Woman power plus

En­cour­ag­ing women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the work­force could mean huge eco­nomic ben­e­fits for In­dia and the world

Governance Now - - ECONOMY - Pha­lasha Nag­pal

The world over, the labour force has pro­por­tion­ately far more men than women. What does this mean in real, quan­tifi­able terms? Here’s one way of look­ing at it that is quite as­tound­ing: ac­cord­ing to the mckin­sey global In­sti­tute re­port for 2015, gen­der par­ity in labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion (LFP) alone could yield global growth of $12 tril­lion, or about 11 per­cent of the world’s es­ti­mated gdp in 2025. In In­dia, the world’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous na­tion, fe­male LFP is around 27 per­cent, and fe­male un­em­ploy­ment as a per­cent­age of the fe­male labour force is 3.8 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a World Bank re­port of 2017.

It would be naive to ex­clude women’s con­tri­bu­tion as strong driv­ers of eco­nomic and so­cial growth. The World eco­nomic Fo­rum’s global gen­der gap re­port for 2014 es­tab­lishes a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion be­tween gen­der par­ity and hu­man de­vel­op­ment in­di­ca­tors. In­dia, which is striv­ing to achieve am­bi­tious growth tar­gets, must em­brace sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal change to im­prove fe­male LFP.

In­dia is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a youth bulge, with over 18 mil­lion youth en­ter­ing the work­ing force pop­u­la­tion in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Labour or­gan­i­sa­tion. In or­der to reap the de­mo­graphic div­i­dend, and to sus­tain the growth mo­men­tum, women must be brought on board. Tra­di­tion­ally, the rea­son for low LFP in In­dia are so­cial. They are seen as home-mak­ers, birth-givers and largely ab­sorbed in work not ac­counted for in our gdp. While these rea­sons may seem the prima fa­cie causes of low fe­male LFP, the prob­lem has a dif­fer­ent facet as well.

all these fac­tors have cre­ated a puz­zling ed­u­ca­tion-un­em­ploy­ment para­dox in In­dia. one would ex­pect higher fe­male lit­er­acy rates to lead to higher em­ploy­ment, but that is not hap­pen­ing. In­dia is mov­ing up in the ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment in­dex but fall­ing down in ranks in the fe­male LFP rates. In­dia has achieved higher en­rol­ment rates and ex­panded the se­condary ed­u­ca­tion in­take for fe­males The na­tional Fam­ily Health sur­vey 4 (nfhs) 2015-16 shows an im­prove­ment in to­tal fe­male lit­er­acy to 68.4 per­cent from 55.1 per­cent in nfhs 3 (2005-06). de­spite the im­prove­ment in ed­u­ca­tion and a fall in dropout rates, women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion has been wit­ness­ing a de­cline since the mid-2000s, as re­vealed by the graph.

What ex­plains this ed­u­ca­tion-un­em­ploy­ment para­dox? First, in ru­ral In­dia, agri­cul­ture em­ploys a ma­jor­ity of women. dwin­dling agri­cul­tural in­comes, mech­a­ni­sa­tion, and ac­cess to bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion has kept women out of labour force and forced them to look for bet­ter work op­por­tu­ni­ties in the man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice sec­tors. How­ever, with In­dia’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor op­er­at­ing be­low its po­ten­tial, there is a dearth of com­men­su­rate job op­por­tu­ni­ties. se­condly, in­ad­e­quate trans­porta­tion sys­tem, low rate of ur­ban­i­sa­tion and prob­lems in hous­ing and child care in­fras­truc­ture fur­ther cre­ates im­ped­i­ments of mo­bil­ity, con­nec­tiv­ity and safety. con­se­quently, ru­ral women of­ten tend to get ab­sorbed in the in­for­mal

sec­tor with high level of gen­der dis­par­ity in pay. Be­sides, the ed­u­ca­tion de­lays a women’s de­ci­sion to join the work force.

apart from gdp losses, the para­dox cre­ates greater reper­cus­sions for the econ­omy. The hefty in­vest­ments in en­cour­ag­ing women ed­u­ca­tion and skill de­vel­op­ment, greater in­clu­sion would be all for noth­ing if they are not pro­duc­tively em­ployed and eco­nom­i­cally em­pow­ered. In the long run, this grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of un­em­ployed women would mean so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally in­se­cure and de­pend­able peo­ple as they en­ter old age.

