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Insufficient Representation of Women in India’s Workforce

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Role of women


Source: BBC

 Context: India surpassed China as the world’s most populous country, which led analysts to highlight the potential benefits of India’s demographic dividend.

A major obstacle to realising this potential: Insufficient representation of women in India’s workforce.

Significance of more women in the workforce: India could add $550bn to its GDP by increasing its female labour force participation by just 10% (McKinsey).

What does the data say? Nearly half of India’s population is female and yet, the female participation rate in India’s labour force has consistently fallen from its peak in 2000 (31%) to a low of 21% in 2018 (World Bank).


Reasons for this:

  • India is still a largely patriarchal society:
    • Indian women spend 8 times the number of hours on unpaid care work compared with men. The global average is 3 times.
    • Only 32% of Indian women work after they get married and most of them are part of the agricultural sector.
  • Safety concerns: Not being able to find jobs close to home also prevent women in big cities from joining the workforce.
  • Insufficient formal wage employment opportunities: For example, women employees account for less than 20% of India’s manufacturing sector.
  • Concentration in low/non-productive jobs: Like agriculture, primary caregiver at home, etc.
  • Lack of opportunities for women returning to their careers after a professional break.
  • Higher level of participation in education and increase in the family income.




Steps taken:

  • A new Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has been established to coordinate the skill development schemes across various sectors.
  • The National Career Service (NCS) Project provides a nationwide online platform for job seekers and employers.
  • The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 provides for enhancement in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks and provisions for mandatory crèche facilities.
  • An advisory to the States under the Factories Act 1948 for permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures.
  • A network of Women Industrial Training institutes, National Vocational Training Institutes and Regional Vocational Training Institutes.
  • A number of protective provisions have been incorporated in various labour laws – The Equal Remuneration Act 1976, The Minimum Wages Act 1948.


Best practices:

  • TVS (one of India’s biggest two-wheeler manufacturers): Offers a scheme for women who are returning to their careers (after the break) with flexible working hours, mentoring and training to them.
  • Gabriel India Ltd [An auto parts company in Hosur (Tamil Nadu)]: It provides perks such as on-site accommodation, subsidised food and training programmes to attract more women workers, as their attrition rates are lower compared to their male counterparts.


Way ahead:

  • A policy framework encouraging and enabling women’s participation should be constructed.
  • Active awareness of the “gender-specific” constraints that face most women.
  • Gender-responsive policies need to be contextually developed.
  • The goal is not merely to increase female labour force participation, but to provide opportunities for decent work → contribute to the economic empowerment of women.


Conclusion: Women’s labour force participation and access to decent work are important and necessary elements of an inclusive and sustainable development (SDG 5) process.


Insta Links:

Women in the workforce


Mains Links:

What are the continued challenges for women in India against time and space? (UPSC 2019)