[Premium] Female Labour Force Participation in India – Key Issues and Analysis

According to the data from the International Labour Organization (ILO), India’s female labour force participation rate (FLPR) is at 27% which is among the lowest in the world and has declined considerably over the last 2 decades. This decline in female labour force participation is despite robust economic growth, rising incomes, falling fertility rates and improvements in female literacy.

What is the trend?

  • Labour Bureau’s employment figures show that there is a rise in the percentage of women out of labour force between 2011-2012 and 2015-16 across all levels of education and age.
  • According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2018”, India is ranked at 108th position out of 149 countries.
  • The issue of participation of women is not just in the workforce, but also in legislatures, police, armed forces, and the judiciary.
  • Economic Survey 2018 stressed the need to increase female participation in labour force as the lower women engagement adversely affect the growth potential of the country.
  • Women account for a very high proportion among the category of low skilled informal workers and are participating in low-productivity and low-paying work.
  • Notably, the female labour force participation is poor despite India having experienced huge improvements in economic growth rate, incomes, fertility rates, and female literacy. This is due to the following reasons.

What are the reasons for the declining female labour force participation?

Social norms: According to the prevalent social norms, higher prestige or social status associated with families keep their women out of the workforce.

Marriage & family life:

  • Early age at marriage is a major reason for lower work participation among women
  • Women with higher education tend to get married into higher income households = impacts their labour force participation due to sociocultural reason.
  • Most women who join the workforce are unable to rejoin after having a child.
  • Due to rising household income in both rural and urban India, the financial necessity of women to engage in outside work has dropped. Further, most families are keen for women to stay at home as it is reflective of a rise in social status

Female literacy:

  • A rise in literacy levels among women has not been translated into an increase in the number of working women.
    • It is because education is considered an important tool for improving marriage prospects for women and not to get employment.
    • Another reason is that the rising education is allowing women to get out of menial and undesirable jobs, but, jobs that match their education profile (formal sector jobs) have been oversupplied and does not seem to have grown relatively. This crowds out female labour force. This is called the Crowding Out effect.

Lack of political will:

  • While lower-tier governments have achieved gender parity by means of reservation of legislative seats, a similar Parliamentary bill has been pending for decades.
  • Note: The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India which proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women.

Declining participation in rural areas:

  • The lack of availability of agricultural and non-agricultural jobs is considered to be a major reason for the declining participation in rural areas.
  • The share of women workers in the agriculture sector dropped from 42% in 2004 -05 to 35.5% in 2011-12.
  • This decrease in FLPR in agriculture can be attributed to the increased adoption of technology in agriculture.

Protective Legislation (Discriminatory Labour Laws): Indian labour laws both at centre and state level has limited the employment of women workers by putting restrictions on the working of women during night shifts, and also the type of operations that women can work in. For instance:

  • The Factories Act 1948Section 66 states that no woman shall be required or allowed to work except between 6 A.M and 7 P.M in any factory
  • Mines Act 1952: Prohibition on employment of women in mines below ground and mines above ground except between 6AM and 7PM

Maternity Leave Hike: Women employment in India has been affected after the maternity leave hike from 12 weeks to 26 weeks (Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017) as start-ups and SMEs have become reluctant to hire them.

Sex-based occupational segregation: According to NSSO, urban males accounted for 16% of India’s population, but held 77% of all jobs in computer-related activities in 2011-12. This shows, how gender has become a discriminatory factor for certain white-collared jobs.

Discriminatory Wages: Significant wage differential in the labour market which exists at both at informal and formal sectors impede the participation of women in the workforce.

Migration: Concerns over safety and inadequate provisions of working women’s hostels when migrating to a major city for a job undermine the willingness of women to migrate for work.

Challenges at the workplace: Various challenges at the workplace such as patriarchal hierarchy, sexual harassment, lack of safe mode of transport adversely impact women’s willingness to continue work.