How to re­solve the para­dox

an im­por­tant as­pect of fe­male LFP is pro­mot­ing fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence. In­dia still con­tin­ues to sub­scribe to the norm that the man is the bread earner of the fam­ily and women are ex­pected to stay at home. as house­hold in­comes rise, women are of­ten told to work at home, lead­ing to de­clin­ing fe­male LFP. Thus, there needs to be a ma­jor shift in mind­set. There’s a need to en­cour­age women, es­pe­cially in the ru­ral ar­eas, to form self-help groups, di­rect­ing funds into small busi­nesses and cre­at­ing self­em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. The power of tech­nol­ogy can play a vi­tal role in achiev­ing this.

at the ground level, in or­der to have women join the work­force calls for a sig­nif­i­cant change in mind­set. While the flag­ship Beti Bachao, Beti Pad­hao scheme by the cur­rent gov­ern­ment has helped in trans­form­ing the per­cep­tion of peo­ple to­wards the girl child, there is a long way to go. even to­day, girls are raised be­liev­ing and wit­ness­ing men in their fam­i­lies and around them as­sum­ing more pow­er­ful, lead­er­ship roles and be­ing the pri­mary bread-earn­ers. In fact, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in lead­er­ship roles is highly dis­pro­por­tion­ate given the fe­male pop­u­la­tion. For ex­am­ple, In­dia is 148th when it comes to fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the par­lia­ment and the ex­ec­u­tive, with women hold­ing just around 11 per­cent of the seats in Lok sabha and ra­jya sabha. cor­re­spond­ing fig­ures for women oc­cu­py­ing lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the cor­po­rate sec­tor, ju­di­ciary and en­tre­pre­neur­ial space are equally dis­mal.

To bring about a change in mind­set, it might help to highlight how the free­dom move­ment and post-in­de­pen­dence so­cial strug­gles mo­bilised poor and un­e­d­u­cated women in large num­bers to have their voices heard and bring about pos­i­tive change. against that, it is quite dis­cour­ag­ing to see only a few women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions in pol­i­tics. so­ci­ety must recog­nise the con­tri­bu­tion of women in the afore­men­tioned strug­gles. Young girls should start look­ing at these women as role mod­els and men­tors and de­velop the con­vic­tion that they too are equal to men and can as­sume lead­er­ship roles. This re­quires tar­geted in­vest­ments in lead­er­ship pro­grammes and work­shops for young girls in schools, colleges and uni­ver­si­ties, com­ple­ment­ing their ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions and mak­ing them more em­ploy­able. gov­ern­men­tal ef­forts like Sup­port to Train­ing and em­ploy­ment for Women and mahila shakti Ken­dra are path-break­ing ini­tia­tives in this di­rec­tion.

as we slowly usher in a new decade, pol­i­cy­mak­ers must recog­nise these gen­der-spe­cific con­straints and the con­se­quent macroe­co­nomic im­pli­ca­tions that the In­dian econ­omy has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. struc­tural re­forms and mea­sures are re­quired to bring rad­i­cal change and achieve an in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able growth process. Primarily, the gov­ern­ment must fo­cus on cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in the man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice sec­tors for women. In or­der to fa­cil­i­tate this, strength­en­ing in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in terms of cre­at­ing a sys­tem of safe, re­li­able and con­ve­nient pub­lic trans­port, hous­ing and elec­tric­ity would be es­sen­tial. His­tor­i­cally, economies like china, with a huge de­mo­graphic div­i­dend, have boosted em­ploy­ment by strongly pro­pel­ling its man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor, through mul­ti­plier ef­fect. Such ef­forts may be sup­ple­mented with skill de­vel­op­ment and train­ing pro­grammes for women, more lu­cra­tive tax in­cen­tives, ac­cess to soft loans, high-re­turn sav­ing schemes, and im­pe­tus to en­sure greater ease of do­ing busi­ness.

so­cial im­pli­ca­tions of gen­der dis­par­ity form only the tip of the ice­berg, low fe­male LFP also trans­lates as tre­men­dous gdp losses. next time one hears the term gen­der dis­par­ity, one should re­alise that ma­jor­ity of around half of our to­tal work force stands un­em­ployed and wasted. so, hav­ing our bet­ter halves not just ed­u­cated, but also pro­duc­tively em­ployed is the boost In­dia needs to shine in the global en­vi­ron­ment.

Source: In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion, ILOSTAT Data­base

Fe­male labour Force Par­tic­i­pa­tion Rate: In­dia (%age of pop­u­la­tion ages 15+)

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