Women’s labour force participation dropping

Rashi Aditi Ghosh/ZRG

Women in India are far less likely than men to have a job or to be looking for one. Experts are of the view that women’s less than fair participation in the labour market is stymieing India’s growth rates.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) report “Global Employment Trends 2013” published in February 2013, India’s labour force participation rate for women fell from just over 37 per cent in 2004-05 to 29 per cent in 2009-10. What’s even worse, India was ranked 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation among 131 countries for which data was available.

The report further reveals that the low rates of women labour force participation are largely due to cultural and social biases against them at the workplace.

Steven Kapsos, an economist at the ILO stressed, “Despite very rapid economic growth in India in recent years, we’re observing declining female labour force participation rates across all age groups, across all education levels, and in both urban and rural areas.”The social barriers on women have an economic impact as well.

“Failure to allow women full access to the labour market is an under-utilisation of human resources that holds back productivity and economic growth,” Kapsos stressed.

In ILO’s view, “Women in India tend to be grouped in certain industries and occupations, such as basic agriculture, sales and elementary services and handicraft manufacturing.”

Data also suggests that female employment in India grew by 9 million between 1994 and 2010, but the ILO estimates that it could have increased by almost double that figure if women had equal access to employment in the same industries and occupations as their male counterparts.

As per ILO’s analysis, not just India but the whole of South Asia is suffering from similar scarcity of women labour force. While 80 per cent of men in the region are either employed or searching for a job, the number for women is much lower at 32 per cent.

Talking on the low labour participation of women in India and in South Asian countries, Soumya Kanti Ghosh, senior fellow at Indian Council for Research on International (ICRIER) said, “Low labour force participation of women in India and most of the developing countries is not a new thing. The situation is persisting because most of the women in these countries are only allowed to participate in their domestic chores and unfortunately their labour doesn’t get converted into Gross Development Product (GDP).”