Measurement Issues:

  • Unpaid domestic work/duties which remains unaccounted
  • Women performing domestic duties and at the same time engaged in the free collection of goods such as vegetables, roots, firewood, cattle, cow dung and sewing, tailoring, weaving etc. These works are unpaid and women are categorized as non-workers.

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What are the impacts of Low Female LFPR?

  1. On personal and Familial Life: Poor women participation in work impedes women’s decision making powers at home, impedes autonomy in fertility and child bearing decisions. Moreover, engagement in work other than domestic duties is essential for good mental health.
  2. On the economy: The Economic Survey 2017-18 observed that lower women engagement in labour force adversely affects the growth potential of the economy. A McKinsey Global study in 2015 found that India could increase its GDP by 16-60% by 2025 by enabling women to participate in the economy at par with men.
  3. On society: The under-representation of women in the workforce is also a societal loss and hinders women empowerment. Greater engagement of the women in the workforce is a key enabler in reducing gender discrimination and enhancing women’s role as an active member of society.

What is the international scenario?

  • The global average of female labour force participation rate (LFPR) is 40%, whereas, India is well below average.
  • Sweden’s female LFPR is 88%.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s key strategy to revive the economy was to increase female LFPR. Abe even made it a priority to build about half a million government-funded creches to help young mothers rejoin the workforce.
  • In Bangladesh, more than 90 percent of the garment workers are women, far ahead of India.

What are the measures taken by the government to improve FLPR?

  • Constitutional Provision: Article 16: Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State
  • Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP): The scheme aims to provide skills that give employability to women and to provide competencies and skill that enable women to become self-employed/entrepreneurs.
  • Scheme for Working Women Hostel: The scheme aims to promote the availability of safe and conveniently located accommodation for working women, with day acre facility for children, at places where employment opportunities for women exist
  • Mahila E-Haat:It is a direct online marketing platform leveraging technology for supporting women entrepreneurs/SHGs/ NGOs for showcasing their products / services.
  • Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers: It seeks to provide day care facilities for children (0-6 years) of working mothers.
  • Equal Remuneration Act, 1973: provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work of similar nature without any discrimination.
  • Minimum Wages Act, 1948: The wages fixed by the appropriate Government are equally applicable to both male and female workers and the Act does not discriminate on the basis of gender.
  • Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008: The act seeks to ensure social security to the workers including women in the unorganised sector
  • Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) Scheme: It provides cash incentives to pregnant and nursing mothers to partly compensate wage loss both prior to and after delivery.
  • Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017: It provides for enhancement in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks and provisions for mandatory crèche facility in the establishments having 50 or more employees. However, the provisions have largely been responsible for low hiring women in formal sectors especially in start-ups and SMEs
  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013:It seeks to protect women against sexual harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organised or unorganised
  • Skills for Employability: The Government has been providing training to women through a network of Women Industrial Training institutes, National Vocational Training Institutes and Regional Vocational Training Institutes.
  • Advisory on Factories Act:The government has issued an advisory to the States under the Factories Act, 1948 for permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures
  • The government has also prioritized womenin many schemes such as MUDRA scheme, STAND UP India, MGNREGA etc to boost women employment.

What is the way forward?

  • To make female employment more acceptable in the society, government policies should focus on behavioural changes.
  • The policies and schemes must target the social and cultural forces that gives rise to patriarchy.
  • Information and communication campaigns on gender equality should be conducted in schools, colleges and the workplace.
  • Childcare should be made the responsibility of both parents. In that sense, paternity leave shall be considered.
  • Providing income tax benefits to women in order to increase their participation in the workforce.
  • Women’s reservation bill should be passed at earliest.
  • Gigs or freelancing works should be promoted among women so that they can pursue their career while not missing important milestones in their family lives.
  • Export-oriented and manufacturing-centred growth strategy can be followed to increase the female employment opportunities. Bangladesh and China have been pursuing such a strategy with positive impacts. India should also adopt the same.
  • And finally, women would need 3C’s – Confidence, Capabilities, Capital accessibility to enhance their employment prospects and Men would need to understand that women are their equals.


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3 years ago

Very nice article.

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