The number of women working in the services sector in the country has seen a consistent rise over a span of eight years from 2004 to 2012, a trend not as discernible in the preceding years. This comes when there is an overall decrease in the same period in India’s female labour workforce of about 7 per cent. The economy, meanwhile, has grown at an average rate of 8.3 per cent.
While the participation in rural areas in the services sector increased by 20.5 per cent, from 66 women per 1,000 to 83 over the eight year period, the participation in the urban areas rose about 10.2 per cent from 495 women per 1,000 in 2004 to 551 in 2012, according to National Sample Survey Organisation data. Pronab Sen, chairman, National Statistical Commission, said that the increase results from the fact that the services sector, as opposed to manufacturing, is the natural alternative for the workforce engaged in agricultural activities.
“Most of the house-based jobs that women do in urban or rural areas, such as animal husbandry, comes under the services sector. Additionally, the manufacturing sector in India has always been a little hesitant to employ women. So the workforce that is exiting from the agricultural activities gravitates more towards services,” Sen said.
The debate over the decreasing number of working women in the country has increasingly gained traction in the last couple of years.
According to a gender gap report released recently by the World Economic Forum, India has the highest difference between women and men on the average minutes spent per day on unpaid work – a difference of 300 minutes. It is also among the countries with the highest difference in the female and male percentage of total R&D personnel, and one of the lowest percentages of firms with female participation in ownership.
Sen said that the dwindling numbers of the overall strength of women in the workforce could be a result of faulty survey methodologies, in addition to the social and cultural norms prevailing the country. “In the Indian context, the assumption that with more development, more women will come into the workforce is not valid, at least in the short run. In any survey, the person is included in the labour force if either she is working, or she is looking for work. So it is not necessary that they are exiting the workforce, it is possible that lesser women are looking for work. Secondly, many women who work from home do not report themselves as engaging in economic activity, even though that is what they are doing,” he added.
There has been a sharp exodus from agricultural activities over the years both in rural areas, where it continues to be the primary employer, as opposed to urban areas, where services and manufacturing take the lead. It is this exodus that has fuelled the growth in secondary and tertiary sectors.
The rural workforce has seen a shift towards manufacturing and construction, far above the corresponding growth numbers of the urban workforce, with an increase of 65 women and men each every 1,000 in the eight-year period. The male workforce continues to move across secondary and tertiary sectors with the services sector in the urban areas marking a decline over the period.