Female labour participation
A report by the International Labor Organization in February found that women’s participation in the workforce is dropping in India. According to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends 2013 report, India’s labour force participation rate for women fell from just over 37% in 2004-05 to 29% in 2009-10.
Out of 131 countries with available data, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation.
The trend can be partly explained by the fact that increasing numbers of women of working age are enrolling in secondary schools and by rising household incomes, as women in wealthier households tend to have lower participation rates. Other potential causes include measurement issues, whereby women’s employment may be undercounted, as well as a general decline in employment opportunities for women, as they face increased competition with men for scarce jobs.
In terms of declining employment opportunities, occupational segregation appears to play an important role in holding women back: Women in India tend to be grouped in certain industries and occupations (such as basic agriculture) that have not seen employment growth in recent years, which has put a brake on female employment growth. Female employment in India grew by 9 million between 1994 and 2010, but the ILO estimates that it could have increased by almost double that figure if women had equal access to employment in the same industries and occupations as their male counterparts.
Strengthening anti-discrimination legislation in employment across all occupations will be essential for expanding employment opportunities for women. In addition, reducing the large gaps in wages and working conditions, often observed between women and men, could help provide a boost to the number of women seeking employment.