Feminization of Informal Labour

According to Institute for Human Development (2004), in India, 96% of female employment is in the unorganised sector.

(i) Feminization of Agriculture

According to the census (2011), there has been a 24% increase in female agricultural labourers between 2001 and 2011.

Distribution of female workers by Industry

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Source: PLFS 2018-19

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  • Poverty: Poverty forces females to join the agricultural workforce to contribute to their household income.
  • Wage gap: Women labour are willing to work for low wages.
  • De-potentization: Agrarian distress forced men to shift to non-farm work.
  • Urban Migration: Urban migration of Males also resulted in the Feminization of Agriculture labour.

Challenges to the Feminization of Agriculture

  • High concentration of Agricultural labourers: Despite a rising and high share in the Agri workforce, only 37% of these women were cultivators (ones who owned land) and the remainder about 63% worked as Agri-labourers (on farms owned by others).
  • No land ownership: According to the Agricultural Census (2015-16), the share of female operational holdings is only 13%.
  • Small landholding: As per Agri-census 2015-16, close to 90% of women-owned landholdings fall in the category of small and marginal landholdings, where female farmers are not able to harness the benefits of economies of scale.
  • Non-recognition as farmers: Due to a lack of land rights women peasants are not recognised as farmers and are deprived of entitlements provided by governments like PM-KISAN.
  • No access to credit: access to credit from formal banking is hindered due to a lack of collateral
  • Lack of access to technology, skill training and extension services impacts the productivity of the land.
  • Dual burden: women’s growing contribution of labour in agriculture adds to the already heavy work burdens of most rural women, thereby further undermining their well-being.

Thus, it is suggested that the feminization of agriculture may better be described as the feminization of agrarian distress.

Steps taken by the government

  • Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojan (MKSP), a subcomponent of Deendayal Antodaya Yojana-NRLM seeks to improve the status of women in Agriculture.
  • We are focusing on women’s self-help groups to connect them to micro-credit.
  • I am earmarking at least 30% of the budget for women beneficiaries in all ongoing schemes/programs and development activities.
  • Mainstreaming of access to land for female farmers.
  • Many of the females employed in the agri-sector are labourers. Special schemes in favour of women agri-labourers are required.

(ii) Feminization of Non-farm Informal sector

Women’s employment in India is overwhelmingly informal. Around 90% of all workers are employed in the informal economy (PLFS-2017-18)

Percentage Distribution of Women across Socio-Religious Groups in 2017-18

 Scheduled TribeScheduledMuslim CasteOthersTotal
Informal Employment87.190.495.185.792.1
Formal Employment13.09 64.914.37.9
Source: Computed from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (2017-18) unit-level data. Note: Usual Status of employment is considered.
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  • Low skill set and education levels of women hinders them from having formal jobs
  • Traditional gender roles lead to a “Double burden” for working women. So, they confine to Homebased casual labour
  • Lack of access to formal credit due to lack of collateral
  • Globalisation and neo-liberal restructuring of the economy resulted in changes in the production process away from large factory workers to Informal production.
  • Policies intended to protect women disincentivised women employment in the organised sector
  • Ex: – Factories act barred night shift for women employees
  • Mines Act prevents employers from making women work underground
  • Maternity Benefits Amendment Act (2017)

Steps taken to increase the FLPR and formalisation of women’s workforce

  • Maternity Benefit Amendment Act (2017)
  • Budget 2018 announced a reduction of employees’ contribution to 8% for the first three years of women’s employment to incentivize the employment of more women in the formal sector
  • PRAGATI (Scholarship for Girl Students) to provide encouragement and support to Girl Children to pursue technical education
  • STEP Scheme (Support to Training and Employment Program for Women) aims to provide skills that give employability to women and to provide competencies and skills that enable women to become self-employed/ entrepreneurs
  • Sukanya Samridhi scheme
  • Women in Priority sector lending targets
  • PM Ujjwala yojana to provide LPG connections to women belonging to BPL saves time to collect fodder and increases women’s labour participation

Gig economy and women

The gig economy, by its nature, offers many possibilities to facilitate the movement of more women into the workforce. The flexibility offered by gig platforms allows female workers to manage unpaid care and paid work better. However, despite these advantages, data shows that the FLPR has decreased over the last two decades. This is because Gig work has witnessed similar gendered division as has been evident in traditional work.


Unequal access to digital technologies is a significant hurdle to women’s participation in gig work. According to the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019, only 16 per cent of women in India are mobile internet users

Gender bias of Algorithms: Technology is supposed to be Gender neutral. But data-driven algorithms on which most platforms work are fully capable of reinforcing existing biases. The platform economy can inadvertently promote gendered work Ex: Recently, Amazon developed an AI tool for screening resumes, but it ended up favouring male applicants since the data that was fed into making the tool was skewed in favour of male candidates.

Lack of social security and wage gap: The recently enacted labour codes on wages and social security recognised gig workers, ensured equal wages for both males and females and provided for social welfare schemes for them. However, the wage gap and absence of social security benefits for women employees are still prevalent in the gig sector. For a lot of women workers, gig work is the primary source of income, which they cannot afford to lose. Consequently, they do not even raise disputes.

Sexual harassment at the workplace: Women employees in the gig economy face a greater risk of harassment by potential service users, in the form of verbal abuse, stalking or bullying.

Steps to facilitate women in the Gig Economy

Bridge the gender digital divide

online in-house transparent dispute redressal system by the platform, where women employees could complain if there is any problem that emerges during the service

Mandatory coverage of platform workers under schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana

Regular audit of AI-based apps to remove any unintended bias against women

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