Editorial✍ Hindu Edi Prelims cum Mains

The gender ladder to socio-economic transformation

Focus on women’s employment:

  • The ongoing election has brought focus again on women’s employment.
  • The political parties are talking of measures to create more livelihood opportunities in rural and urban areas, which include incentives to businesses for employing more women.


Falling labour force participation in India:

  • Currently, the participation of women in the workforce in India is one of the lowest globally.
  • The female labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India fell from 31.2% in 2011-2012 to 23.3% in 2017-2018.
  • This decline has been sharper in rural areas, where the female LFPR fell by more than 11 percentage points in 2017-2018.

Reasons for this:

  • The answers can be found in a complex set of factors including:
    • Rising levels of education for women
    • Low social acceptability of women working outside the household
    • Lack of access to safe and secure workspaces
    • Widespread prevalence of poor and unequal wages
    • Shortage of decent and suitable jobs

Also, much of women’s work is not seen as work:

  • However, it is not the case that women are simply retreating from the world of work.
  • Surveys have found that women devote a substantial amount of their time to work which is not considered as work, but an extension of their duties, and is largely unpaid.
  • This includes unpaid care work such as childcare, elderly care, and household work such as collecting water.
  • The burden of these activities falls disproportionately on women, especially in the absence of adequately available or accessible public services.
  • It also encompasses significant chunks of women’s contribution to agriculture, animal husbandry, and non-timber forest produce on which most of the household production and consumption is based.


Rising education leading to women getting out of traditional jobs:

  • Most women in India are engaged in subsistence-level work in agriculture in rural areas, and in low-paying jobs such as domestic service and petty home-based manufacturing in urban areas.
  • But with better and greater levels of education, women are refusing to do casual wage labour or work in family farms and enterprises.
  • Essentially, women with moderately high levels of education do not want to do manual labour outside the household which would be perceived to be below their educational qualifications.

They prefer salaried jobs:

  • There is a growing preference among women for salaried jobs as their educational attainment increases.
  • However, the issues is that such jobs remain extremely limited for women. The proportion of women among professionals, managers and clerical workers is only about 15% (NSSO, 2011-2012).
  • It is estimated that among people (25 to 59 years) working as farmers, farm labourers and service workers, nearly a third are women.


Approach to addressing challenges of female work force:

  • Any government which is serious about ensuring women’s economic empowerment and equal access to livelihoods must address the numerous challenges that exist.
  • Providing public services:
    • On the question of work, women’s demands include gender-responsive public services such as free and accessible public toilets and household water connections.
  • Improving women’s security in public spaces:
    • Safe and secure public transport, and adequate lighting and CCTV cameras must be provided to prevent violence against women in public spaces and to increase their mobility.
  • Wages and working conditions:
    • Furthermore, women want fair and decent living wages and appropriate social security including maternity benefit, sickness benefit, provident fund, and pension.
  • Dignified working and living conditions for migrant women workers:
    • Policies are needed to ensure safe and dignified working and living conditions for migrant workers. For example, in cities, governments must set up migration facilitation and crisis centres (temporary shelter facility, helpline, legal aid, and medical and counselling facilities).
    • They must also allocate social housing spaces for women workers, which include rental housing and hostels.
  • Recognition of unpaid work:
    • Women have strongly articulated the need to enumerate and remunerate the unpaid and underpaid work they undertake.
    • Women also reiterate the need to recognise and redistribute their unpaid work in the household.
  • Recognition as farmers
    • One of the fundamental demands is that women must be recognised as farmers in accordance with the National Policy for Farmers.
    • This should include cultivators, agricultural labourers, pastoralists, livestock rearers, forest workers, fish-workers, and salt pan workers.
    • Thereafter, their equal rights and entitlements over land and access to inputs, credit, markets, and extension services must be ensured.



  • Unless policymakers correctly assess and address the structural issues which keep women from entering and staying in the workforce, promising more jobs in itself is unlikely to lead to the socio-economic transformation India needs.



GS Paper II: Social Issues

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