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India’s Missing Millions

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8 March with great pomp and joy. People, irrespective of their nationality, race, caste, and age, come together to send out their best wishes to every woman. An important thing to witness on this day every year is that everything concerning women appears to be hunky-dory everywhere. I genuinely wish it were all true. We all wish!

This year, the Women’s day theme was “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World”. But can you guess the number of female heads of State/Central government? Do you know the percentage of women in national parliaments? Let me help you. UN says that women are Heads of State or Government in a mere 22 countries out of 195, and only 24.9 percent of parliamentarians are women. Do not worry yet. We have just commenced.

Credits: Livemint

Just a few days before 8 March, I was listening to this podcast by The Economist titled, The Intelligence. The host, Jason Palmer, on that episode discussed the status of women in the Indian workforce. It prompted me to start surfing the web on statistics referred to by Jason and, I got the opportunity to see way beyond. Indian workforce might delude to be rosier on the outside but forgive me, the numbers suggest otherwise.

Despite India being one of the largest economies, its workforce participation rate of women has sharply declined. Today, it contrasts with that of Arab nations. Perhaps, being worse than them in multiple cases. More than 80% of women in one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies are not part of the labor force. In 2017, the Indian Female Labor Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) fell to its weakest level since Independence. World Bank remarks that India has one of the lowest FLFLPRs worldwide, with only members of the Arab world being lesser. The International Labour Organisation maintains that only a fifth of adult Indian women possessed a job or sought one in 2019. Quite an achievement isn’t it? That too, when we are about to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence.

This downward departure did not come out of the blue. Rather, women’s composition in the workforce has shown a steady drop since the last seven decades. The FLFPR climaxed at 33% in 1972-73 and registered a decline till 1999-2000 when it attained 26%.

The story behind these facts and figures is a bit complex. It is the consequence of multiple economic and social factors. Based on worldwide evidence, ILO states that some of the most critical factors driving this phenomenon include: educational attainment, fertility rates, the age of marriage, economic growth/cyclical effects, and urbanization.

Progressively, labor-intensive jobs in different sectors, be it agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and various others have witnessed heavy mechanization, and now the services sector too has undergone massive automation. This, in turn, has affected women disproportionately. In 2019, Mckinsey Global Institute estimated that about 1.2 crore Indian female jobs could succumb to rapid automation by 2030. A flourishing household with increased wealth kindled by economic growth restrains the financial need for a supplementary income. This increase is responsible for about 9% of the cumulative slump in FLFPR between 2005 and 2010. The structure of Indian society is so peculiar that families feel contented and are filled with pride when female members retreat from work. It effectively demonstrates that male members are capable enough to provide a satisfying lifestyle for the family. To summarize, patriarchy triumphs and thus, happiness.

The deficiency of family support has always pulled women back. Lack of co-operation from members affects women, notably the ones who are married in a highly adversarial manner. The double burden of handling household chores along with office obligations impacts ladies physically as well as mentally. Additionally, formal institutional structures like shortage of aiding factors – such as flexible employment arrangements, institutional assistance for childcare, including maternity leave and creches, actively contribute to force women to emigrate from the workforce. Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 was a laudable initiative on the behalf of the government. However, employers have to bear the entire cost burden of women’s leave. And, it remains to be ascertained if this move disincentivizes women’s hiring in the formal sector.

The incipience of the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus was the icing on the cake of the already diminishing engagement of ladies in the workforce. The Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) closely tracks employment figures in India. It estimates that some 9.7% of adult women in Indian cities considered themselves part of the labor force back in 2019. After dropping to 7.4% during the lockdown, the figure disturbingly seems to have descended still lower by November, to just 6.9%. Since more women compared to men have low-paying and uncertain jobs like domestic service, they have been hit harder with severe job losses. Many women are teachers, and India’s 450,000 private schools have been severely-hit by mandatory closures that are only now lifting, state by state. Therefore, all-in-all, women have suffered the biggest losses post-pandemic.

Experts do not think that this trend will change soon. Notwithstanding the many barriers they encounter, Indian women still end up contributing strikingly, that too, in many fields, including retail, management, media, and politics. The quicker all stakeholders come together to ensure fair participation of women, the faster will India evolve into a superpower that all Indians dream of!

Until then, India shall incur tremendous losses every single day.

Gaurav Chakraborty is a student pursuing Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Varda Ahmad

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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