yet, we are investing it now and it will take time to reap benefits.
  • There are a lot of crimes against children inside and outside house so parents feel atleast one parent should stay at home and being a patriarchal society the burden comes to the women
  • One big factor is maternity. Many women who join the workforce are unable to re-join after having a child.
  • The landmark legislation, which entitles a woman to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave is becoming a big hurdle.
  • As per a study this increased cost for companies and this may discourage them from hiring women.
  • The safety in metropolitan, tier 1 and tier 2 cities is the major issue.
  • 11 lakh to 18 lakh women are likely to face difficulty in finding new jobs across 10 sectors this year. Because of ICT, part-time jobs from home are not giving the real picture.
  • Concerns about safety and Harassment at work site, both explicit and implicit.
  • Higher Education levels of women also allow them to pursue leisure and other non-work activities, all of which reduce female labour force participation.
  • Structural transformation of Indian agriculture due to farm mechanization results in a lower demand for female agricultural labourers.
  • When income increases, men allows Indian women to withdraw from the labour force, thereby avoiding the stigma of working (cultural factors).
  • Insufficient availability of the type of jobs that women say they would like to do, such as regular part-time jobs that provide steady income and allow women to reconcile household duties with work.
  • Social norms about household work are against women’s mobility and participation in paid work. Childbirth and taking care of elderly parents or in-laws account for the subsequent points where women drop off the employment pipeline.
  • The cultural baggage about women working outside the home is so strong that in most traditional Indian families, quitting work is a necessary precondition to the wedding itself.

Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; also Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring health and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities.
  • When more women work, economies grow. Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes.
  • For example, increasing the female employment rates in OECD countries to match that of Sweden, could boost GDP by over USD 6 trillion, recognizing, however, that growth does not automatically lead to a reduction in gender-based inequality.


  • Women have a different way of looking at things and this important
  • If more women did paid work, India’s national income would rise dramatically.
  • Money gets circulated as more people are employed for cooking, cleaning at home
  • One estimate is that GDP would go up by 20% if women matched men in workforce participation.
  • In the family qualities like independence, interdependence, tolerance, disciple, time management, multi tasking etc all this qualities she can learn and teach to her family better incase she works.
  • Enhances a woman’s control over household decision-making.
  • Providing greater impetus to women entrepreneurs would be critical for India’s growth.
  • Women entrepreneurs help drive innovation and job creation, besides assisting in addressing the world’s most critical challenges.

Way Forward:

  • Science needs the best scientists, and a knowledge economy needs a gender-balanced workforce.
  • Women need the 3C’s Confidence, Capabilities, access to Capital. Men need to understand that women are their equals.
  • One key ingredient of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revival strategies was to increase female LFPR. Abe made it a priority to build almost half a million government-funded crèches to help young mothers rejoin the workforce.
  • Government policies should focus on behavioural changes that make female employment more acceptable in the society.
  • Government schemes must target the fundamental cultural and social forces that shape patriarchy.
  • Communication programmes on gender equality in secondary education to help students imbibe equitable gender norms.
  • Acknowledging child care as the responsibility of both parents.
  • As for the workforce, much needs to be done, beyond maternity benefit entitlements and other quotas.
  • A useful and easily implementable idea would be to give income tax benefits to women. It would be a bold and effective step to increasing India’s female workforce participation.
  • For political empowerment of women, their representation in Parliament and in decision making roles in public sphere is one of the key indicators of empowerment.
  • Gig Economy provides women flexible work options to pursue their career while not missing important milestones in their family lives.
  • Initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, and new gender-based quotas from corporate boards to the police force can spur a positive change. But we need to invest in skill training and job support.
  • Drawing more women into the labour force, supplemented by structural reforms that could help create more jobs would be a source of future growth for India. Only then would India be able to reap the benefits of “demographic dividend” from its large and youthful labour force.