Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Mar 08, 2019

In India, more educated women are unemployed than before as the push factors for them to go out and work is missing.

Educated unemployed women

What women can do with a little bit of empowerment has been amply shown in the Oscar winning short documentary film Period. End of Sentence. Towards the end, the women engaged in working in a small rural sanitary napkin making factory unit in Hapur, a village near Delhi, realise their own self-worth and declare “it is women who made the universe”.

Unfortunately uncaging the talents and hidden potential of women’s power has not yet happened in India. Women are withdrawing from the work force in large numbers and today India’s women are less active professionally than women in our own neighbouring countries. In China, 43.5 per cent women are in the workforce, in Sri Lanka 34.5 per cent, Bangladesh 29.5 per cent and in India 24.3per cent, according to World Bank data.

Another puzzle is that more educated women are unemployed than before. According the recent NSSO survey, 2017-18, in urban areas unemployment among educated women was twice their male counterparts. The rate went up to a high of 19.8 per cent in 2017-18 from 10.3 per cent in 2011-12. For rural educated women, unemployment stood at 17.3 per cent in 2017-18 increasing sharply from 9.7 per cent in 2011-12. According to the NSSO, a person is educated if he or she has completed school studies at least till the secondary level (9th or 10th class.)

In both cases, the push factor or motivation for educated women to go out and work, earn money, be independent, is missing.

In Period, the girl in focus is aspiring to join the police force and is working in the factory in order to save for studies towards achieving her goal.  < style="color: #333333">In the case of most rural women, the lack of opportunity and information, patriarchy and lack of training in special skills are standing in the way of their finding remunerative wage employment outside the home. < style="color: #333333">Freedom to move around and have others to look after the children also act as hurdles in the case of educated rural women.

They are fully engaged in bringing up children, doing 90 per cent of the house work like tending to household animals, looking after the elderly, cooking, cleaning and fetching water or firewood. Hence, it is mostly uneducated women in dire straits and in desperate need of an income who go out to work in farms as daily wage workers even when their wages are lower than a man’s.

In the case of women who have been trained in some skill, the motivation to work from home for extra income is evident as in the case of many women weavers engaged by various NGOs like SEVA who work in their spare time from home.

For urban women, who are educated, the story seems different. Many highly educated women choose to remain at home even though they may have few household duties to perform.

Parents on the other hand educate girls in order to find better matches for them in the marriage market. They often say that after marriage it is up to the husband and his family to allow and encourage the woman to find work. In many cases, especially among high caste groups, women are encouraged to become homemakers after marriage.

The scene in urban job market for women is also not very palatable with reports of sexual harassment and availability of few salaried jobs. Also, urban traffic congestion that lead to difficulties for women to negotiate their way to office and back, acts as a deterrent. Many professional and educated men want their wives to be home when they return from office. All these factors are not very encouraging for women to go and seek full time employment especially when the family income is rising.

In short, it is the hold of patriarchy, cultural factors and spread of affluence which is preventing women from taking the bold step to be usefully engaged in some occupation outside the home.

They would rather do housework and relax with friends in their spare time. In Delhi, upscale restaurants are full of women enjoying kitty parties. In Dhaka on the other hand I found a culture where women from the higher echelons get engaged in NGO work in the villages. Highly educated women have joined together to work for the empowerment of rural women. The rural women are taught skills and means of earning extra incomes by these NGOs.

In India also, many women are participating in similar NGOs but the NGO network for women seems to be more prominent in Bangladesh. The results of their activities are also better in terms of women’s education and health outcomes compared to India. < style="color: #333333">Among the cultural factors, the retrograde trend of going back to traditional ways of perceiving a woman’s role in society, endorsed by conservative religious groups and mothers-in-law, is also responsible for women not seeking work outside the home.

If women’s work was better valued and if the leaders emphasised the contribution women make to the country’s GDP and welfare, more women would feel the urge to do something more than being home makers.

If there is more respect for women’s work, more women would venture out and work productively. To facilitate this, there will have to be more creche facilities and day care centres to look after infants and small children.  Thus, something more ought to be added to Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao slogan.

While a mother’s presence is very important for a child’s growth, after the children have grown up women find time hanging on their hands. It is too late to enter the work force then as employees but they can join NGOs or start a small business.  Many enterprising women are doing so today.  If financial and managerial help is more easily available to women, many women would become successful entrepreneurs.

It is not easy for women to have basically two jobs but many countries are successfully harnessing women’s power through their productive work and making a difference to the nation’s welfare and prosperity. Women also realise that when they are doing something more than household chores and earn money, they command more respect from their husbands as the women in Hapur observed in the film.

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Jayshree Sengupta

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