Seven reasons women stay out of Indian workforce

By Poorvi Gupta

Unpaid work follows women-at-work

Women farmers are being over-burdened because men don’t take up household chores and now many productive roles are also being taken over by them in the absence of men if they migrate to urban spaces.

It isn’t just the women in agriculture but women across the board who are going out to work are still not absolved of their responsibilities as nurturers at home.

“Now when women joined the workforce, there is only a one-sided shift wherein women take up the role of a provider. However, the shift needs to be from both ends where men need to take up caregiving responsibilities as well, as women go out for work. That equality needs to be put in place,” says Supreet Kaur of Safecity.

Regional Gap

Southern India in general, other than Kerala, has high rates of participation of women in the workforce as does the North East. Northern and Central India have a very low rate. As per 2018 data, in Bihar it is four percent.

Overall it is an indication that women’s economic position and status in society haven’t improved because the formal economy is operating on the back of the unpaid labor of women,” Ghosh adds.

So there are states where education among women could be high but workforce participation is low. Kerala is an example. “There is a very large regional gap in all of this.”

Government’s Responsibility

“Government is also largely responsible for the falling FLFP because when it has several women working for lower wages than the minimum wage rate. Due to this society also doesn’t value either those women as workers or the work that they do,” Economist and Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jayati Ghosh points to the lakhs of Anganwadi workers who work under the government’s Integrated Child Development Services program and Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs).

She emphasizes on the low wages at which Anganwadi workers and Asha workers are hired by the government which is lower than the prescribed minimum wages.

Social stigma far from over

“We have been told over ages that the sign of a good life for women is when they do not have to work,” says Schonali Rebello of JobsForHer. “We are educating our women now because we want them to have better marriage prospects which means that the man they will be marrying has a better college degree than they do and that man will earn very well. Also, the general sentiment is, when your husband is earning very well then why should you work?”

Workplace and public space safety issues persist

When normative values or patriarchy are not at work, it’s the work environment that acts as a deterrent for women. In the post #MeToo era, companies are slyly discouraging women hires as they don’t want ‘controversy’. For women, those who speak up are often released from the companies in due course for taking the ‘spotlight’. Some policies meant to safeguard women are actually negatively impacting their work prospects such as the 26-week maternity policy.

Not to dismiss the fact that all this is still restricted to formal workplaces. And the sexual harassment and ill-condition of women working in the informal sector aren’t even being talked about.

Unemployment on the rise

Out of the 11 million jobs lost, about 8.8 million belonged to women in comparison to 2.2 million that were owned by men, according to a 2018 report by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Of the total jobs lost by women, rural women lost 6.5 million jobs while urban women lost only 2.3 million jobs.

However, the CMIE report has a different story to tell for men, as urban men ironically gained 5,00,000 jobs while the rural men lost 2.3 million jobs. The report also warned that increasingly, the number of jobs is diminishing in the country as the total number of employed people in December 2018 was 397 million, which is 10.9 million less than the figure of 407.9 million seen a year ago at the end of December 2017.

Female Farmers

Many tasks that women were previously engaged in especially at farms have been outsourced to machines. “We know that whenever work becomes less arduous whether it is construction or agriculture, as it gets mechanized the men get it,” Ghosh deduces.

As per the NSSO report, between 1970 to 2018, women’s participation in agriculture was around 88.1 percent in 1977-78 which declined to 73.2 percent in 2017-18 while during the same time period, men’s participation lowered from 80.6 percent to 55 percent.


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