SocietyWork Where Do Women Figure In The Indian Economy?

Where Do Women Figure In The Indian Economy?

Recent trends and debates point to an overwhelming need for effective measures to increase the participation of women in the Indian economy.

Posted by Saurabh Sood

An increased participation in the economic activity of women from developing countries has been shown to be critical in achieving the sustainable development agenda. In addition, it offers numerous benefits that include poverty eradication, gender equality through an increased decision making power, and reduction of the output gap in the economy.

Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) in an economy is the measure of women (categorized in the employable age) currently engaged, or willing to engage in income generation activities. FLFP rate, as an economic indicator, is identified as a reflection of economic opportunity for women and an exercise of their human rights.

According to Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2015, countries with high FLFP rates have shown increased gross domestic product (GDP) gains, and its decrease linked to losses in GDP per capita. In the context of India, government schemes to boost female participation through generating rural employment is seen to improve children’s educational outcomes.

An analysis of FLFP rates for South Asia shows varied trends across countries, but overall this region is the only region in the world where it has declined in the last decade. Bhutan and Nepal have high rates of female participation, while India and Pakistan have the lowest levels. India’s trends are marked by a steep decline since 2005 that is mainly driven by lower participation rates amongst rural women.

Analysis of the National Sample Survey (NSS) data reaffirmed by many studies concludes a declining trend of FLFP rate across rural and urban India alike. The employment-unemployment survey of the 68th round of NSS conducted in 2011-2012 shows a startling gender gap in participation rates in rural India.

Against 81.3 percent of men above the age of 15 years, only 35.8 percent of women are employed. Amongst the states in India, when compared to values from 2004-2005, Karnataka has shown the highest decrease in gender gap (16 percent) followed by Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana (15% each).

Against 81.3 percent of men above the age of 15 years, only 35.8 percent of women are employed.

While seeking an increase in FLFP rate is generally considered desirable, this increase in some cases can also be caused due to distress situations and does not indicate the availability of productive jobs. It is worth noting that issues pertaining to data gaps and biases used to measure FLFPR is long evident and highlighted explicitly in literature.

A number of studies have tried to assign the decline in FLFP rates to diverse socio-economic factors. Commonly cited reasons include: rising enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, increased household income that de-incentivize women to participate in low income generating activities, fewer job opportunities, low levels of female education, to name a few. Some authors also ascribe the decline of FLFP rate to lack of skills in women to participate in the increasing service oriented jobs that form a larger share in the growing economy.

The factors affecting women’s employment in India get further magnified in the rural context. Within the agriculture sector, there is a growing concern over the underreported significance of women in agricultural activities at a household level. With limited access to mechanized tools, women continue to undertake labour intensive activities on farms and are not necessarily considered as farmers.

A number of reasons inhibit women to gain formal employment that includes lack of skill-based education, occupational segregation bias and socio-economic barriers. As a result, women engage in unpaid or low paid work, or do not participate in income-generating activities.

In most cases, they are only able to take on employment in the informal markets that do not fall under the scanner of government regulations and offer exploitative working conditions. Also, the availability of work is subject to seasonal activities around agriculture and does not offer reliable year-long engagement.

Also Read: The Ugly Truth Of Bride Trafficking And Agrarian Labour In Haryana

Termed as unorganized workers, these participating women are devoid of institutional representation of any kind and do not receive sufficient attention from trade unions. In rural areas, there is evidence of stratification based on caste and community considerations. In 2013-14, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) estimated that across the country, a higher percentage of women (95.9 percent) are employed as unorganized workers as against males (90.7 percent).

Research has indicated that women, generally, lack mobility that might also impair them from being employed. Affiliation to particular social groups like scheduled caste and scheduled tribe, in certain cases, may contribute to lower FLFP rates.

Social and cultural norms have also been found to contribute towards this trend. To illustrate, only one-third of the respondents in the World Values Survey from India and Pakistan (2010-2014) opined that having a job was the best way for a woman to be independent. Evidence suggests that household support is crucial for sustained participation of women in economic activities.

