Level the field for her

Jayshree Sengupta
Unfortunately, few people are talking about women’s employment today and are more worried about youth unemployment. There are various ways in which women can be encouraged to work which is good for their own self-worth and welfare of their families. Recently, when the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council outlined 10 areas of focus, women’s employment did not figure in it as a separate item. It is, however, a serious problem that women’s participation in labour force has declined sharply. The Labour Force Participation Rate ( LFPR) was 25.51 per cent as per the National Sample Survey (68th round) estimates in 2011-12. It was only 24.8 per cent in rural and 14.7 per cent in urban areas. As per the latest World Bank data, women’s LFPR was 27 per cent in 2016. It is not surprising that women are not getting jobs in today’s tight labour market. When jobs are scarce, who would want to choose a woman vis-à-vis a man? A man can work long hours, does not need maternity leave and is safe to travel. In construction work, women workers have to be provided with mandatory creche facilities.
There are many reasons why women’s participation in the labour force has been declining for some years in India and is the lowest among countries in South Asia after Pakistan. Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have higher female employment to population ratios. The contribution of women in India to the GDP is only 17 per cent – less than half the global average of 37 per cent. As IMF chief Christine Lagarde said, ‘India’s GDP would be 27 per cent higher if more women participated in the labour force.’
Lack of availability of agricultural and non-agricultural jobs in the areas is mainly responsible for lower participation of women in the rural work force in India as productivity in agriculture has declined leading to shrinkage in farm jobs and there is also increasing use of mechanisation. While men displaced by mechanisation in farms can find jobs in manufacturing and service industries, there are fewer openings for women. Many married women leave work in rural areas to look after children. The decline can also be attributed to better education opportunities for girls in the 15-24 years age group and higher incomes of households.
There is, however, the overall grip of patriarchy on the lives of young girls in rural areas and they are not allowed to go out to faraway places to work or even study unescorted. In China, girls from rural areas customarily work in factories and live in hostels till they earn a desired sum of money to make them financially secure before getting married and settling down. In India, hostels and dormitories for women workers are not commonly found as family resistance to such arrangements is high.
MGNREGA has also led to a rise in women’s wages and enhanced household incomes in the villages which have enabled them to withdraw from the labour force. In many North Indian villages, a woman’s and the family’s status is enhanced by staying at home.
In urban areas, as many as two- thirds of women with college degrees are without jobs. Many women also choose not to work with growing prosperity of their husbands. In affluent areas of New Delhi, one sees clubs and restaurants full of women having “kitty parties”. They come mostly from the upper crust of Delhi society to meet women in similar circumstances and relieve their boredom. Many women even when they are keen to work cannot find suitable jobs. The motivation remains weak because the husbands are the main providers and women do not need to earn money to support the family. But millions of women would gain materially and in self-esteem if they could earn money instead of doing unpaid work at home the whole day. It would supplement the family’s income and the women would have greater say in decision making of the household. Even the children’s health, nutrition and education would improve if the mother works. The trend towards nuclear families has also led women to leave their jobs because there is lack of support from husbands. According to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2012 report, men in India do not help much in household chores. India’s gender chore gap is huge because on an average, a woman spends 351.9 minutes per day on unpaid work while men spend only 51.8 minutes.
Half of India’s population is women (around 600 million) and according to a World Bank report, India undoubtedly would gain if there is greater participation of women in work and it would also lead to a decrease in poverty faster. According to the feminisation of work hypothesis, what is happening in India is quite common – participation of women in the labour force is a U-shaped curve because at first it declines and then rises again when the stigma against work is lessened. The decline is due to education and husband’s education which enables women to leave menial and unpleasant jobs. Then with better skill training, education, lower fertility rates and lure of higher salaries, they return to work where the job status is higher. Is this happening in India? No.
For women to join the work force after a gap there will have to be more job opportunities created for women, especially in industries like garments and textiles, leather, handicrafts, education and healthcare. Women with higher education can be trained for corporate and more specialised jobs. The challenges faced by women in the workplace must be addressed because they have to combat patriarchal hierarchy in offices, sexual harassment and they should have appropriate infrastructure in the workplace, like separate toilets. Otherwise, these act as demotivaters for women to join the work force. In farms, especially designed women-friendly agricultural machinery should be used by women for farming. They also need good and reliable means of transportation to commute to cities to sell products they make at home like food and craft items. Rural self-employed women need micro-finance and institutional support for marketing their products. From every point of view, women’s work is important and should be addressed in a focused manner and is also important for the empowerment of women on which the government is keen.

editorial article
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