New Delhi: In both rural and urban India, women are not present in significant numbers in the labour force, according to the Economic Survey 2015-16. Even though the proportion of the economically active population (15-59 years) increased from 57.7% to 63.3% between 1991 and 2013 (Sample Registration System data, 2013), “the labour force participation rate for women is significantly lowerthan that for males in both rural and urban areas”, said the Survey released on Friday. The under-representation of women in India’s labour force has been a chronic problem. Women in India represent only 24% of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40%, as per a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows.
However, the Economic Survey pointed to the significant “hidden contribution” of women to the economy in the form of unpaid work.
“The time use survey being conducted in select states on a pilot basis has revealed the hidden contribution of women to the economy in the form of unpaid work. Time use survey is proposed to be extended to all states to design gender-sensitive policies for employment and to make women’s work visible,” the Survey noted.
It expressed concern at the low labour force participation rate among women, but applauded the “women achievers” in the financial sector. “The level of financial inclusion of women in terms of the number of women with bank accounts still remains low in India. However, it is noteworthy that there are women achievers in the financial sector, with leading nationalised banks and financial institutions headed by women,” the Economic Survey said.
A study ‘In Labour Force Participation of Women in India: Some Facts, Some Queries’, by Surjit Bhalla and Ravinder Kaur, as noted in a 2015 Mint piece, points to discrimination of women, starting from practices like sex-selective abortion, as a possible reason for their poor participation in the workforce. Lack of safety and supporting infrastructure also play a role in deterring many educated, urban women from pursuing careers.