THE CONTEXT: The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that the labour participation rate of rural women was 9.92% in March 2022 compared to 24% for men.According to CMIE, millions who left the labour market stopped looking for employment “possibly [because they were]too disappointed with their failure to get a job and believed that there were no jobs available. In this write-up, we will analyse in detail the status of women workers and their issues.
SCENARIO OF WOMEN’S WORKFORCE PARTICIPATION
- Only 18.6% of working-age women in India participate in the labour force, three times lower than men, says the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2020.
- According to the World Bank, Indian women’s participation in the formal economy is among the lowest in the world—only parts of the Arab world fare worse. Even as the economy has grown, educational attainment has increased, fertility rates have fallen, and women are not participating in the formal economy. In fact, their participation is declining.
- In some places, the presence of women is appreciable; for instance, female participation in projects under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is about 50%.
- India also boasts of the highest share of female airline pilots at 15%, while the world average is barely 5%.
- Also, not too long ago, half of India’s banking assets were under institutions headed by women.
- Despite this, the participation of women in the workforce in India has still remained low. India’s female LFPR is now among the world’s lowest at around 20%, on par with countries like Saudi Arabia. As per a report by the International Labour Organisation, India ranks 121 out of 131 countries on female LFPR.
CHALLENGES FACED BY WOMEN WORKERS
MECHANIZATION OF RURAL ECONOMY
- With the arrival of hi-tech machines in the agriculture sector, operations have become less labour intensive and resulted in a decrease in working days to less than 3 months/year.
- It forced many rural women to migrate and become part-time construction workers.
ABSENCE OF PAY PARITY
- In the field of manual labour work, women are being paid less than men in terms of piece-rate due to physical constraints in lifting heavy weights.
- One particular project in the Kalaburagi district of Karnataka focuses on the creation of percolation ponds.
- Since the digging of ponds required lifting about 3,000 kg of mud a day and women were not able to meet the targets, they did not get the piece rate of ₹309; they got only ₹280 to ₹285
DISCRIMINATION AT WORKPLACE
- Indian women still face blatant discrimination at their workplaces. They are often deprived of promotions and growth opportunities at workplaces but this doesn’t apply to all working women.
- A majority of working women continue to be denied their right to equal pay, under the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and are underpaid in comparison to their male colleagues. This is usually the case in factories and labour-oriented industries.
LIMITATION OF MGNREGA
- The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a labour demand-driven programme, is limited to providing only 100 days of paid labour on public works projects per year.
- For the rest of the period, women workers have to continuously look for alternative sources of income to meet expenses
- Most of working women are prone to sexual harassment irrespective of their status, personal characteristics and the types of their employment. They face sexual harassment on way on transport, at workplaces, educational institutions and hospitals, at home and even in police stations when they go to file complaints.
- It is shocking that the law protectors are violating and outraging the modesty of women. Most of the women tend to be concentrated in poor service jobs whereas men are in an immediate supervisory position, which gives them an opportunity to exploit their subordinate women.
LACK OF NUTRITIOUS FOOD
- The high prices of essential commodities have led to a huge cut in women’s consumption of vegetables and pulses.
- The deprivation of nourishment that women face due to high prices and low incomes is another dimension of the ‘compulsory’ woman worker’s life.
- Due to a patriarchal society, boys are given relatively more nutritious food as they are deemed breadwinners of the family, especially if the family is poor and is not in a position to provide nutritious food to all the children.
REASONS FOR DECLINING WOMEN’S EMPLOYMENT IN INDIA
- Between 1977 and 2017, India’s economy witnessed a surge in the contribution of services Between 1977 and 2017, India’s economy witnessed a surge in the contribution of services (39 percent to 53 percent) and industry (33 percent to 27 percent) to GDP. The proportion of rural men employed in agriculture fell from 80.6 percent to 53.2 percent, but rural women only decreased from 88.1 percent to 71.7 percent (NSSO data). Between 1994-2010, women received less than 19 percent of new employment opportunities generated in India’s 10 fastest-growing occupations and industries (33 percent to 27 percent) to GDP.
- The proportion of rural men employed in agriculture fell from 80.6 percent to 53.2 percent, but rural women only decreased from 88.1 percent to 71.7 percent (NSSO data). Between 1994-2010, women received less than 19 percent of new employment opportunities generated in India’s 10 fastest-growing occupations.
- In agriculture, and as the use of seed drillers, harvesters, threshers and husking equipment increased, men displaced women. In textiles, power looms, button stitching machines and textile machinery phased out women’s labour.
- Nearly 12 million Indian women could lose their jobs by 2030 owing to automation, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report.
GENDER GAPS IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND SKILL TRAINING
- Tertiary-level female enrolment rose from 2 percent in 1971 to only 30 percent in 2019 (World Bank data). As of 2018-19, only 2 percent of working-age women received formal vocational training, of which 47 percent did not join the labour force (NSSO, 2018-19).
- Consequently, women form only 17 percent of cloud computing, 20 percent of engineering, and 24 percent of data/artificial intelligence jobs (WEF, 2020).
- Unpaid care work continues to be a women’s responsibility, with women spending on average five hours per day on domestic work, vs. 30 minutes for men (NSSO, 2019).
- Women face inordinate mobility restrictions such that only 54 percent can go to a nearby market alone (NFHS, 2015-16). Women regularly sacrifice wages, career progression, and education opportunities to meet family responsibilities, safety considerations, and other restrictions.
IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN IN THE WORKFORCE FOR INDIA
IMF:According to the International Monetary Fund, India’s GDP might grow by 27% if the proportion of women working equals that of males.
