Date : 07/10/2023
Relevance: GS Paper 2 - Social Justice- Women Empowerment
Keywords: Economic dividends, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), STEM, SDG, Informalisation of work
- Gender norms and biases, along with the unequal distribution of household chores, childcare, and elder care responsibilities, significantly hinder women's active participation in the workforce. These unpaid caregiving duties severely restrict their time and opportunities for formal employment, resulting in a lower rate of female labor force participation. These challenges have wide-ranging socioeconomic consequences, perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes and limiting the potential of half of the population.
- In 2022, India's female workforce participation rate stood at a mere 24 percent. This alarmingly low rate undermines the country's economic development and social well-being, necessitating an immediate reassessment of India's policies and programs aimed at promoting women's empowerment.
Role in Economic Development:
- Women constitute approximately half of India’s potential human capital. If gender equality is achieved and reproductive autonomy granted, the economic dividends would be substantial.
- As per a 2018 McKinsey Global Institute report, advancing women’s equality in India could add $770 billion, or 18%, to the nation’s GDP by 2025. Example: The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has economically empowered women, leading to higher family incomes and improved living standards.
- Enhanced gender equality contributes to poverty reduction (SDG 1), ensuring quality education (SDG 4), and promoting decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), thereby accelerating the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Factors Contributing to the Decrease in Women's Employment in India
- Social Pressure: Women often face societal pressure, fearing stigma from their communities when they engage in paid work, which might be seen as a sign of their husband's inability to provide for the family, traditionally the main breadwinner role.
- Conservative Attitudes: There is a growing trend in conservative beliefs that dictate a woman's primary place as being within the home and kitchen. Stepping outside these socially approved boundaries is sometimes met with backlash.
- Informalization of Work: In the past few decades, there has been a significant decline in agricultural jobs, without a corresponding increase in rural non-farm employment opportunities. This has resulted in many women moving into sporadic and often short-term informal and casual work.
- Unrecognized Women's Work: A substantial portion of women's work, particularly in family enterprises like farming, livestock, small shops, and handmade product sales, is not officially recognized as "work." This leads to their exclusion from labor force statistics.
- Inadequate Social Security: Even women who are part of the workforce often work in roles that fall outside the purview of labor laws and social security protections, including the recently enacted Social Security Code. This disproportionately affects women in self-employment and informal jobs, comprising over 90% of the female workforce.
- Land Ownership Disparities: Land ownership in agriculture is primarily in the names of men, excluding women from being recognized as farmers, despite their significant involvement in agricultural work. This prevents women from accessing various beneficial programs, including priority sector loans and income support cash transfers.
- The Ministry of Women and Child Development in India has initiated Mission Shakti, which comprises two sub-schemes, namely 'Samarthya' and 'Sambal.' These programs are designed to ensure the safety, security, and empowerment of women. Samarthya focuses on enhancing women's empowerment, while Sambal addresses issues related to gender-based violence, rehabilitation, and accommodations for working women. The National Creche Scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, previously part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme, are now integrated into Samarthya. Furthermore, Mission Shakti's National Hub for Empowerment of Women maintains a flexible fund to address unforeseen needs associated with its sub-schemes. This flexible fund provides essential gap funding to ensure the safety, well-being, and progress of women and girls in a responsive and adaptable manner, especially when other sources of funding are insufficient.
- Despite these efforts, India ranks 142 out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2023 concerning economic participation for women, indicating room for improvement.
Challenges in Implementation
Despite the government's efforts to promote women's workforce participation through various policies and schemes, there are significant challenges in their effective implementation. These challenges include deeply rooted cultural biases, lack of awareness and accessibility to these programs, and resource limitations. Addressing these intersecting issues is essential for crafting appropriate policies and interventions.
- Impact of COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of women's employment during crises. A study revealed a substantial gender gap in job loss during the 2020 lockdown, with 47 percent of women losing their jobs compared to only 7 percent of men, and many women did not return to work by the end of the year. The informal sector was particularly hard-hit, with 80 percent of workers losing their jobs during the lockdown months
- Education Barrier: Education plays a pivotal role in workforce participation. 71.5 percent of women, compared to 84.4 percent of men, are literate in the 15-49 age group. Access to education remains an issue, exacerbated by poor sanitation facilities in schools.
- STEM Participation; In India, including women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professions is crucial for economic and societal advancement. Surprisingly, almost half of STEM graduates in India are women. However, their representation in science and technology-related careers is alarmingly low at just 14 percent. This disparity between education and workforce participation underscores the need to address barriers at both stages.
What actions should be Taken?
- Immediate Actions: Immediate actions include capacity building, skill development, credit access for women-led businesses, better working conditions, and legal and social reforms. Quality and affordable childcare facilities at workplaces are essential, as are improvements in sanitation infrastructure.
- A survey revealed that almost 50 percent of women who were previously employed had to quit paid work due to childcare responsibilities. Given that childcare responsibilities disproportionately fall on women, it's essential to provide them with affordable and high-quality childcare facilities at workplaces. Similarly, access to proper sanitation infrastructure can prevent women from disengaging from education and income-generating activities.
- Role of Stakeholders: Government, philanthropies, civil society, and the private sector should collaborate to advance sustainable solutions. Private companies can implement gender-affirmative policies, while civil society organizations can provide capacity-building programs. Philanthropy can support microfinancing, loans, and skill development.
- Role of Private Sector: The private sector can institute workplace policies such as paid paternity leave, flexible working hours, subsidized commuting, and on-site childcare facilities to encourage and retain women in the workforce. Furthermore, by implementing gender-inclusive hiring policies that enable women to re-enter the workforce after a break and extending maternity benefits, private organizations can promote women's participation. With the support of civil society organizations, workplaces can also establish capacity-building and upskilling programs for women to remain competitive and job-ready, even without access to formal education.
- Women-Led Organizations: Women-led organizations can offer immediate assistance by providing peer-to-peer support, mentorship, and networking opportunities. These organizations serve as platforms for sharing knowledge and resources, bolstering women's capacity to succeed in the workforce. Over the long term, they can lead and support campaigns for women's rights, collaborate with other stakeholders to implement effective strategies and promote women's representation in leadership positions across various sectors.
Gender equality in India's workforce is a formidable challenge, but the potential benefits of women's economic empowerment are immense. Collective efforts are required to ensure that women in India's workforce receive their due recognition and opportunities.
Source - Thr Indian Express