English Hindi


Indian Society

Status of Working Women in India – Why India is no country for working women?

Status of Working Women in India – Why India is no country for working women?


  • GS 1 || Indian Society || Women || Issues Concerning Women

Why in the news?

Recently a politician from Uttarakhand had made a derogatory remark upon the dressing choice of some women groups in India.  This has revived the debate over the social-economic status of Indian women.

Female Labour Workforce Participation Rate (FLPR): India

  • Female Labour Force Participation can be defined as the share of working-age women who report either being employed, or being available for work.
  • According to the World Bank Report, 2019, India has amongst the lowest rates of female labour force participation globally.
  • In 1990, India’s FLFP was 30.3 percent. By 2019, it had declined to 20.5 percent. After the unprecedented lockdown, it has fallen further around 17.7%.
  • While the men’s labor force participation rate has also slightly decreased over time, it is four times that of women at 76.08 percent in 2019-20.
  • On the Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India has fallen four places from 2018, now ranking 112 of 153 countries, largely due to its economic gender gap.
  • In less than 15 years, India has fallen 39 places on the WEF’s economic gender gap, from 110th in 2006 to 149th in 2020.
  • Among its South Asian neighbours, India now has the lowest female labor force participation, falling behind Pakistan and Afghanistan, which had half of India’s FLFP in 1990.

Global Trend of female labour force participation

  • While labor force participation is declining globally on average, women’s participation has increased in high-income countries that have instituted gender-focused policies like parental leave, subsidised childcare, and increased job flexibility.
  • In India, due to unfavourable policies for females, the FLPR continues to drop.

Characteristics of Female Labour Workforce Participation in India:

  • Domestic Asymmetry: Within the country, there is vast asymmetry in the trend of LFPR. Among Indian states, Bihar has by far the lowest rates of female workforce participation, while the southern and eastern states do better.
  • Declining rate of FLPR is highest in productive age: The decline in FLPR is highest among women aged 35-39 years due to marriage, family burden etc.
  • Rural women employment is largely in lowly paid farm jobs: Among those in the workforce in rural areas, rural women work overwhelmingly in agriculture.
  • Self employment shares the largest section of employed urban women: 99% of women workers described as directors and chief executives in urban areas were actually self-employed, of which around one-third worked as unpaid family workers. Such women were mainly engaged within the self-help groups and co-operatives as partners and had thus been recorded as directors or working proprietors sounding like well paid jobs.

Reasons of declining female labour force participation in India:

The decision of and ability for women to participate in the labour force is the outcome of various economic and social factors that interact in a complex fashion at both the household and macro- level.

