By Sonali Maheshwari
Female workforce participation rate (FWPR) is an important indicator of women’s economic empowerment and is also reflective of women’s agency at home and beyond. Despite economic development, decreasing fertility rates and rising education levels of women and girls, female workforce participation rate remains low in India and continues to fall. This indicates the Indian employment landscape is yet to address gender equality. From the glass ceilings and skewed employment statistics to unjustifiable pay gaps, the other odds which are inevitably against women indicate the disparity.
In India, around 48 per cent of its population comprises women, however they account for barely 20 percent of the labour force in the country. This means India has one of the lowest female work force participation rates in the world, as per the World Bank. It also states that the female workforce participation rate in India was at 19% in 2020 from over 26% in 2005, even lower than in Bangladesh (35%) and Sri Lanka (31%).The situation has even worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.According to Deloitte India, over 65% of women wanted to leave work during the pandemic and a year later.
With declining female employment rates, not only their agency and bargaining power in home settings is getting reduced but it is also detrimental to the country’s growth and income. As it is an obvious fact and researchestoo has also shown that there is a significant association between a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and female work force participation. Study done by the Society of Women Engineers and the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, 2018 says that increasing women’s work force participation by 10% could add up to $770 billion to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.
Talking further specifically about manufacturing sector, analysis by the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA) says that the total number of jobs available in the manufacturing sector in India is 27.3 million in 2020-21 (accounting for Covid induced disruptions and job losses), which account for close to 25% of all available jobs in the organized sector in India.With these projections, it is very evident that the manufacturing industry is in a state of reinvention and therefore to leverage it with maximum sustainability more inclusive workforce is unavoidable.
Women’s work force participation and access to decent work are important and necessary elements of an inclusive and sustainable development process. Women continue to face many barriers to enter the market (workplace) and to access decent work and disproportionately face a range of multiple challenges relating to access to employment, choice of work, working conditions, employment security, wage parity, discrimination, and balancing the competing burdens of work and family responsibilities. In addition, women are heavily represented in the informal economy where their exposure to risk of exploitation is usually greatest and they have the least formal protection.
Considering all the factors, a two layered comprehensive approach is needed to fill the gendered gap in the employment sector. One is at people’s level and other is at process / system’s level.
At people’s level, generating awareness about the career pathways in manufacturing sector, related opportunities and skill based jobs is important to motivate and encourage females to build their career in manufacturing sectors too. Information of Govt. initiatives for enhancing employability of female workers, such as training them through a network of Women Industrial Training institutes, National Vocational Training Institutes and Regional Vocational Training Institutes will act as guidance and support mechanism for growing in their career. Simultaneously, on the other hand, acceptance and confidence of families towards female participation in the workforce is to be built while giving them enough awareness and appropriate information about protective provisions incorporated in labour laws and other related laws. Such as equal opportunity and congenial work environment for women workers, enhancement in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, provision for mandatory crèche facility in the establishments having 50 or more employees, permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures, etc, prevention of sexual harassment (PoSH) act / policy etc.
And while the above mentioned provisions are well laid out and exist too,access to them (safety provisions, female friendly workplace features, maternity protection, child care facility, training, promotion) by female workforce needs to be improved and strengthened. Henceforth gender responsive policies and practices need to be contextually developed and followed. This will improve employers’ commitment and ownership towards gender neutral practices and set ups (infrastructures).
Ultimately, the goal is not merely to increase female labour force participation, but to provide opportunities for decent work that will, in turn, contribute to the economic empowerment of women while contributing to national GDP.
The author is a social development professional. She has extensive experience in developing and implementing strategic interventions on developmental themes ranging from Gender Equality, Women Empowerment, Workers Wellbeing, Child Sexual Abuse,Adolescent Health& Development, Maternal Child Health & Nutrition &WASH.
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