Home > politics > policy > Is sexual harassment behind India’s low female workforce participation rate?

In a unique study that attempts to quantify the economic consequences of sexual harassment on streets, Girija Borker, an economist at Brown University found that women students were more likely than their male counterparts to choose a college that had a perceived safer travel route, even if that college was of a significantly lower quality. Women were also willing to spend about Rs20,000 more per year for a college that had a “safer" travel route. Borker’s analysis is based on the college choices of 4,000 women students at the University of Delhi. Borker estimates that the willingness to pay for safety meant that women’s post-college salaries were 20% lower than their male colleagues. Her analysis suggests that the fear of harassment may lead women to make relatively poorer economic choices. The trade-off between safety and financial security that women face may also partly explain India’s low female workforce participation rate, Borker argues.

Also Read: Safety First: Perceived Risk of Street Harassment and Educational Choices of Women

A new research paper by Priscilla Atansah and co-authors at the Center for Global Development proposes three ways in which governments can execute subsidy reforms without attracting significant backlash. The authors come to their conclusions after a study of fossil fuel subsidies in three countries: India, Nigeria and Iran. In order to successfully phase out subsidies that can often be cornered by the elite, the authors suggest that governments should clearly communicate planned reforms and build support for the policy change. Secondly, to avoid price shocks, especially for poor households that have a greater dependence on cheap fuel, governments should raise prices in phases. For instance, the government in Iran worked with the central bank to moderate inflation and appreciate the currency before bringing about the first phase of reforms. Thirdly, targeted cash transfer systems can alleviate the shock to poor households. Even if these measures are adopted, global macroeconomic conditions can have a large influence on how such reforms play out.

Also Read: When Do Subsidy Reforms Stick? Lessons from Iran, Nigeria, and India

In a research paper published by the Economic and Political Weekly, Kalyani Raghunathan from the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-authors argue that nutrition goals can be part of some of India’s flagship social protection schemes: the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Mid-day Meal (MDM) scheme, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). For instance, fortification of grains distributed through the PDS or of meals served in the MDM can enhance nutritional efficacy of these schemes. Greater convergence between these schemes can also help, with MGNREGA labour deployed as cooks and helpers in schools, or as housekeepers in primary health centres. Also interventions such as hand-wash training can be particularly effective if introduced in schools, the authors argue.

Also Read: Deploying the Power of Social Protection to Improve Nutrition

According to a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper by Shuai Chen from the China Academy of Rural Development and co-authors, rising pollution levels in China have had a significant impact on population mobility. The authors studied the impact of PM2.5 and SO2 levels on migration over the period 1996-2010. A sharp rise in air pollution in a county could reduce inflows by up to 50% and reduce the population by 5% because of outflows. Highly educated people, and mothers in particular, were more likely to move out or avoid moving to polluted areas. The resultant human capital outflows can significantly impact urban development and economic growth, the authors show.

Also Read: The Effect of Air Pollution on Migration: Evidence from China

In a recent blog post, civil servant Gulzar Natarajan argues that current policies to support farmers such as loan waivers, free farm power, agricultural income tax waiver, fertiliser subsidy, etc, are not very effective, and may exacerbate distortions in the rural economy. Instead, the volatilities inherent in practising agriculture, such as unexpected weather conditions, or fluctuations in global commodity prices should be addressed through less distorting policies such as crop insurance, or direct payments, or a combination of the two. Long-term solutions include improving irrigation, consolidating farms, and easing access to markets for farmers. In the short term, the government can explore the possibility of doing away with direct procurement of farm produce and instead pay farmers the difference between the government-mandated minimum support prices and market prices.

Also Read: More thoughts on Indian agriculture

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