Home Forum Harsh Reality of Women Empowerment: Discouraging Numbers of Women in Workforce

Harsh Reality of Women Empowerment: Discouraging Numbers of Women in Workforce


By Dr Divya Negi Ghai

We all have seen bright pictures of girls topping their schools in Class X and XII boards results and greater pass percentage of girls is a common event during results time. We feel proud of our daughters and feel assured about all the women empowerment slogans and declarations from various quarters of society on all the different platforms. We feel that all is going well in this direction both at the national and the regional levels. We assume that all these girls must be getting into higher education and finally into the workforce becoming financially independent. But all this is far from the reality. If we look at the numbers coming in from different surveys at the global and national level, we will be highly disappointed.

According to a report published by International Labour Organisation (ILO):

The current global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47%. For men, it’s 72%. That’s a difference of 25 percentage points, with some regions facing a gap of more than 50 percentage points.

Labour force refers to the sum of all persons of working age who are employed and those who are unemployed. The labour force participation rate expresses the labour force as a percentage of the working-age population.

  • On average, women spend more than three times more hours on unpaid household and care work than men. This invisible labour often eats into the time they could spend doing paid work. Overall, when both paid and unpaid work is taken into account, women frequently work longer hours than men but are paid less.
  • Women often do not have access to social protection. When they do, their entitlements are lower due to low pay, shorter contribution periods and higher incidences of informal work.

This problem is particularly acute when it comes to pensions: on average, the proportion of women above retirement age receiving a pension is nearly 11 percentage points lower than that of men.

A policy brief by ILO in 2020 reported that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, while men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels. As per the report, only 43.2 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 68.6 per cent of working-age men. These estimates seem to have come true at different levels.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, female employment in India fell steeply and, now, has plummeted to 9% in 2022, which is in the same league as war-torn Yemen. “Between 2010 and 2020, the number of working women in India dropped from 26% to 19%,” World Bank data showed, and as the infections surged, a bad situation turned dire. More than 100 million jobs were also lost due to the coronavirus-linked lockdown.

The global data is equally troubling. “Failing to restore jobs for women — who have been less likely than men to return to the workforce — could shave trillions of dollars off global economic growth,” news agency Bloomberg reported adding, “The forecast is particularly bleak in developing countries like India. ” Though women in India represent 48% of the population, they contribute only around 17% of GDP compared to 40% in China.

Why is women employment in India sharply declining?

The decline in female workforce participation is partly about culture. As Indians became wealthier, families that could afford to keep women at home did so, while those at the lowest rungs of society are still seen as potential earners. But they tend to work menial or unpaid jobs far from the formal economy.

Since the pandemic increased domestic duties, lack of childcare options after school shutdowns might have contributed to the decline further, the report pointed out.

Marriage is a sticking point in India, where most weddings are still arranged. After the first lockdown, in 2020, the country’s leading matrimony websites reported a spike in new registrations.

Financial considerations often tipped the scales in favour of marriage. Social distancing and warnings against large gatherings meant parents could hold small, less-expensive ceremonies at home, rather than the multi-day celebrations that are common even in the poorest pockets of society. During the direst stretches of the pandemic, some families married off daughters because they couldn’t afford to feed another mouth, the report added.

What’s the way forward?

The brief emphasises that “building forward fairer” means placing gender equality at the core of the recovery effort and putting in place gender-responsive strategies. These include:

  • Investing in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important generators of jobs, especially for women, and because care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men.
  • Working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection for all to reduce the current gender gap in social protection coverage.
  • Promoting equal pay for work of equal value.
  • Eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work. Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment worsened during the pandemic, further undermining women’s ability to engage in paid employment.
  • Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, social dialogue and social partner institutions.

If we are able to work aggressively and positively in this direction, only then we can expect to reach the levels of GDP as per our expectations and realise the dream of making India a competitive producer for global markets.

(Dr DivyaNegiGhai is an academician by profession, writer by choice and youth activist at heart. She has been teaching graduate and post graduate courses for more than a decade and works for youth through her NGO, Youth Rocks Foundation.)