The invisible women in India’s labour market

  • IASbaba
  • June 8, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-1: Society & issues related to women.
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to it

The invisible women in India’s labour market

Context: India’s female labour force participation rates have been dismal over the past two decades. 


  • At 24.5% in 2018-19, its current participation rate is well below the global average of 45%, and is also the lowest in South Asia.
  • Despite rising GDP, increasing educational attainment, rising household incomes, and declining fertility, women’s participation in the labour market has decreased. 
  • The gender gap in participation is overwhelmingly large and has been widening over the last decade or so
  • Women’s participation has decreased substantially across all age brackets, especially between 25 to 59 years.
  • There are considerable variations in the rates of women’s labour force participation between rural and urban areas (26.4% for rural versus 20.4% for urban women).
  • Available evidence suggests that finding a paid job is much harder for women than men. And once they enter the labour market, women still face limited work options, have fewer learning and career advancement opportunities.
  • Women are overrepresented in the informal economy, particularly in vulnerable, low skilled and poorly paid jobs that have limited social security.

What factors influence Women to enter labour market & work?

Multiple factors influence women’s decision to enter the labour market, including 

  • Demand and supply-side drivers
  • Prevailing socio-cultural 
  • Gender norms and attitudes. 

Specifically, women’s ability to work is influenced by 

  • Their marital status
  • Number of children
  • Caste, religion and ethnicity
  • Lack of essential education and vocational skills
  • Labour market discrimination.
  • Availability of women-friendly jobs.

Does lower participation rate indicate that women work less?

  • The low participation rates, however, do not indicate that women are working less. Instead, women’s time and efforts are diverted to unpaid care work (such as raising children, caring for sick and elderly) and domestic work.
  • Women spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work in India than men, particularly if married. The Time-use Survey of 2019 shows that, on average, a woman spends 19.5% of her time every day in unpaid responsibilities compared to merely 2.5% by a man. 
  • While essential to the welfare of society and the economy, these activities are not accounted for in the System of National Accounts and employment, which means that they remain unrecorded and undervalued
  • As a result, such unpaid essential work finds limited focus in policies and programmes aimed at improving labour market outcomes.
  • Also, the declining labour force participation is associated with women’s limited involvement in sectors that provide jobs in white-collar services.

Way Ahead

Policymakers should take a holistic and integrated approach to improve women’s labour force participation and their overall labour market outcomes by 

  • Enhancing access to timely and impactful skill development
  • Adequate maternity benefits and entitlements
  • Access to affordable childcare facilities, household infrastructure and provision of other family-friendly policies to reduce the burden of unpaid care work 
  • Safe and convenient transportation and public infrastructure. 
  • Providing access to better-paid formal jobs 
  • Support for women-led entrepreneurship opportunities
  • Investing in public services and women-friendly public spaces 
  • Addressing discriminatory employment practices.
  • Imparting necessary vocational and technical skills
  • Invest in robust data and evidence systems to better measure and count women’s unpaid work 
  • Design gender-smart policies and programmes for women’s economic empowerment and overall well-being.

Connecting the dots:

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