Why India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate has been Dwindling

telangana woman sarpanch becomes labourer, Women in India: Woman labourers work at a road construction site

The World Bank’s Reassessing Patterns of Female Labor Force Participation in India report begins with a rather unsettling truth, “Jawaharlal Nehru once remarked, ‘I have long been convinced that a nation’s progress is intimately connected with the status of its women’ (Parthasarathi, 1985). In the wake of successive waves of economic liberalization, the ‘condition’ of India—when thought of in terms of economic and human development—has improved dramatically. Yet, while the status of women has arguably improved in both the public and private spheres, their ability to access opportunities in this newly liberalized economy remains precarious.

India’s Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) rate has remained visibly low.  The ILO (2013) ranks India’s FLFP rate as 121 out of 131 countries, one of the lowest in the world. In 2013, India had the lowest FLFP rate in South Asia, with the exception of Pakistan. Globally, only parts of the Arab world held lower FLFP rates than India in the same year”.

The enrollment of girls in higher education increased from 39% to 46% from 2007 to 2014, but female participation in India’s labour force declined to a low of 27% in 2014 from 34% in 1999, according to a 2015 study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The question is when the Gender Parity Index (GPI), the ratio of female students to male students – in higher education rises, it should lead to higher female labour force participation rates, which unfortunately is not the scenario.

Rajeshwari Ramachandran, a freelance Human resource consultant spoke to SheThePeople.TV about the reasons for the reduction of women in the workforce. “Women graduate in a better ratio than men but are unfortunately not able to make it to the top of the ladder due to several reasons. The problem of work, life and balance still exist and women tend to drop out early due to family circumstances like relocating to another city due to one’s husbands shifting, taking care of children and so on. Earlier this was not as such a big issue because of the joint family phenomenon which was a support system but since nuclear family is the trend, there is a failure of support system.

I’ve known a lot of women who have really stepped up their game in the corporate world and they did not get anything on a golden platter like anyone, which includes men as well. It is necessary for women to change their mindset and prioritize their career in life if they are really serious about it.

One reason why women dwindle with time is that they over-burden themselves with responsibilities which are sometimes not essential.

While the question of inclusivity needs to addressed in firms, the inclusivity programme should not be just for women but for men as well. While we have maternity leaves, why not have paternity leaves? Reinforcing maternity leaves also makes a mark that it is just a women’s responsibility. Considering the flexible policies that are being devised, women should shed some responsibilities because the transition phase is a difficult one to cope with. While there are numerous limitations, if women liberate themselves from their own stress, I’m sure things are going to be better”, says Rajeshwari.

In addition to raising labour input, the resulting human-capital accumulation should boost potential output, according to a study by the IMF. But the percentage of women in India’s workforce is declining, as India Spend reported in March 2015.

India’s female labour force participation has dropped to 27% in 2014, a rate below the global average of around 50% and the East Asian average of around 63%, mentioned the study.

Kavitha Dorairajan, 42, house-wife from New Delhi mentions how disproportion between educated women and working women have been persistent for decades now. She says, “I did my B.A. (C.S) and in fact cleared ACS but unfortunately could not continue my career to due to various reasons. I studied in all girl’s college in Chennai and to look at the batch I studied in, hardly one percent of them are working.

This disparity between education and work is sometimes muddling. Regretting not being able to work is one story but when I tried to look out for the possible reasons as to why this is happening – it remained unexplained. While the reasons might be complex and unique to every person, what definitely needs to happen is that women should extend their line from education to career. We as mothers keep telling our children to put their knowledge into practical use, we should as well put our knowledge into work”.

In the first four months of 2017, a chunk of information went unnoticed: while jobs for men increased by 0.9 million, 2.4 million women fell off the employment map, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a think tank.

One baffling statement that concluded was, if the number of women who quit jobs in India between 2004-05 and 2011, was a city, it would, at 19.6 million, be the third-most populated in the world, after Shanghai and Beijing.

According to IndiaSpend (April 9, 2016) among G-20 countries, only Saudi Arabia is worse. In over two decades preceding  2013, female labour force participation in India fell from 34.8% to 27%, according to an April 2017 World Bank report.

The logical link that education should lead to jobs, is broken in India. In rural India, 67% of girls who are graduates do not work. In towns and cities, 68.3% of women who graduate don’t have paid jobs, says a 2015 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Women’s Voices, Employment and Entrepreneurship in India. 

One of the possible reasons for this would be the rising income levels and stability in families are disincentivising women from joining the labour force, according to a report by the World Bank, which analysed government data from 2004-05 to 2011-12.

One important thing every woman must know is that if women participate in the economy at par with men, India could increase GDP by up to 60%, or $2.9 trillion, by 2025, according to a 2015 study by the McKinsey Global Institute, a think tank. At present, women contribute a mere 17% to the country’s GDP, well below the global average of 37%. If such think tanks can measure our potential to be able to add a whopping amount of GDP, we should not hold back ourselves.

Also Read: Sweden to Organise Crowd-funded Women-only “Statement Festival”

Reshma Ganeshbabu is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed in this column are author’s own.