Women in India want to work but cannot or do not due to family responsibilities, lack of skills and social norms. India is ranked 139 among 145 countries on the economic participation and opportunity sub index, in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015.
In the rankings by indicator, India stood 136th in female labour force participation rate.
Women’s workforce participation in India is the lowest among the BRICS nations. A range of countries, such as Bahrain, Malaysia and even Somalia (37%), do much better, IndiaSpend reported in March 2015.
Female workforce participation rate- defined as the percentage of the population that is either employed or unemployed (that is, either working or actively seeking work)- in India rose from 25.8% in 2012-13 to 27.4% in 2015-16, according to data from the ministry of labour.
Source: Labour Bureau 2015-16
The increase has been mainly due to an increase in rural women taking up work- from 28.4% in 2012-13 to 31.7% in 2015-16. Over the same period, there was a decline in the workforce participation for urban women- from 19.2% to 16.6%.
There is a wide variation among the states.
Source: Labour Bureau 2015-16
While Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had some of the lowest female workforce participation rates-with 15.5% and 18.1% – states such as Rajasthan and Jharkhand did much better than national average of 31.1%. All the southern states have scored better than the national average, with Andhra Pradesh being the highest (51.3%).
UP, Rajasthan, and Bihar had low rates of workforce participation among urban women, with the lowest being in Bihar (9.3%), while Andhra Pradesh was the highest at 35.1%.
Some reasons for the low female workforce participation rate:
Women want to work. National Sample Survey (NSS) data show that 31% of women who spend the majority of their time performing domestic duties would like some kind of job. The proportion of educated rural women who want to work is even higher: More than 50% would like a job apart from their domestic work. If all women who expressed a desire to work did so, Female Labour Force Participation Rate in India would rise 21 percentage points (to 78%), according to a pilot survey of rural, below-poverty-line youth in areas around Bhopal, conducted by Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at Harvard.
Distance to place of work: The EPoD survey found that 93% of unemployed female youth said they would take a job if they could work from home or in the village. In contrast to the national labour market, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)- the country’s rural jobs programme- has seen increased participation from women over the last five years, and now (2016) employs slightly more women (52%) than men (48%).
Skilling: “Initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, and new gender-based quotas–from corporate boards to the police force–can spur positive change. But we need to invest in skill training and job support,” according to an article written by Charity Moore Director of EPoD. Further, the opportunities that exist need to be equitable. From 2010 to 2012, women’s share in the manufacturing labour-force rose from 15 to 25%, but the gender wage gap across sectors in manufacturing was high–much higher than in services.
‘Unsafe to travel’: As much as 62% of unemployed female youth–similar to 68% of unemployed young men–said they would consider migrating for a job, according to the EPoD survey. Despite reporting they would be willing to consider migrating for work, 69% of female youth said it is unsafe to live away from home (this time, in the context of skills training), compared to only 32% of male youth.