Patriarchy curbs women labour force

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper on female labour force participation (FLFP) in India underscores the fact that women are an under-tapped economic asset in the country. Women constituted just 33 per cent of the Indian labour force in 2012, lower than the global average of 50 per cent and substantially less than the East Asian average of 63 per cent. Drawing on several studies, including National Sample Survey data, the working paper makes some significant points: India not only has one of the lowest FLFP rates in the world but also, in contrast to other regions, its FLFP rate has been falling over the past decade. Besides, at 50 per cent, India’s gender gap in participation is among the widest among G-20 economies, second only to Saudi Arabia. The gender gap in participation in the workforce varies within the country. Interestingly, this gap is much less in rural India. There are urban areas where the gender gap in participation is as high as 60 per cent.

The working paper points to some interesting correlations. As incomes rise, FLFP falls and as female education levels improve, their participation in the labour force grows. It also draws attention to MGNREGA contributing to improved FLFP rates. Policy makers will do well to note that MGNREGA’s pro-women stipulations such as a minimum 33 per cent of women workers, equal wages for women and men, and provision of facilities at work sites such as crèches have no doubt enabled more women to join the workforce.

The IMF working paper suggests some steps such as increasing labour market flexibility and higher social spending, especially on female education to improve India’s FLFP rate. Indeed, women need education and skills training to make them more employable. However, it is a more supportive environment at home, on the way to work and at the workplace that is essential to raise the FLFP rate. Patriarchal mindsets and misogyny are the biggest obstacles in the way of women going out to work. Family members are reluctant to send daughters and wives to work as they fear that economic independence will undermine their control over her. Besides, sexual violence at work inhibits women from seeking employment outside the home. To raise India’s FLFP rate, the government and civil society must act now to get Indians to shed their misogynist outlook.  Employment outside home will not only empower women but will also boost India’s economic growth by 1.5-2.5 per cent a year by the increases in the number of women in the labour force.
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