  • U-Shaped relationship between education attainment and employment: Women with no education and women with tertiary education display the highest rates of labor force participation among Indian women.
  • Glass-ceiling effect: The glass ceiling keeps women in India from getting certain jobs, despite being well qualified and deserving. It’s a phenomenon that affects career trajectory, status, and lifetime earning potential.
  • Gender wage gap: According to labour bureau survey, women in India are paid 34 percent less than men for the same job with the same qualifications, despite India’s Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 that mandates equal pay for same work and prohibits hiring discriminationMeasures taken by the government to increase LFPR:
  • Schemes for self-employment: The government has launched several schemes to promote self employment among women: Eg: Stand Up India, Start-Up India, etc.
  • Laws to protect th
  • Societal reasons: Indian women are often required to prioritise domestic work, particularly if they are married due to the cultural and societal expectations of women as caregivers.
    • Total female work participation was greater than that of men in India at 86.2 percent compared to 79.8 percent for men if women’s domestic work and other paid but unrecognised work was counted.
  • Unemployment problem: According to a 2019 report by World Economic Forum (WEF), women were already the worst hit by India’s unemployment crisis.
  • Patriarchy and social stigma: Social stigma against women working outside the house, especially for the those who can afford not to work, continues to influence women’s presence in the labor market
  • Digital Divide: In India in 2019, internet users were 67% male and 33% female, and this gap is even bigger in rural areas.
  • Discriminatory laws: Indian women also struggle with well-meaning but discriminatory government policies like the amended India’s Maternity Benefit Act 2017, which increased women’s paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
    • This act reinforces women’s role as primary caregivers and increases employer bias, especially in the absence of similar benefits for fathers.
    • Also, Section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act 1948 prohibits women in India from working during night hours.
  • Lockdown due to Covid-19 Pandemic: While the overall Indian unemployment rate was at 7 percent before India’s March lockdown, it was already as high as 18 percent for women. A preliminary study from the labour bureau has found that Indian women have already lost more jobs than men during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Labour reforms on grounds of Covid—19 pandemic: To combat the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, some states have proposed changes in labor laws.
    • For eg: Uttar Pradesh, the largest and the most populous Indian state, has suspended 35 of its 38 labor laws for three years, including laws like the Minimum Wages Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Equal Remuneration Act (ERA), and more.
    • Suspension of many of these labor laws could push even more women out of the workforce
  • Violence and sexual assault at public places: Violence against women in public places, particularly the risk of sexual assault and unsafe work environment, discourages Indian women from entering the labor market
  • e interests of women: The laws are suitably amended to protect the interests of women in the labour market.
    • For eg: The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 provides for enhancement in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks and provisions for mandatory crèche facility in establishments having 50 or more employees.
    • Similarly, Equal Remuneration Act, 1973 provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work of similar nature without any discrimination.
  • Measures to provide safer workplaces: The Parliament had enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 in order to protect women against sexual harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organised or unorganised sector.
  • Mahila E-Haat: It is a direct online marketing platform leveraging technology for supporting women entrepreneurs/SHGs/ NGOs for showcasing their products / services.
  • Support during motherhood: Schemes like Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) Scheme provides cash incentives to pregnant and nursing mothers to partly compensate wage loss both prior to and after delivery.
  • Advisory on Factories Act:The government has issued an advisory to the States under the Factories Act, 1948 for permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures.
  • Priority in public sector jobs: The recruitment agency for the public sector jobs such as SSC, IBPS. UPSC etc. have also been encouraging more women to apply for the jobs.

Important Case studies:

  • Recently, more women are progressing in almost all sectors including judiciary, defence, administrative services, etc. which were considered the monopoly of men.
  • The present finance minister of India Nirmala Sitharaman is a woman. The chief economic advisor of IMF, Gita Gopinath is an Indo-American woman.
  • Indu Malhotra has recently become the first woman to be appointed as judge in the Supreme Court.
  • Bhavna Kanth became the first fighter pilot in Indian Air Force.
  • Captain Tania Shergill had recently created history by becoming the first woman Parade Adjutant to lead all-men contingents during the Army Day function.
  • Shivangi Singh became the first woman to fly the Rafale fighter jet in India.

Way forward:

  • Political priority: The political leadership needs to make increasing FLPR in India a priority. Eg: the Japanese Prime Minister made resolute actions to increase FLPR in his country pushing the FLPR substantially within years.
  • Better provisions for gender-sensitive infrastructure: The public transport and public places need to be made safe for females and sensitive to gender needs.
  • Incentives to corporates for hiring more female employees: The government can offer incentives to corporates for meeting some gender specific objectives in various sectors.
  • Digital and financial literacy among women must be fostered with the help of other stakeholders such as NGOs, civil society, corporates, local governments, etc. to enable them to participate in the booming digital economy.
  • Political empowerment: For political empowerment of women, their representation in Parliament and in decision making roles in the public sphere is one of the key indicators of empowerment.
  • Growth of rural sectors: The government needs to increase the rural sectors growth rate so that more number of productive jobs can be created for rural women.
  • Skill impairment: There is also a need to impart the requisite skills among women for enhancing their employability.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Discuss the challenge of continuous declining Female Labour Workforce Participation Rate (FLPR) in India. What measures would you suggest to reverse the trend?