India’s Gender Chasm Retards the Economy
Women hold up half the sky. This is not a moral or social argument — it is essentially an economic fact. But women are largely absent from India’s workforce. With a gender gap of 52.1%, the International Labour Organization has ranked India 121st among 131 countries on the basis of female labour force participation. Multiple reports and studies point to the positive impact that increased participation of women in the labour force would have on the economy. If India could close the wide gender gap in employment by 2025, the economy could gain by as much as $1 trillion. Women are central to making growth more inclusive, to reducing income inequality, thereby making growth more sustainable. Women can be game changers. To actualise this potential, the focus must be on empowering women in general, education, easing entry into the workforce and providing support to balance work and family. While schooling is a fundamental right for all, more must be done to reduce the dropout rate among girls and help them complete full 12 years of schooling. Improved access to schools, and better sanitation are essential to achieve this goal. Labour markets should be more flexible — easing the move from the informal to the formal sector. Financial inclusion and improved access to credit will allow women to pursue economic opportunities.
The gendered privileging of women in raising families must give way to participative effort by both parents, who should both be eligible for childcare leave. Government, policymakers and workplaces must work together to provide affordable and high quality childcare. The government’s “beti bachao, beti padhao” campaign must move beyond slogans to empowerment in practice. Popular culture must change, not just state policy.