Evolving Female Labour Force Participation In India: The Next Growth Chapter

India has a rich history of women playing significant roles in various spheres of life. However, despite this legacy, entrenched cultural norms, patriarchal structures, and societal expectations have confined women to domestic roles, restricting their access to education and economic opportunities. In this context, the call for diversity and equality has evolved from a mere desire to a crucial mandate. While there has been progress, achieving fair representation, including increasing female labour force participation, is now at a critical stage and requires immediate attention.

Current scenario of women’s participation in the workforce

Female labour force participation in India has witnessed a notable uptick in recent years, albeit from a lower base compared to global averages. With younger, more educated women entering the workforce, the dynamics are shifting. However, India’s predominant male workforce presents a challenge for harnessing its demographic dividend. As India aims for a GDP growth rate of 8% by 2030, women must account for more than half of the new workforce to achieve this target.

According to the State of Working India Report 2023, the composition of the female workforce in India is evolving, with an increasing number of younger women possessing higher levels of education joining the labour market. With India projected to possess the world’s largest working-age population, approaching nearly 70% by 2030, the current low level of female participation in the workforce is increasingly untenable. As India seeks to become a principal contributor to global economic growth, with a targeted GDP growth rate of 8% over the next five years, it is imperative that women constitute more than half of the new workforce to be integrated by 2030, as outlined in the report titled ‘India’s Breakout Moment’.

According to the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report 2023, the female labour force participation rate for those aged 15 and above rose from 23.3% in 2017-18 to 32.8% in 2021-22, marking a 9.5% point increase. This growth was more pronounced in rural areas, with an increase of 12.0% points compared to a 3.4% point rise in urban areas. Specifically, the female LFPR in rural regions increased from 24.6% in 2017-18 to 36.6% in 2021-22, reflecting a 12.0% point rise.

Recent trends indicate a rise in women’s participation in India’s labour force, but largely in the realm of self-employment; a development likely motivated more by economic necessity than by growth opportunities. The creation of employment opportunities is a titanic task that will not only foster economic growth but also bring social stability.

Understanding from the ground level

To tackle the issue of low women’s participation in the workforce, it is crucial to first comprehend the existing landscape. The factors influencing women’s workforce engagement in India are multifaceted, encompassing cultural norms and educational opportunities.

Key factors affecting female labour force participation

  • Cultural and societal norms: Deep-seated cultural and societal influences significantly impact women’s workforce participation.
  • Education and skill development: Access to education and skill development opportunities plays a pivotal role in enhancing women’s employability
  • Challenges of motherhood: While maternity leave policies exist, they may not adequately address the needs of working mothers. Additionally, the lack of affordable childcare facilities makes it difficult for women to return to work after childbirth.
  • Limited access to education and skill development: Limited access to quality education and vocational training opportunities restricts women’s entry into skilled professions, impacting their employability and career prospects.
  • Government policies and legal frameworks: Government policies can shape women’s workforce participation.
  • The role of flexible work and childcare: Flexible work arrangements can support women’s employment. They allow women to balance work and family responsibilities. Childcare and maternity benefits are also crucial. They can help retain women employees in the workforce.

The recent reports on women dropping out of the labour force – in record numbers, created a tsunami-impact in the world of work. Usually, when women work, it’s a boon to any economy. Most nations experience faster development when women actively participate in their workforces.

Economists are stumped, and concluded by reasoning that:

  • As household incomes increase, some women choose to leave the workforce due to financial security.
  • Another reason is pursuit of education; more and more women are enrolling in schools and colleges and staying in school longer than previous generations.
  • Third reason cited is conservative ideas about a woman’s obligations towards their family.
  • Safety concerns while migrating to urban areas in pursuit of a job, as the country is still often considered unreliable and unsafe for females to commute long distances in public transportation, especially during late hours.

India’s labour force is categorised into three main sectors: agriculture and allied industries, manufacturing, and services sector. While agriculture employs the largest portion of the workforce and is one industry that employs more women than men, it contributes the least to the nation’s GDP.

The FMCG industry, ranked as the fourth largest sector in the Indian economy, has seen robust growth driven by consumer demand. However, it continues to grapple with gender disparity, which has been highlighted in our recent report on “Empowering the Essentials: A Deep Dive into India’s FMCG Workforce.”

Balasubramanian A, VP & Business Head, TeamLease, emphasised the gender imbalance in the FMCG industry workforce. He said, “The gender disparity in the FMCG workforce, with male associates comprising over 90%, underscores the need for concerted efforts to promote gender diversity and inclusivity in the industry. Embracing diversity fosters innovation and reflects a commitment to creating a more equitable workplace.”

Initiatives and progress

The journey is challenging, but the potential rewards for India’s economy and society are immense. Let’s strive for a more inclusive and diverse workforce. However, amidst these challenges, there have been commendable efforts and initiatives aimed at promoting women’s participation in the workforce. Government schemes such as the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save Daughter, Educate Daughter) campaign have sought to empower women economically and socially. Furthermore, legislative measures such as the Maternity Benefit Act and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act have provided legal frameworks for safeguarding women’s safety and rights in the workplace.

When women succeed, the nation succeeds

The benefits of increased female labour force participation in India extends beyond economic growth. Studies have shown that empowering women economically leads to better health and education outcomes for families, reduces poverty, and fosters more resilient communities. Furthermore, gender diversity in the workforce brings varied perspectives, creativity, and innovation, thereby enhancing productivity and competitiveness.

India stands at a crucial trajectory where unlocking the full potential of its female workforce is not only a moral imperative but also an economic necessity. The journey ahead is challenging, but the transformative impact of empowering women is undeniable. Through collaborative efforts, innovative policies, and a commitment to gender equality, India can harness its demographic dividend and pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future.

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