#Opinion

Why Are Majority Of Urban Indian Women Not Part Of The Workforce?

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Female labour participation which was already low in India has further dropped since the COVID-19 pandemic. Over two years since the pandemic first hit the world, the percentage of female participation in labour continues to remain low. According to the latest data, from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, female labour participation has been low since 2016.

The CMIE said that the female labour participation rate was 9.4% for the period between September-December 2021. The organisation also observed that the majority of Indian women in urban areas are not part of the workforce.

Urban women Not Part Of Workforce: Data And Research

The labour force participation rate—calculated by dividing the labour force and total working-age population—declined for both men and women during the pandemic. However, the situation for the former is improving steadily unlike for the women. Men’s labour force declined to 67.4% between September and December 2021 as compared to 71.2% during September and December 2019.

Shiney Chakraborty, a research analyst at the Institute of Social Studies Trust, remarked to Bloomberg that women who lost their jobs in the pandemic or who left the workforce because of the pandemic are yet to return. Chakraborty added that the reasons that demotivate women from returning are domestic chores, lack of social support, and the absence of a care economy.

According to CMIE data, female labour participation dropped by nearly three per cent between 2019 and 2021. Meanwhile, the participation of women in the workforce in rural areas is marginally higher than in urban areas. The data comes as a shock as it is assumed women in urban areas are educated and thus have access to better job opportunities. However, these factors are some of many reasons contributing to the low rate of female employment: marital status, education, caste and religion.

Experts Explain 

What factors that contribute to the low participation of women in India? Based on global evidence, some of the main reasons are undue attention to domestic work, violence against women, orthodox beliefs, educational expectations; meanwhile, other important reasons such as education, fertility rates and the age of marriage, economic growth and urbanisation are also known to influence the numbers.

Domestic Work Is Not Recognised

A majority of women in India work and contribute to the economy in one way or the other, much of their work is not recognised or documented. The household labour is not recorded in any statistics and their work goes undocumented or unreported. In India, a high portion of women adhere to domestic duties. According to data, in 2011-12, 35.3% of the rural female populace and 46.1% female populace in urban areas were engaged in domestic duties.

Despite such a large amount of female population engaging in domestic work, it is yet to be recognised as work and women’s domestic labour is yet to be acknowledged. Domestic work not being accounted for as work is a primary reason why women’s participation in the labour force is low.


Suggested Reading: Seven Reasons Women Stay Out of the Indian Workforce


Violence Against Women

The increased rate of violence against women terrorises women and their families. Working women are often told to take care of their safety, especially at night time. Women are generally asked to avoid working night shifts.

Due to the concerns over women’s safety, their participation in the workforce remains low. While women in urban areas can afford to pay attention to this factor; for most women in rural areas, it is a means of survival. A do-or-die situation where they don’t have a choice which is why urban women’s participation rate stand lower than that of those from rural areas.

Orthodox beliefs

Patriarchy’s favourite dialogue, “Women of our family don’t work,” has contributed a lot to the statistics on the rate of women’s participation in the workforce. Women are not allowed to work by their own families or in-laws because it is believed that women should focus only on domestic work. It’s a man’s task to earn for the family. The idea of women earning and managing the expenses of the household is considered shameful.

The idea that women should look after a family, the absence of childcare facilities like creches etc further restricts women to domesticity. Such orthodox beliefs keep many capable women away from the workforce and the participation rate thus remains low.

Educational Expectations

India has made considerable progress in increasing access to education for girls and an increasing number of women of working age are enrolling in secondary schools. Jobs were not created in large numbers in sectors that could readily fit women, though.

According to Sonal Desai, professor of Sociology at, the University of Maryland, “A man with a grade 10 education can become a salesman, a truck driver, or a mechanic but do you think these opportunities are not open for women? Certainly not. Education is certainly associated with lower workforce participation for women.”

This has resulted in low numbers of female participation in the workforce. It is imperative that we include women in the workforce and increase the rate of their participation, especially in urban areas, so as to aid the development of women as well as the economic growth of the country.

The views expressed are the author’s own.