Growing concern over Low Female Work participation in India
India is hailed as a future work place of the world aided by its demographic dividend. Yet the female participation in work continues to be dismal rather it has registered a downward trend. It's a matter of great concern as it heightens the existing gender disparities and many constraints which restrict women entering the job market. It is a battle to be fought for women empowerment and promoting Sustainable Development Goals.
With the joint initiative of International Labor Organisation, New Delhi and Feminist Economist Saturday Discussion Group (FESDIG) an event on Women at Work in Asia: Lessons for India's Low Female Labour Force Participation was organised at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. It's hugely felt by the think tank of policy makers, economists, social scientists that women need to contribute more actively to economic development. An analysis was done on the factors like socio economic norms, accessibility of education and various other factors detrimental to female work force participation. The event also saw unveiling the contents of the book titled, Transformation of Women at Work in Asia: An unfinished Development Agenda published by ILO which is edited by Dr Sher Verick and Dr Sukti Dasgupta.Niti Ayog CEO, Shri Amitabh Kant began his address by pointing out that with only 17% women participation in work we need to have conscious policy augmenting women work participation. It's further disheartening to note that rural areas are the worse hit and the female work participation is witnessing a sharp downward trend.
Smt. M. Sathiyavathy, Secretary , Ministry of Labour and Employment noted that though we witness changes happening in the field of women labor participation, the speed of change isn't at a desirable level. There is a greater need of attitudinal change. She spoke on how Government has implemented 26 weeks of Maternity Leave and 2 years of Child care leave but getting it implemented in private sector remains a major challenge. She sighted from her personal experience that how on her appointment as first woman Director General of Civil Aviation fetched great TRPs. There was little or rather negligible reference to her capabilities for the job. Also Civil Aviation Department which came into being in 1922 took almost 100 years to place as a woman as its head. It's encouraging to witness higher enrolment in Education but its translation into employment remains a challenge. Prof. Preet Rastogi from Institute of Human Development called for a gender balance in labour market. She too agreed that decline in women participation has its bearing in low value of women in societal structure, under estimated women work force. A positive trend is that most matrimonial ads attach premium to working females. However marriage and motherhood prove as a battle ground in the years that follow.
Prof Santosh Mehrotra from JNU had a comprehensive analysis behind falling women work participation. Girls within 6-14 years age group who were earlier counted as labor force are now studying. Even girls above 14 years are studying as secondary enrolment has also registered an increase. Moreover because of multiple household responsibilities women are forced to stay home. Labor intensive industries globally are facing decrease in employment opportunities.Dr Ratna Sudarshan’s , an independent Researcher, views that over several decades we have witnessed low women participation in work in India. This is something known to us. Household structures for working and non-working women aren't different. We witness changing aspirations of women towards work but the aspirations around marriage and family remain the same. So after marriage and motherhood, sustainability of employment becomes difficult. We therefore need more Part time job opportunities with social security measures. So that we not only face policy constraints, gender specific constraints but also rigid stance around marriage and family.
There is a need to look at policy solutions offering more incentives for women to join work. More stress need to be put on tier 2 cities to create employment opportunities. We need to think generationally also, as the employment aspirations are changing. Skill development is another area to be looked upon. Provisions for safer public transportation, crèches, and housing for single working women need to be emphasized. The concern over women participation in work was well discussed by FESDIG which is an initiative by Dr Bina Agarwal and other feminist Economists and they deserve many applauds.