India dismal on women's jobs

The World Bank’s India Development Report, which was released last week, is notable for the poor picture it presents of women’s participation in India’s labour force. It disabuses everyone of any notions of women’s economic and social advancement. According to the report, India is among the countries which have the lowest women’s participation in the workforce. It is ranked 120 among 131 countries for which data is available. It is not just that the present level of participation is poor, the trend has been negative for many years. Women’s participation has been steadily falling since 2005, while their educational levels have been rising. The decade between 2001 and 2011 saw an 116 % rise in the number of women graduates against a 65% rise for men. But the educational advancement did not translate into more jobs for women.

In India, women’s participation in jobs is just 27%, while in China and Brazil it is 65-70%. Women mainly work in the agricultural sector and are grossly underrepresented in the formal sectors. The share of jobs in the services and industry is as low as 20%. All neighbours, except Pakistan, figure higher than India. The economic progress of the last many years has not produced jobs for women and benefitted them, but has hurt their economic status. Discrimination against women and their diminishing social status are reasons for denial of jobs for them. Concerns about safety and non-availability of childcare facilities in workplaces, the pressure to reconcile work with household duties, lower salaries and remuneration are other reasons. Ironically, a rise in household incomes has also reduced the need for women to work. There is a reason to suspect that retrograde attitudes on the role of women have grown stronger with economic development. Job growth is slow, and most new jobs are taken by men. Many women are under-employed, get less pay than men for equal work and are given lower responsibilities and offered jobs that do not match their qualifications.

The report says India’s GDP growth can gain by one percentage if women’s share in jobs sees a moderate rise. Women are considered to be more productive, efficient and disciplined at work and known to save more. Work for women is an important requirement for poverty alleviation. Income from work and the sense of independence it gives increases women’s decision-making power at home and reduces domestic violence. The report should be an eye-opener for policymakers. It underlines the need to reorient policies and implement them with a better focus on women.

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