Bet­ter child­care will push women into the work­force

Poli­cies that sup­port ed­u­ca­tion and child­care will fos­ter gen­der par­ity in labour par­tic­i­pa­tion

Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Comment - VIDYA MAHAMBARE SOWMYA DHANARAJ

Young women in ur­ban In­dia are work­ing in ever larger num­bers. Every one out of four women be­tween the age of 20 and 34 years was work­ing in 2012; com­pared to merely one in 10 seven years be­fore, as per the lat­est data from In­dia Hu­man De­vel­op­ment sur­veys. This is a re­mark­able jump in em­ploy­ment.

The largest in­crease in work­ing women has come from the de­mo­graphic of young, ed­u­cated, sin­gle women and young moth­ers. We dug deeper into how women’s de­ci­sion to work changes over time by track­ing a co­hort of around 14,000 women in ur­ban In­dia. Are more women able to take up a job when they have a small child to care for? Only 12% of women with a child of less than 2 years of age were work­ing in 2005. Af­ter their child grew up, around 26% of them were work­ing in 2012.

De­spite this in­crease, three out of four ur­ban women of work­ing age do not work out­side of their homes. How then do we en­cour­age even more women to join the work­force if they wish to do so?

A pol­icy such as the new ma­ter­nity law alone is un­likely to work. Most of the em­ploy­ment con­tin­ues to be in the in­for­mal sec­tor where the new law is not bind­ing. In any case, not many em­ploy­ers would be will­ing to add young women to the work­force with so much ad­di­tional fi­nan­cial bur­den. Such a pol­icy is pri­mar­ily use­ful for women who are al­ready in em­ploy­ment and look­ing to start a fam­ily. And even if it ben­e­fits them, what hap­pens when a child turns six months old?

The sin­gle most crit­i­cal fac­tor that will en­able young women to con­tinue work­ing is re­li­able and af­ford­able child­care. There is strong ev­i­dence from other coun­tries that gov­ern­ment poli­cies that sup­port early ed­u­ca­tion and child­care in­crease labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion of women and re­duces gen­der gaps.

Ev­i­dence from our analysis sug­gests that in vil­lages where an­gan­wadis (gov­ern­mentspon­sored child­care) func­tion well, more women are able to take up non-farm jobs. While it is im­por­tant that such fa­cil­i­ties are close by, it is even more crit­i­cal that they meet cer­tain manda­tory qual­ity stan­dards and are con­sid­ered safe for the child.

The na­ture and struc­ture of jobs are also chang­ing rapidly. In the past, be­ing phys­i­cally present at a work­place and for long hours was nec­es­sary in a num­ber of in­dus­tries. Tech­nol­ogy is now al­low­ing for pos­si­bil­i­ties of flex­i­ble work times even in th­ese in­dus­tries. Nonethe­less, phys­i­cal pres­ence at work is re­quired and val­ued a great deal. In­dian fam­ily life is chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally and the pub­lic pol­icy has failed to keep pace with it. It’s an area we can­not af­ford to ne­glect any longer. Vidya Mahambare is at the Great Lakes In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment, Chen­nai. Sowmya Dhanaraj teaches at the Madras School of Eco­nom­ics The views ex­pressed are per­sonal


In­dian fam­ily life is chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally and pub­lic pol­icy has failed to keep pace with it. It’s an area we can­not af­ford to ne­glect any longer

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