Mumbai: At 27%, India’s female labour force participation rate is among the lowest in the world and has declined significantly over the last two decades, according to data from the International Labour Organization. This decline in Indian female labour force participation, despite robust economic growth, rising incomes, falling fertility rates and improvements in female literacy has been perplexing. A new ICRIER study by Surbhi Ghai suggests that the root issue beneath this worrying trend is patriarchy.

Ghai argues that prevailing social norms and patriarchy hinders female participation in the economy despite their increasingly higher levels of education. To define patriarchy, Ghai constructs an index using data from the National Family Health Survey of 2015-16. The index measures ‘patriarchy’ based on indicators such as participation of women in household decisions, the child sex ratio and prevalence of spousal violence.

Ghai finds that states with high levels of patriarchy, as estimated by the index, are also states with a larger proportion of higher-educated (graduate or higher degrees) women out of the labour force. Ghai’s patriarchy index shows that the commonly cited ‘north-south divide’, which suggests discrimination against women in India decreases as one travels from the north to south, may not really hold true with states like Andhra Pradesh scoring similarly on the patriarchy index to Haryana. Ghai asserts that government schemes must target the fundamental cultural and social forces that shape patriarchy, if we want to see any material improvement in female employment.

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