- They are more financially self-sufficient and have more control over their life.
- They will not succumb to physical or emotional assault.
- They will take care of themselves when it comes to social concerns and pressures.
- Good for the economy.
- According to a 2016 analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute, attaining gender parity in India might add $700 billion to the global GDP.
- Because women contribute fresh abilities to the office, the benefits of adding women to the workforce in terms of productivity and growth are numerous.
- Men’s salaries will rise as a result of the increased participation of women in the work field, as productivity rises.
- Women contribute to the creation of exciting work culture by creating healthy competition, teamwork, and camaraderie, and thereby assisting the organisation in reaching its full potential.
STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT TO IMPROVE WOMEN’S LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION
- The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work or work of similar nature without any discrimination. Further, under the provisions of the 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.
- The government has targeted the issue by taking various prominent steps to increase the female labour participation rate which includes the enactment of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 which 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.
- The Ministry of Labour and Employment launched the e-Shram portal.
- The aim is to register 38 crore unorganised workers such as construction labourers, migrant workforce, street vendors, and domestic workers, among others.
- If a worker is registered on the e-shram portal and meets with an accident, he will be eligible for Rs 2.0 Lakh on death or permanent disability and Rs 1.0 lakh on partial disability.
The Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP)
- The Ministry of Rural Development launched MKSP in 2011.
- The aim is to impart skill development and capacity-building programmes for rural women.
- This scheme was introduced as a sub-component of DAY-NRLM (Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana — National Rural Livelihoods Mission) and implemented through State Rural Livelihoods Mission (SRLM) across India.
- Under the DAY-NRLM scheme, training on the use of the latest agriculture, allied techniques, and agro-ecological best practices are being imparted to women farmers through the community resource persons and extension agencies.
Biotech-Krishi Innovation Science Application Network (Biotech-KISAN) Programme
- The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology initiated the Biotech-KISAN Programme.
- It provides scientific solutions to farmers in the northeast region to link available innovative agriculture technologies to the farm with the small and marginal farmers, especially women farmers of the region.
Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY)
- The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship implemented PMKVY in 2015.
- It provides several short-duration skill training programmes viz. Short-Term Training (STT) and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), etc. for rural youth and women to earn their livelihood. Government schemes viz.
- The Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) is a placement-linked skill development program for wage employment for rural youth.
THE WAY FORWARD:
SYSTEMIC CHANGES NEEDED
- Government has to make an all-out effort to enrol more and more girls in primary education while arresting the high dropout rates among female students, this will enhance female education, which in turn will help more women to become part of the workforce when they enter the working age.
- The government has so far looked at female social security from the lens of the organised sector, which is very narrow, Focus should be to enhance social security, including medical benefits, health insurance and old-age benefits through a gender-oriented universal social security.
PROVIDING SKILL TRAINING
- Skill training of women in job roles aligned to the gig, platform and care sectors as well as other emerging sectors such as those covered under the Production-Linked Incentive Scheme needs to be encouraged.
- Online skill training can also be beneficial to women who face constraints in physical mobility due to social norms, domestic responsibilities or concerns over safety.
- We need training programmes with well-defined outcomes for women’s digital access and to mentor them to take up employment opportunities in emerging sectors.
- Greater investment in better health and care facilities would not only improve the well-being of India’s people and hence their economic productivity but will also lead to more employment opportunities for women.
- The ILO Report on Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work: Key findings in Asia and the Pacific (2018) indicated that increasing investment in the care economy has the potential to generate a total of 69 million jobs in India by 2030.
- Enabling women to acquire both physical assets (through credit facilities, revolving funds, etc.) and employable skills is crucial for them to take up employment opportunities in new and emerging sectors.
- There should be strict implementation of minimum wages with piece rates fixed for different types of women’s labour.
BRINGING WOMEN INTO LEADERSHIP ROLE.
- Subdued gender participation emanates from social-economic issues, which can be treated by bringing behavioural change. This can be changed if more women are given leadership positions.
- Thus, there is a need to ensure equal representation– from company boards to parliaments, from higher education to public institutions — through special measures and quotas.
IMBIBING GENDER EQUALITY
- There is a need to remove barriers to women’s full inclusion in the economy, including through access to the labour market, property rights and targeted credit and investments.
- Women-oriented government initiatives such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, and Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN) Scheme, represent steps in the right direction.
- The performance standards set under MGNREGA should be established gender-wise and the work sites made more worker-friendly.
- The ‘compulsory’ woman worker must be recognised and protected by laws and policies that address her issues.
THE CONCLUSION: Recognising the role of women will lead to a more egalitarian society. Even though there has been a significant change observed in the sharing of gender roles, there is an urgent need for reducing and redistributing unpaid work. Governments can play an important role in doing so. Change in the social and cultural setup is also important so that the burden reduces on those who are provided with the sole responsibility of carrying out unpaid work. Concerted efforts towards ensuring enabling conditions for women to be employed including transport, safety, and women’s hostels along with social security provisions for all in the form of maternity benefits and child care arrangements are required for providing a level playing field for women entering the labour market.
QUESTION FOR MAINS EXAMINATION:
- “Increasing Female LFPR in India is crucial not just to achieve economic growth but also to promote inclusive growth and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. Comment.
- Women’s labour force participation in India is continuously on a declining trend and is a cause for concern in achieving India’s developmental aspirations. Analyse the reasons for the decline and suggest measures to improve the condition.
- Despite the government’s continuous efforts to uplift women’s status in the rural economy, the traditional struggle for women to perform temporary jobs at a lower wage rate still prevails. Discuss.