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Women at work: Numbers rising but not in all sectors

There is a noticeable increase in women’s participation in higher-income occupations, except in technicians and associates.
Last Updated : 12 December 2023, 23:02 IST
Last Updated : 12 December 2023, 23:02 IST
Last Updated : 12 December 2023, 23:02 IST
Last Updated : 12 December 2023, 23:02 IST

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India’s unemployment rate has steadily declined and has taken remarkable strides thanks to economic reforms, job creation programmes, and industrial growth. This encouraging development indicates the government’s commitment to addressing employment challenges and fostering a robust job market. However, understanding gender disparities in labour force participation in various occupations is crucial for comprehending the nation’s socioeconomic status.

According to the PLFS report 2023 released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) on October 9, India is the world’s fifth-largest economy, with 37% of the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR). It witnessed a remarkable increase of 4.2%, pushing up the FLFPR in 2023 from 2022. However, the Global Gender Gap Index ranked India in the 127th position in 2023 (World Economic Forum 2023).

Female participation in India has increased from 23.3% in 2017–18 to 31.9% in 2022–23. It is a good indication for the Indian labour market; however, the nature of this participation, whether in higher or lower-income occupations, remains a critical question. This article aims to analyse the distribution of female labour force participation across occupations, focusing on the gender employment gap and its impact on women’s empowerment. The chosen occupations include higher-income occupations, namely, administrators, professionals, technicians, associates, clerks, and salespeople, and low-income occupations: service workers, skilled agriculture, crafts and related trades, plant and machine operators, and elementary occupations. These occupations are divided into higher-income occupations requiring formal education, skills, and training, enabling women to earn more than the lower-income occupations requiring no formal education, and are done in rural areas by rural women.

There is a noticeable increase in women’s participation in higher-income occupations, except in technicians and associates. The other occupations have observed a significant or nominal rise in the female participation rate. The plant and machinery sector shows the maximum gender gap, indicating less female participation.

PLFS 2023 data reveals significant growth in the skilled agricultural sector (27.2% in 2017–18 to 43% in 2022–23) and among professionals (from 26.7% in 2017–18 to 36.1% in 2022–23). On the contrary, a stark decline was observed in the occupation of technicians and associates, from 34.7% in 2017–18 to 25% in 2022–23, aligning with the Global Gender Gap Index report by the WEF (2023).

The shift in the increased participation of women has been observed among technicians and associates who moved to agriculture post-Covid. Rural women found it easier to re-enter the workforce than their urban counterparts. Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed (World Economic Forum 2021). LinkedIn’s sample shows women make up 41.9% of the workforce in 2023, but their representation in senior leadership positions is only 32.2%, nearly 10% lower than in entry-level positions. Women’s representation drops to 25% in C-suite positions, with industries like consumer services, retail, and education showing better representation. However, the trend of women hiring into leadership positions reversing began in 2022, bringing the 2023 rate back to 2021 levels. It can further show a marked decline in women’s hiring into leadership roles, creating a reversal of one-to-two years of progress across multiple roles.

Even with employment, women often face substandard working conditions, with a significant portion of employment recovery since 2020 being informal. The gender employment gap has been reduced significantly, and it has had a positive impact on women’s empowerment, due to the introduction of government policies and schemes including the New Education Policy and the establishment of additional medical colleges, IITs, IIMs, and various institutions and programs like Skill India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra, Industrial Training Institute, DGT, PMKVY, SANKALP, NIPUN, Skill India International Center, NIESBUD, and Jan Shikshan Sansthan which was aimed at bridging the employment gap and played a significant role in moving the wheel of development, it has gained the momentum by improving India’s position on the global stage; however, the challenges still persist, as women in India still are lagging behind because of the substandard working conditions and traditional framework which still needs to be solved.

Women have been re-entering the labour market at a slightly higher rate than men, resulting in a modest recovery from the previous year (Global Gender Gap Report, 2023). The Covid-19 pandemic and geopolitical crisis have impacted the progress of women on the work front. There has been a steep decline in the political empowerment of women, whereas in areas of health and education, the gender employment gaps have been reduced. These issues have impacted the economic participation of women globally, but India has witnessed significantly better results.

(Shiba Shankar Pattayat is an assistant professor, and Simran Bhattarai and Kumar Priyanshu are students at the Dept of Economics, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru)

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Published 12 December 2023, 23:02 IST

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