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The percentage of women who work has declined over time, from 36% of women being employed in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16. Photo: Mint/file
The percentage of women who work has declined over time, from 36% of women being employed in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16. Photo: Mint/file

Female labour force sees serious decline: Economic Survey

India's performance has improved on some gender indicators like women's agency and involvement in decisions around their health, said the Survey

India’s performance has improved on some gender indicators like women’s agency and involvement in decisions around their health, but the country is still grappling with a serious declining percentage of women in workforce, the Economic Survey noted.

According to the Survey, out of 17 indicators like the agency women have in decision-making regarding household purchases and visiting family and relatives, the progress has been notable. There has also been a decline in the experience of physical and sexual violence, and education levels of women, as per the survey, have “improved dramatically but incommensurate with development."

But the percentage of women who work has declined over time, from 36% of women being employed in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16.

“India has some distance to traverse to catch up with its cohort of countries. For example, women’s employment has declined over chronological time, and to a much greater extent, in development time," the survey stated.

Interestingly, as an explanation to this downward trend, the Survey says, “On the supply side, increased incomes of men allow Indian women to withdraw from the labour force, thereby avoiding the stigma of working; higher education levels of women also allow them to pursue leisure and other non-work activities all of which reduce female labour force participation." On the demand side, the Survey states, “the structural transformation of Indian agriculture due to farm mechanization results in a lower demand for female agricultural labourers."

It is significant to note that the under-representation of women in India’s labour force has been a chronic problem. Women in India represent only 24% of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40%, according to McKinsey Global Institute report 2015. The figures are low for women even though the proportion of the economically active population (15-59 years) increased from 57.7% to 63.3% between 1991 and 2013 (Sample Registration System data, 2013).

The Survey said, “Many of the gender outcomes are manifestations of a deeper societal preference, even meta-preference for boys, leading to many “missing" women and “unwanted" girls. So, Indian society as a whole should perhaps resolve—the miles to go before society can sleep in good conscience—to consign these odious categories to history soon.

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