Home / Politics / News /  Mission 2047: How to bring Indian women into the workforce

India has one of the world’s lowest female labour force participation rates (LFPR). This means the productive potential of half of the population goes unutilized. On Independence Day, Mint explains what India can do to bring more women into the labour force.

Why is women’s LFPR so low in India?

Fewer than one in five Indian women are in the labour force; four out of five are neither working nor looking for work. There are many reasons: A lack of demand for women workers; poor working conditions including low wages, safety concerns and exploitation; girls studying longer; migration; nuclearization of families where there are fewer women to share domestic responsibilities; and the ‘middle income effect’ where women stop working because the household has enough income. The root of much of this is deep-set patriarchy and neglect for women’s claim to their equal place in a man’s world.

Why is enhancing women’s LFPR critical?

Research and experience highlight that when women have money, they spend it on the well-being of their families. From Brazil’s Bolsa Familia to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package for women with Jan Dhan accounts, policymakers have tried to reap the benefits of putting money in women’s hands. One way to do this is to ensure that more women have jobs, higher wages, and equal pay. If we improve women’s labour force participation, not only do we harness the massive productive potential of half of the population, but their earnings will yield enormous dividends for the future of the country and economy.

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What is needed to improve women’s employment?

Persistent effort must be directed toward community sensitization to root out patriarchal social norms.In addition to enforcing existing regulations like minimum wages, there must be supportive ancillary policies including childcare; secure transport; lighting; safety at work; and quotas in hiring, corporate boards, and politics  to  foster  more  women  in  leadership.

What obstacles do we confront?

Correcting asymmetries of power is hard, especially when it entails changing convention. Men who are blind to their privilege, or will be forced to share their privileges, will resist change. Engendered discrimination results in a lack of labour market demand for women workers; in policies such as honorariums instead of wages for Anganwadi and Asha workers; in an over-reliance on home-based work for women, on and offline, instead of doing the hard work to ensure equal opportunity, outcomes, and real choice.

What happens if we don’t act?

A concerted effort to advance gender equity must be a central priority over the next 25 years. Evidence shows that economic disempowerment of women can result in losses of 10% of GDP in industrialized economies and over 30% in South Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa. India’s GDP could grow by nearly 3 trillion if women were brought into the labour market and given access to formal, ‘decent’ work opportunities.

(Sabina Dewan is president and executive director, JustJobs Network)




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