India’s female labour force participation has always been among the worst in the world and hit a new low of 23.3% in 2017-18. Previous studies have highlighted several factors such as education, culture and labour policy contribute to this low participation rate and a new study has added another factor: weak transport infrastructure.

In a study published in the journal Feminist Economics, Lei Lei and others investigate the impact of improved road and transport facilities in Indian villages on women’s nonfarm employment. To measure this, they use data on changes in employment, village road conditions and bus frequency from the two waves of the Indian Human Development Survey, a large-scale national survey, conducted in 2004–05 and 2011–12. During this period, non-farm jobs for women increased from 10% to 18% and from 47% to 54 for men. This period also coincided with higher spending for improving rural connectivity and roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.

The authors show that both access to roads and increased bus frequency improves the chances of rural women taking up non-farm sector jobs. These jobs provide them with independent incomes and greater autonomy in the household, which is not the case when they work on family farms. As farm sizes decline and agriculture get more mechanized, job opportunities in the sector are getting limited. In this context, the authors suggest that better transport infrastructure will be critical in allowing rural women to take up non-farm jobs in neighbouring towns.

Between buses and roads, they find that better roads have a greater impact on gender outcomes. However, the benefits of the improved road and transport infrastructure on women’s labour force participation are weaker in communities with unequal gender practices.

Also read: The Impact of Transportation Infrastructure on Women's Employment in India

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