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Women Leading the Way towards the Economy of Equalit

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By DHUWARAKHA SRIRAM

Over the last decade, India has made significant strides in enhancing the Women’s Labor Force Participation Rate (WLFPR). The transformative potential of increasing women’s, and especially young women’s participation in the workforce is immense, promising not only to bolster economic growth but also to catalyse societal change. Interestingly, the increase in WLFP over the last decade might be more significant than the increase observed over the last century, reflecting broader socio[1]economic changes, policy interventions, and shifts in societal norms regarding women’s work.

The Defining Decade for Women’s Labor Force Participation

India has implemented numerous initiatives and policies to bolster women’s employment, reflecting significant progress in promoting gender balance in the workforce. Key initiatives include Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, aimed at prioritising women entrepreneurs by providing unsecured loans to start small businesses. Additionally, the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign has been instrumental in improving the educational status of girls, directly impacting their future employment prospects. These efforts, combined with corporate policies to ensure workplace safety and diversity, illustrate a comprehensive approach to dismantling barriers for women in the labor market. The Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) indicates an increase in women’s workforce participation by 13.9 percent with 22 percent in 2017-18 to 35.9 percent in 2022-23. This promising trend is at estament of heightened political and bureaucratic (public), corporate (private), and young women’s will. As the largest youth population in the world, here in India, gears up for economic opportunities, it is important to further strengthen this Public[1]Private-Youth ecosystem and include young women as equal partners to in form policy making at the highest level.

The Catalytic Role of Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Advisory

In light of improving the WLFPR, Ministry of Labour & Employment (MoLE)’s efforts towards bringing together a task force with representation from government, civil society, industry associations, and multilateral agencies is commendable. What emerged as a critical outcome from these task force discussions was compiled as an advisory for employers titled ‘Ensuring Equality, Empowerment for Women’, which reinforces the power of a collaborative approach among stakeholders. It underscores the importance of creating conducive work environments, equitable wage practices, and ensuring health and safety standards specifically tailored to the needs of women in the workforce.

Breaking Barriers

By recommending measures such as flexible work hours and child care facilities, the advisory aims to address some primary constraints that limit women’s participation in the labor market.

The importance of provisions for gender neutral crèches and Women’s working hubs has been emphasised equally for construction workers, migrant workers and women working in micro, medium and small enterprises. Social barriers towards mobility and childbearing are the two most important factors that deter young women from entering and re-entering the workforce. To fulfil the vision of women working hubs/hostels with attached creche and senior care facilities, as outlined in the advisory, collaborative efforts between the Government and private sector will be crucial. This will involve building quality infrastructure with world-class facilities with provisions of safety, security, healthcare, nurturing young women as agents of change and choices, and strengthening abilities to take their own decisions. Support from civil society and multilateral agencies will bolster the behavioral shift for communities and families to consider these centres as a place for young women to pursue their aspirations towards economic empowerment.

With COVID-19 changing the way we perceive workplaces, and more jobs transitioning to hybrid and remote, technology can be a game changer in eliminating the nuances of a traditional workplace. Provision for flexible opportunities for all genders including teleworking facilities, has been highlighted in the advisory to reinforce the fact that caregiving should be a collective responsibility and women do not drop off from employment due to the disproportionate burden of caregiving falling on them.

These developments suggest a progressive, though challenging, path towards greater economic empowerment of women, highlighting the need for continued policy focus and social change to sustain and enhance these gains.

Women Will Score the Century

As India stands at the cusp of a demographic dividend, unlocking the potential of its female work force is a matter of social justice and a strategic economic imperative. The advisory from MoLE, along with concerted efforts from all sectors of society, offers a blueprint for action.

The journey ahead is challenging, but the rewards— economic resilience, societal well-being, and the fulfillment of human potential—are within reach, making the endeavour not just necessary but essential for India’s ascent on the global stage.

By embracing these recommendations and committing to sustained efforts to enhance WLFPR, India can chart a course towards inclusive social and economic equality, and a brighter future for all its citizens. The ‘heroes’ leading economic development for India@100 are indeed the Saksham Naaris.

(Dhuwarakha Sriram is the Chief of Yu Waahat UNICEF India. Yu Waah is a Public – Private Youth Partnership platform for empowering young people in India.)