The narrative on jobless growth is, by now, a well-known one—at 6.1%, India is witnessing its highest unemployment rate in almost half a century.
The narrative on jobless growth is, by now, a well-known one—at 6.1%, India is witnessing its highest unemployment rate in almost half a century. Less talked about is the differential—and more adverse—impact this slump has on women. With lower labour force participation—according to a recent UN report, women’s labour force participation in India fell by 6.9 percentage points between 1997 and 2018—and higher unemployment rates, women are worse affected than men. The trend of shifting away from the agricultural sector—which, in India, is predominated by women—and toward the industries and services sector, and shrinking of the informal economy (according to PLFS data, in 2017-18, the informal sector’s share in the economy was 68.4%, down from 72.5% in 2011-12) was bound to dampen employment of rural women. But, urban women aren’t faring much better. According to a report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University, graduate urban women, who make up 10% of the working-age population, constitute 34% of the unemployed. Employed women aren’t spared the effects of the economic slowdown either. While in September 2018, it was reported that 92% of the female workers in India earn less than Rs 10,000 per month, the UN report finds that marriage leads women to drop out of the labour force. Staying single being a rarity in India, it isn’t surprising that, in South Asia, the average participation of married women in the labour force is just 29.1%, trailing the global average of 50%.
While gender discrimination, and the many ways in which this manifests, is perhaps responsible for the low participation of women in the workforce, the lack of a legal and policy environment that provides them targeted skill training, ensures equal rights in the workplace, and encourages female entrepreneurship is also a significant contributing factor. Policy must pave the way for women to enter and remain in the labour force.