Some authors note that it is critical to consider the “structural transformation of the economythat has also led to changes in the working preferences of females. Studies that have accounted for such preferences, like the location of work (within household premises or outside) and duration/mode of work (regular or part-time) have shown differences amongst the preferences between rural and urban women respondents.

Various measures have been suggested to increase and sustain female participation in the economy. To support meaningful female participation, education needs to be matched with corresponding job creation. There is a need to introduce government reforms to reduce gender inequality in access to employment in the labour market.

Some measures include improving access to jobs for rural women, emphasizing on education, reducing discriminatory policies at the workplace, and offering social security mechanisms for a large number of unorganized women workers. Increasingly, there is a need felt to offer skill development programs and create conditions conducive to cultivate women entrepreneurship in rural areas.

a higher percentage of women (95.9 percent) are employed as unorganized workers as against males (90.7 percent).

The International Labour Organization or ILO, in its Decent Work Country Program in India, places due emphasis on the need to improve opportunities for women in labour markets. In fact, it forms part of four priorities namely, promotion of policies for job-rich and inclusive growth, especially for women, youth and disadvantaged groups.

In its recommendation for policy changes, ILO insists on a comprehensive approach to tackle issues of decent work for women in the economy. One of the key suggestions is that policymakers (along with participation rates) should be concerned about whether women are able to access better jobs or make use of labour market opportunities as the country grows.

This recommendation directly points to the need for policymakers to make informed decisions and design programs based on gender-disaggregated data findings. National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data has for many years been the primary basis for reporting female participation rates in the economy. However, it is insufficient to deduce the contribution of female participation to the economy. In 2008, System of National Accounts was proposed by a number of collaborating agencies (including ILO) that encourages countries to include an exhaustive coverage of women’s contribution to the informal economy.

Taking a step further, time use surveys have been piloted to cover women’s non-remunerative contribution to the household economy (a pilot of Time Use Surveys (TUS) was conducted by a civil society organization in six selected states during July 1998 to June 1999). The results have been found to indicate its resource incentive nature as a major shortcoming (Report of the Committee on Unorganised Sector Statistics, 2012).

More recent programs of the government have given due consideration to the prevailing data gap, and have resulted in collecting and reporting of gender-disaggregated data. The development of Labour Market Information System is a welcome step towards this end. A blueprint for developing a centralized database has also been proposed by the National Skill Development Corporation and United Nations Development Programme. These steps could be a starting point to further strengthen women’s participation in the economy.


  1. Stotsky, J. G., Shibuya, S., Kolovich, L., & Kebhaj, S. (2016). Trends in Gender Equality and Women’s Advancement. IMF Working Paper WP/16/21. Retrieved from
  2. United Nations. (2015). Economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific 2015. Bangkok Thailand: United Nations, ESCAP.
  3. Afridi, F., Mukhopadhyay, A., & Sahoo, S. (2012). Female Labour Force Participation and Child Education in India : The Effect of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. IZA Discussion Paper, (6593).
  4. Kanjilal, S. (2016). Inter-Relationship of Socio-Economic and Socio-Religious Factors of Female Employment in Rural India : An Empirical Study. International Journal of Life Sciences Research ISSN, 4(1), 2348–3148.
  5. Sanghi, S., Srija, A., & Vijay, S. S. (2015). Decline in Rural Female Labour Force Participation in India: A Relook into the Causes. Vikalpa, 40(3), 255–268.
  6. Kalyani, M. (2015). Unorganised Workers : A Core Strength of Indian Labour Force : An Analysis. International Jornal of Research in Business Studies and Management, 2(12), 44–56.
  7. United Nations. (2016). Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016. Bangkok Thailand. Retrieved from and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2015.pdf
  8. Publication of ILO’s work in India pp. 3—asia/—ro-bangkok/—sro-new_delhi/documents/publication/wcms_306006.pdf

Also Read: Unpaid Domestic Labour And The Invisibilisation Of Women’s Work

Featured Image Credit: Livemint

Related Posts

Skip to content