Women, Not at Work- Declining Female Labor Force Participation in India
When the numbers and statistics were rolled out, anticipating India’s economic prosperity and how it is very viable to become a 5 trillion dollar economy, Female Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) was something which continually fell and there are no signs of it getting any better. LFPR is the number which shows the percentage of people who are working from the total population. In India, female’s participation is meagre 20.3% whereas for male it is 76% as per the report of the World Bank. According to the International Labour Organization estimates, since 2005 women’s participation is decreasing sharply even after falling fertility rates and higher educational attainment among female students. Now it is at a point which is lowest in South Asia and only 8 countries in the world are behind us which are- Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Iran, and the West Bank and Gaza.
Diagnosing the problem of this nosedive unemployment seems to be a prevalent factor. There is a lack of demand for women in the formal sector. They are forced to prioritise domestic work and marriage. Such social norms hamper their career growth. Existence of gender bias on a societal level influences employment, interviewers often ask questions related to family planning from women, many employers believe that women can’t control themselves emotionally in tough and unpredicted situations. Almost 75% of tech industry is male, women are not deemed fit for the job profile and are often unheard.
Moreover, schemes like Equal Remuneration Act, Minimum Wages Act and more made by the government to encourage women participation are not properly followed or regulated resulting in the exploitation of women labor. They are paid less even after putting in more working hours, they earn 65.5% of what their male counterparts earn, resulting in gender wage gap issue.
Women in India oftentimes withdraw willingly due to very high rates of crime which makes an unsafe environment to work. Rising violence and sexual assault at public places with a legal system failing to provide a strong system of safety become an impediment for the working women. According to “Crimes in India -2019” report, crimes against women in India went up by 7.3%. It also reported that every day in India, an average of 87 rape cases are recorded. Safety is even more of a cause of this trend of dropping female LFPR because the majority of working women in India are involved in vulnerable jobs which constitute the informal sector.
Less participation of women is also causing the lack of representation, only 3.7% of the essential designations like CEO and MD in NSE listed companies were handled by women and only 8.9% of women are in top management positions. Not only in the corporate sector but the trend is the same on the political front. The probability of debates and deliberations around the issues faced by female workers lowers with such trend. Ensuring a better working environment and formation of policies becomes difficult with lack of representation. In the meantime, India is estimated to become the world’s most populous country by 2050 and also the youngest nation, it becomes important to understand the factors which will seal the deal of economic prosperity. Oxfam India estimated that the economic loss because of women losing their jobs during the lockdown was $216 billion resulting in a decrease of 8% of the country’s GDP, this provides testimony for the fact that India can improve its economy by having more women in the workforce. Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Finland all these countries were among the first ones to effectively control coronavirus outbreaks and they all had one thing in common, female leaders. K.K Shailja, Health Minister of Kerela did an exemplary job while handling covid crisis for which she was also honoured by the United Nations.
Strengthening and modernizing labor laws, sensitization and removal of the stigma of working women, tackling the issue of girl students’ high dropouts rates from schools would play a key role in enabling higher participation of women in the workforce. Indian food delivery service Zomato introduced paid ‘period leave’ for their employees in effect to combat the stigma and taboo around mensuration. Bihar has been giving period leave to female government employees since 1992. Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli took paternity leave propounding the message that parenting is a shared responsibility and not the sole duty of the mother. Implementation of such progressive working policies helps shift the paradigms to create a women inclusive workforce. Institutions and workplaces need to promote positive social norms which help in dismantling pre-existing stereotypes to foster the sharply declining female LFPR in India.