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Insights into Editorial: Why India is no country for working women?





Economic empowerment is key to gender justice. But India’s workforce has been contending with a worrying retreat of women’s participation.

The female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in the country has fallen from 30.27% in 1990 to 20.8% in 2019, as per data from the World Bank.

What’s worse, the decline was steepest in the years of high growth—2003-04 to 2010-11—indicating that the fruits of growth didn’t flow equally to men and women in terms of empowerment.

The pandemic has likely aggravated this—the loss of jobs in the informal sector is likely to have pushed many women out of work.

The formal sector hasn’t done well either, with women’s share in new payroll additions, which had been trending downwards for a long time, falling to below 20% in August 2020.


Female labour force participation rate (FLFPR):

  1. The LFPR basically tells what percentage of the total women within the working-age are seeking work; it includes both those who are employed as well as those who are as yet unemployed but seeking work.
  2. As the chart below shows, at 21% India has one of the lowest female participation rates in the world.
  3. In other words, 79% of Indian women (aged 15 years and above) do not even seek work.
  4. Countries with which Indian typically compares itself such as China, the US, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have two-to-three times higher participation rates for women.
  5. Worse still, it is not the case that India is behind just a handful of countries.
  6. India’s 21% female LFPR is not even half the global average (47%). The bottom of this chart further underscores the poor company India keeps in terms of freedom for women.
  7. However, the truth about women’s participation in India’s economy is more complicated.


Paid work, unpaid work and domestic chores:

In a recent paper, titled “Paid work, unpaid work and domestic chores: Why are so many Indian women out of the labour force?”, professor of economics, makes a couple of nuanced but significant points.

  1. One, she argues that the LFPR does not accurately capture the participation of Indian women in the economy.
  2. She says that the majority of women in South Asia are between the two extremes — namely, those women who work outside their homes for a salary and those who are exclusively involved within their own homes (caring for their family) of their own volition.
  3. These are women whose involvement in economic work (activities that are within the standard boundaries of the System of National Accounts, that is counted as economic activities when national income or GDP is measured) lies in a grey zone.
  4. The other point is that “the whole focus on labour force participation reduces the issue of women’s involvement to a labour supply issue”.
  5. In other words, while there are factors such as social norms or violence against women that hold them back from joining the labour force, little is said about the demand for their work.
  6. To better understand this, she points to the urban and rural break-up of female LFPR.
  7. It is another matter that urban female LFPR was always pretty low but the dip has been caused by fewer women in rural India being counted as part of the labour force.


Benefits of Women’s Economic Empowerment:

  1. Women’s economic empowerment has been shown, many times, to be the best available weapon against poverty.
  2. Economically autonomous women can walk away from abuse. Providing young women with the means to earn shields them from human trafficking. Gender equality reduces violence of all kinds.
  3. The beneficial effects of full inclusion for women would be visible at the institutional and national levels.
  4. Including women in the financial system contributes to institutional profit and also reduces risk, increases transparency and also adds stability for the entire economy.
  5. Allowing women to participate in international trade increases a nation’s resilience and innovation.


Measures that increase Women in workforce:

  1. Training and mentoring programmes help female employees to develop their skills.
  2. Sponsorship programmes, in particular, have been shown to be important in the promotion of women and the development of a strong pipeline of female talent.
  3. To attract and retain female workers, companies can offer family-friendly policies including flexible work options, and paid maternity and paternity leave benefits.
  4. Creating more flexible work choices reduces gender inequality in both paid and unpaid work.
  5. The need or the preference for temporal flexibility in work shapes women’s choices of occupations, jobs and places of work and is a significant cause of the gender pay gap.
  6. Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth.
  7. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.



Economic results are best when men and women work in a gender-balanced way, whether at work or at home.

Studies show consistently that teams of males and females make better investments, produce better products, generate higher returns, and have fewer failures.

At home, couples who share housework and paid work have closer relationships with children, more egalitarian values, less interpersonal tension, and more productivity.