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Low Female Labour Force Participation Rate in India

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Indian Economy/ Labour Issues


Source: IE

 Context: India faces significant challenges related to female labour force participation rates (LFPR), particularly in rural areas, as highlighted by the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data


What are Female Labour Force Participation Rates (LFPR)?

The Female Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) measures the percentage of women within the working-age population (typically 15-59 years old) who are either employed or actively seeking employment.


Significance of LFPR:

  • It provides insight into the level of economic activity among women in a particular country or region, indicating their involvement in the labour force.
  • A higher LFPR suggests greater participation of women in the workforce
  • A lower rate indicates lower participation, often influenced by factors such as cultural norms, economic conditions, and access to employment opportunities.


Key Issues are:

Low Female Labour Force Participation (LFPR)India has one of the world’s lowest LFPR rates for women
India ranks lower than most South Asian countries, except Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2021-22, the LFPR for women aged 15-59 was only 35.6% in India.
Rural-Urban DisparitiesUrban areas have a lower LFPR for women at 26.5% compared to 39.3% in rural areas.
Unpaid Family HelpersMore than half of rural women work as unpaid family helpers in household businesses, while married women are often engaged in unpaid family roles or domestic chores.
Gender Wage GapRural women working as wage labourers face a higher gender wage gap compared to urban women.
Self-employed women earn less than half of men’s earnings, and this gap has worsened from 2017 to 2021.
Unpaid Domestic and Care WorkWomen spend significant hours on unpaid domestic and caregiving services in rural areas.
In rural areas, women spend over five hours daily on unpaid domestic services and more than two hours on unpaid caregiving.
Gender Disparity in Land OwnershipThe agriculture census in 2015-16 showed that only 14.7% of operational landholdings in agriculture were owned by women.
Most women-owned land falls into the marginal and small holding categories.
Exclusion from Agricultural SchemesGovernment agricultural schemes have shifted towards cash-based initiatives, but gender-wise beneficiary data reveals that a low percentage of women farmers benefit from these schemes.
Landownership is a major criterion for eligibility, which excludes many women farmers.


How higher LFPR helps society:

Positive Impact of High LFPR on SocietyDescription
Economic GrowthWomen’s participation in the labour force is directly linked to economic growth.
Poverty ReductionWhen women have access to income-generating opportunities, it can lift households out of poverty.
Human Capital DevelopmentEducated and economically active women can positively influence the education and health outcomes of their children, leading to intergenerational benefits.
Gender Equality and EmpowermentHigher women’s participation in the labour force can challenge traditional gender roles and norms, promoting gender equality.
Fertility and Population GrowthStudies have shown that as women’s labour force participation increases, fertility rates tend to decline.
 This phenomenon, known as the “fertility transition,” is associated with improved access to education, healthcare, and family planning, leading to more sustainable population growth.
Reduced Gender-Based ViolenceEconomic empowerment can enhance women’s bargaining power and reduce their vulnerability to gender-based violence and abusive relationships.
Labour Market and Talent PoolIncreasing women’s participation in the labour force can help address skill shortages and labour market imbalances, leading to a more efficient allocation of talent and resources.


Reforms in the ‘care economy’ for empowering women:

Policy ReformsImplement policies that acknowledge and value unpaid care work.
For example, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) provides wages for certain community and care-related activities.
Recently, the Tamil Nadu government has launched the Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai Thittam, a women’s basic income scheme, recognizing Women’s Unpaid Labor. The scheme will provide Rs 1,000 per month to women in eligible households
Flexible Work ManagementEncourage businesses to offer flexible work arrangements that accommodate women’s caregiving responsibilities.
Examples include remote work or part-time opportunities to enable women to balance work and caregiving.
Skilling and TrainingProvide training and skill development programs tailored to women’s needs.
Programs that train women as healthcare workers, educators, or caregivers can lead to formal employment.
Self-Help GroupsEncourage the formation of self-help groups among women, allowing them to engage in economic activities collectively, such as micro-enterprises or agricultural cooperatives.
Examples include JEEVIKA in Bihar and Kudumbshree in Kerala.
Maternity and Childcare BenefitsEnhance maternity and childcare benefits to support working mothers. Expanding maternity leave provisions and providing affordable childcare facilities can enable women to return to the workforce.
For instance, in Sweden, publicly funded childcare services and parental leave policies enable women to participate more fully in the workforce.
Entrepreneurship OpportunitiesPromote entrepreneurship among women in the care economy by encouraging them to establish small businesses like daycare centres, nursing services, or home healthcare agencies.
The government, for example, offers “Nari Shakti” grants to empower women entrepreneurs across diverse sectors.
5R FrameworkThe International Labour Organisation (ILO) proposes a 5R framework for decent care work centred around achieving gender equality. This framework emphasizes the importance of recognizing, reducing, redistributing, regulating, and representing care work to ensure fair and equitable conditions for caregivers.

Fig: ILO’s 5R Framework



There is a need to recognize and account for the unpaid, unaccounted, and underpaid contributions of rural women in the overall rural economy, especially in agriculture. The inclusion of landless and marginal women farmers in government agricultural schemes is seen as essential to addressing gender inequality in rural India.


Mains Links:

 Distinguish between ‘care economy’ and ‘monetized economy’. How can the care economy be brought into monetized economy through women empowerment? (Answer in 250 words) 15 (UPSC 2023 GS3)


Prelims Links:

 Which of the following gives the ‘Global Gender Gap Index’ ranking to the countries of the world? (UPSC 2017)

(a) World Economic Forum
(b) UN Human Rights Council
(c) UN Women
(d) World Health Organization


Ans: A