Women’s participation in formal workforce is a sombre reality and one of the main reasons why this remains constant is because of the unequal distribution of unpaid work—a sector that solely relies on women. Women’s economic participation majorly in South Asian countries is hindered because of how childcare is culturally and socially deemed to be a woman’s responsibility. An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study says that Indian women spend close to 352 minutes per day on unpaid work, 577% more than men (52 minutes) and at least 40% more than women in South Africa and China.

As per the data shared by International Labour Organisation (ILO), of the 149 countries whose data has been presented by ILO, only 10 countries fare below India in terms of female labour force participation—a parameter that’s only going down.

As per the data shared by International Labour Organisation (ILO), of the 149 countries whose data has been presented by ILO, only 10 countries fare below India in terms of female labour force participation—a parameter that’s only going down. A huge part of this issue is that of unpaid work and under that childcare forms a significant space. Senior Deputy Editor of Frontline, TK Rajalakshmi spoke about it at a panel at an event organised by Breakthrough India when she said that from the experience of Scandinavian countries and erstwhile socialist countries, where they treat children as not an individual’s responsibility but a society’s responsibility at large.

“This is why women’s work was encouraged in these socialist countries. So, as far our endeavour should be to put pressure on the state to take over some responsibility and not outsource them to individual families or to private sector as ultimately it is a matter of public accountability. When one makes it an individual’ job then one is making it extremely narrow-minded and self-eccentric. If we need a societal transformation then state intervention in childcare is required,” she said.

For the increase in participation of women in workforce, revision of HR policies were also the key points which were discussed to assist women to join formal workforce since several women take break in their careers where flexible work arrangements must be considered.

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“Women’s workforce participation cannot be understood in isolation – we need to rethink the tools and involve analysts, practitioners and people on the ground,” Urvashi Butalia, Publisher, Writer & Director of Zubaan said while discussing contributing factors to bring back women in workforce.

In Asian countries, specifically in India, participation of women in formal-workforce is declining particularly in the formal sector despite the increase in the competencies of women to contribute.

In Asian countries, specifically in India, participation of women in formal-workforce is declining particularly in the formal sector despite the increase in the competencies of women to contribute.  This eventually constitute of gender biased workplace policies in terms of hiring, flexible working conditions, and lack of conducive workplace environment or infrastructures for women employees. Sexual harassment during commute and at workplaces and weak response mechanisms are also challenges which every working woman has to face day in and day out. And in many cases domestic violence and harassment at workplace also adds up to dual or double burden.

‘It’s not that we haven’t heard this perspective earlier, but it’s the pressing need to revisit the advice and recommendations. If the infrastructure for women to enter in formal workforce is not created, then women’s economic value will forever be ignored. There is a need to overhaul policies and overall social norms”, says Sohini Bhattacharya, CEO & President, Breakthrough India in concluding remarks.

Picture credit- Hindustan Times

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