Female labour force participation

Studies show that the Female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) exhibits a U-shape during the process of economic development. The downward trend in ‘U’ was due to a rise in Household incomes because of the expansion of markets and a shift from farm activities to factory work. However, when the educational level rises and as the value of women’s time in the market increases further, they move back into the paid labour force.

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However, despite experiencing structural changes such as a decline in fertility rates and expansion of women’s education, Indian FLFPR is on a downward track.

NSSO found that while in 1999-2000, 25.9% of all women worked, by 2011-12 this proportion had dropped to 21.9%. This is in stark contrast to the worldwide trend. According to the ILO database, 114 countries have recorded an increase in the proportion of women in the workforce during the same period.

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  • Rising Household Incomes: Rising incomes allow women to escape harsh labour on farms and construction sites and focus on their families.
  • Agrarian crisis: Declining farm sizes, rising mechanisation and agrarian crisis are pushing women out of the agricultural workforce.
  • Lack of Rural connectivity: Lack of transport network to villages may prevent women from taking non-agricultural work in Neighbouring towns. Lack of transport services affects women more than men.
  • Increased Education levels of women: Growing enrolment of women in Higher education and lack of adequate well paid formal jobs in the market
  • Nuclear families: The growing trend of nuclear families keeping childcare left to women with no support from family elders.
  • MSME crisis: MSME sector offers significant employment opportunities to women. But Rigid labour laws and other protective policies of govt hindered the growth of MSMEs.
  • Patriarchal norms: Patriarchal norms of society determine the Domestic division of labour. Women are expected to take care of domestic chores while men go out to work.
  • Childcare: Most education drops out of the labour force due to childbirth and care.
  • Other factors: Glass ceiling at a workplace which limits work opportunities for females at senior levels, sexual harassment at workplaces inducing fear among females. Lack of access to marketable skills in an economy that is driven by service class.

Gender Inequalities in Employment

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  • Occupational segregation: Men and women are concentrated in different types of jobs based on gender stereotypes. Traditionally, women are confined to informal, low-paid, caring jobs like teaching, nursing, childcare etc.
  • Wage gap: According to Monster Salary Index 2019, women earn 19% less than men in India. This wage gap is not only prevalent in the Informal sector but in formal sectors as well. The gender pay gap spans key industries. IT services showed a sharp pay gap of 26% in favour of men.
  • Part-time work: Low education & skill levels and traditional domestic obligations are making women confined to part-time work.


  • Provision of skill development and education for females.
  • Subsidised transport and working women hostel facilities in urban areas.
  • Affirmative action in favour of women in public employment.
  • They were mainstreaming paternity leave along with maternity leaves. Provisions of creches so that working families can easily manage responsibilities.

Missing women

The phrase ‘missing women’, coined by Amartya Sen (1990, 1992), refers to the observation that in parts of the developing world – notably in India and China – the ratio of women to men is suspiciously low in various domains like socio, political and economic.

Lack of participation of women in the workforce:

According to the IMF working paper: India has one of the lowest female labour force participation (FLPF) rates among emerging markets and developing countries. 20.5% of women were employed in the organized sector in 2011 Women’s participation n in the workforce is skewed towards certain sectors: unorganized sector; manufacturing and services (just 18% of rural employment for women); agriculture (dominates at 75%); blue-collar jobs (women are losing blue-collar jobs while gaining white collar ones)

Reasons for low labour force participation:

Increased income of men: as men earn more, women tend to cut back their work to concentrate more on household activities. Caste factor: in some upper castes, there is a stigma attached to women working outside the home Safety issues and harassment at the workplace Increasing numbers of women of working age are enrolling in secondary schools. (economic survey 2014-15) Nature of eco growth: not been able to create a large number of jobs in sectors that could readily absorb women, especially those in rural areas.

How to bring women into the workforce:

Bridging gender gaps in secondary and tertiary education. Creating employment opportunities in male-dominated sectors. Ensuring skill training for women in key sectors Increasing the reach of the financial sector in order to service the women entrepreneurs better Strengthening legal provisions for women and the enforcement of these laws (like harassment in the workplace) Reshaping societal attitudes and beliefs about women’s participation in the labour force.  

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