India aims to become a $5-arillion economy by 2025, China, which started from a similar base in the late 1970s, today has an economy four times larger than India’s. There is much to compare and contrast between the two countries. We focus on the fact that while the male labour force participation rates in the two countries are fairly similar, their female labour force participation rates (FLFPR) are vastly different. While China’s FLFPR at more than 60%, is higher than the figure for the world and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. India’s FLFPR is abysmally low at 18.6%. The big gap in the size of the female workforce is a critical detail that unabating comparisons between the two countries have overlooked.
With its aspirational agenda india can no longer afford to pass over the untapped potential of the female working age population. But india has a bigger problem. Not enough jobs to absorb the steady rise in its workforce. To rev the engine for sustainable growth india needs to create at least 90 million new non-farm jobs by 2030.
India experienced high growth for over a decade has seen steadily declining fertility and maternal morality rates and rising female education attainment levels until the pandemic hit. These are the classic preconditions to rising FLFPR elsewhere in the world. But not in india according to the ministry of finance in 2021, only 24.5 of working age women participation in the labour force.
Women also bore the brunt of the pandemic-the likelihood of a women being employed in august 2020 was nine percentage. Points lower than tut for men, compared to august 2019. The decline in unemployment rate for women indicates that they are not moving from unemployed to employed, but out of the labour force all together.
The bulk of research on female participation in the labour force has been on supply-side constraints: female income and employment marital status, childcare, arrangements and safety and domestic responsibilites. However, none of these phenomena fully explain the frequent transition of working age women in and out of the labour force, as well as the women expressing the desire to be in paid work If work were to be available at or near their homes.
Indian women’s labour force participation is more likely shaped by low and declining demand for female labour rather than supply side constraints keeping women indoors. Certainly, demand side constraints are more amenable to policy interventions. Recruiters are around 13 percentage less likely to click on a women’s profile than man’s while biring candidates and 3 percentage less likely to advance a women to the next round of the hiring process.
Gender discriminatory laws with the intent to protect female workers further reinforce such essentialist to come norms by drawing parallels between adult women and children. For instance, the factories act 1948, prohibits the employment of women, adolescents, and children alike in operations the government deems dangerous, the trayas state of discrimination report explored gender discrimination report explored gender discriminatory employment related laws. Some laws diminish women’s participation in the labour force has agency by anchoring their employment to their familial relationship.
The shop and establishment acts of Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim allow women to work in shops/establishments at night only if they are family members of the owner. This mentality also reflects in the biases of hiring managers who are likely to discriminate against married women, especially with young children, but not against men.
Lately, there seems to be at gradual movement away from absolute restriction. For instance. the occupational safety, health and working conditions code, 2020, which replace the factories act, allows women to work at night based on conditions that state set. While himachal Pradesh draft oshwe rules impose 14 conditions, Haryana impose 25 conditions, including requirements of a minimum number of women in the number of conditions down to eight By introducing the right type of reforms.states can set trends for years to come.
Non discrimination in the law is a necessary first step to help female job seekers inter the workforce without any roadblock. But employers also need to see the paucity of women as a problem and be willing to implement solutions to alleviate the multiple demand side constraints. As a country we need to commit to first providing and solving for women in our labour force.