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Foxconn hiring discrimination case: A look at married women's participation in India's labour force

While various studies point out that married men are preferred in the workforce to unmarried ones, when it comes to women, it is the exact opposite. Let us decode why married women are less likely to get hired into the labour market compared to unmarried women.
Last Updated : 27 June 2024, 06:47 IST

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With reports of Foxconn’s discrimination against female job applicants on the basis of their marital status coming to light, it becomes imperative for us to navigate through the depths of this prejudice to ascertain whether this was a one-off incident or is there a similar pattern in the totality of India's labour market.

What is the Foxconn case?

A Reuters investigation recently revealed that women in Tamil Nadu are not being hired in the iPhone factory run by the major Apple supplier Foxconn over their marital status. The agency found that Foxconn has been systematically excluding married women from its workforce at its main India iPhone assembly plant owing to their assumption that married women have more family responsibilities, as compared to their unmarried counterparts. 

In response to this, the Centre has sought a detailed report from the Tamil Nadu government, asking it explain the alleged discrimination.  

“The office of Regional Chief Labour Commissioner has also been directed to furnish the factual report to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India,” a statement from the Labour Ministry said.

While a former employee of the company told Reuters that Foxconn did not hire married women because of "cultural issues" and societal pressures, let us take a look at what exactly the “risk factors” in hiring married women are and how they have affected the Indian workforce.

What are these “risk-factors” that married women employees are presumed to carry?

While various studies point out that married men are preferred in the workforce to unmarried ones, when it comes to women, it is the exact opposite. Let us decode why married women are less likely to get hired into the labour market compared to unmarried women. 

  • As per research, women often face pressure of giving birth soon after their marriage due to which female candidates with marital status are associated with a higher possibility of a parental status, which leads to companies having to grant paid leaves to these employees.

  • In Indian society, which is still strikingly patriarchal in nature, women have to strike a balance between their work life and personal life and often end up experiencing a trade-off like situation. Given that time is a finite resource, it is essential to note that the demand for time that women face in their domestic life often clashes with their workplace requirements. 

  • Research also shows that having dependents at home, which often is the case for married women, may influence their decision to continue working. 

  • Moreover, due to societal norms that still exist in the country, men are assumed to be the breadwinners while women are expected to take care of their home. Hence, females are more likely to decide against joining a workplace, or continuing in it after their marriage due to the time poverty they face, while men are more likely to get hired more post marriage to ‘run their household’. 

While a recent report placed the increase in female workforce as a pre-condition to India achieving an 8 per cent growth in its GDP by 2030, the current status of women in workforce makes this target seem like wishful thinking. 

While the labour force participation rate among females has increased since 1990 (when there were only 27.8 per cent women in the workforce) to 32.7 per cent females recorded in 2023, the rise is relatively unimpressive, when compared to labour force participation among males. 

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the male labour force participation rate has slightly dipped from 1990 to 2023 from 78.9 per cent to 76.8 per cent.

As per the National Family Health Survey 2019-21, 32 per cent of the currently married women (age 15-49) are employed as opposed to the whopping 98 per cent employment in currently married men within the same age group. 

What is more astonishing is that out of the total employed married women, 15 per cent are not paid at all.

While the government has taken some steps to increase the female labour force participation in India, there is still a long way to go given the loopholes that companies are finding to avoid giving benefits to married women by not hiring them all together.

For instance, while the 2017 amendment to the Maternity Bill Act 1961 batted for significant advantages for working mothers like an increased period of paid maternity leave, leave for adoptive and surrogate mothers and creche services, companies often see these as gendered expenses which makes this a probable reason behind them being skeptical about hiring married females to avoid long term costs in the future.

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Published 27 June 2024, 06:47 IST

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