In the coming budget, concrete ideas of increasing women’s participation in the workforce should be included. There has to be an increased allocation for supporting women’s work and ventures.
As the first full time woman Finance Minister of the country, Nirmala Sitharaman has important responsibilities not only for reviving the economy, but also in increasing job opportunities for women in India. She is one of the three women ministers amidst a total of 24 members in the Cabinet. In a male dominated cabinet, her voice will have to be heard if she strongly addresses some of the gross inequities in relation to women workforce in India today. Women comprise half of India’s population and they can make a difference to the country’s flagging GDP growth by their work and contribution to the total production and prosperity of the country. As the IMF chief Christine Lagarde said in Davos in 2018, an increase in women’s participation in the labour force would add 27 percentage points to India’s GDP.
Today, India is no longer the fastest growing country in the world. China is again at the top. It is not surprising because though China has been witnessing various impediments to its GDP growth, the participation of women in the labour force has been high at 61% compared to India’s 24%. Women work in all types of jobs in China, not just in textiles and garments sector as in some of our neighbouring countries. All women are expected to work after Chairman Mao Zedong declared in 1949 that “women hold up half the sky” and “times have changed, men and women are the same.”
India’s work culture, however, has been different. Traditionally women, especially from the middle and upper classes, did not work. Urban and rural women from poorer strata, on the other hand, have been compelled to work as construction workers, maids and retailers of cheap goods. They are often exploited, abused and paid less than the minimum wages. They have no social safety net and are at the mercy of the employers. These informal sector workers need better protection and help.
India’s GDP growth has fallen below 6% in the fourth quarter of 2018-19 which is worrisome. The unemployment rate, according to Periodic Labour Force report by the NSSO 2018-19, is at a 45-year high of 6.1% with more women being unemployed than men. The statistics reveal that urban women’s unemployment is high at 27.2% in 2018-19. It means that a large number of women seeking jobs in urban areas are unable to find job opportunities. It is a dilemma that has to be resolved and addressed.
There would be enough jobs for women in big cities if the service sector was growing fast enough. In healthcare and education, many women workers can be absorbed. This can also be the case for the hospitality and tourism industry. The financial services and banking sector also have much scope for absorbing women employees.
According to The New York Times, in the US, women are coming forward to join the workforce — and the recent surge in employment has been due to the absorption of many single mothers in various jobs. The joblessness rate has declined sharply in the recent months as a result. Forced to support their families single-handedly, these single mothers are joining the service sector, managing inventories in e-commerce stores like Amazon. They have been able to work because of better day care facilities for children and have more paid leaves in their employment contracts. The contribution that women make in other developed countries to their country’s welfare and growth is also significant. It is due to the increased participation of women in the workforce which requires more training in skills, plus an enabling environment in the work place.
India lags behind many developing countries in the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of women — like in Bangladesh (36%), Sri Lanka (35%) and Nepal (82%). In India, women’s LFPR has been declining sharply in recent years and for 2018-19, it is at 23%.
Facilitating women’s work outside their homes requires help from the government. If there are better transport facilities and improved terms of employment, they can convince the men in their households and overcome patriarchal objections to working outside homes. However, it is going to be difficult, if the government encourages women to stay at home and assume the role model of an ideal wife and mother. With better law and order situation and quick resolution of cases of sexual harassment, women would feel much safer and secure in their jobs.
Many women in recent times have been adventurous and have ventured into imaginative start-ups which have been successful. There is scope for women to own enterprises which are home based. But to take that bold step, access to finance is important.
Women have been undertaking home food processing and home-based crafts for years but they need help in retailing these items. It would be good if the government could facilitate their ventures through proper advisory channels and provide technical advice for their ventures. Thus, the government has to take the initiative of creating and facilitating work for women, for more women to be gainfully employed.
In the coming budget — which will be a full budget — concrete ideas of increasing women’s participation in workforce should be included and there has to be an increased allocation for supporting women’s work and ventures.
Equality of wages for women in both rural and urban settings has to be enforced to stop the exploitation of women’s work. This will also encourage them to seek employment. That is when India will run full steam again and women will be contributing more to India’s future.
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David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW GermanyRead More +