Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

[op-ed snap] Squandering the gender dividend

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Reasons for decline in women work force and possible solutions.

CONTEXT

  • If labour force survey data are to be believed, rural India is in the midst of a gender revolution in which nearly half the women who were in the workforce in 2004-5 had dropped out in 2017-18.
  • The 61st round of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) recorded 48.5% rural women above the age of 15 as being employed either as their major activity or as their subsidiary activity — but this number dropped to 23.7% in the recently released report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS). 

Incremental decline

Rural Women data –Worker to population ratio (WPR) for rural women aged 15 and above had dropped from 48.5% in 2004-5 to 35.2% in 2011-12, and then to 23.7% in 2017-18.

Urban Women Data – In contrast, the WPR for urban women aged 15 and above declined only mildly, changing from 22.7% in 2004-5 to 19.5% in 2011-12, and to 18.2% in 2017-18.

Concerns regarding this data

  • If rising incomes lead households to decide that women’s time is better spent caring for home and children, that is their choice.
  • However, if women are unable to find work in a crowded labour market, reflecting disguised unemployment, that is a national tragedy.
  • Decline is not located primarily among the privileged sections – A comparison of rural female WPRs between 2004-5 and 2017-18 does not suggest that the decline is located primarily among the privileged sections of the rural population.
  • Concentration among lower education strata – More importantly, most of the decline in the WPR has taken place among women with low levels of education. For illiterate women, the WPR fell from 55% to 29.1% while that for women with secondary education fell from 30.5% to 15.6%.

Comparison with men

Easier for men to find a job –

  • Men’s participation in agriculture has also declined.
  • However, men were able to pick up work in other industries whereas women reduced their participation in other industries as well as agriculture — resulting in a lower WPR.
  • Mechanisation and land fragmentation have reduced agricultural work opportunities for both men and women.
  • Other work opportunities, except for work in public works programmes, are not easily open to women.
  • This challenge is particularly severe for rural women with moderate levels of education.
  • A man with class 10 education can be a postal carrier, a truck driver or a mechanic; these opportunities are not open to women.
  • Hence, it is not surprising that education is associated with a lower WPR for women; in 2016-17, 29.1% illiterate women were employed, compared to only 16% women with at least secondary education.
  • On-going experimental research at the National Council of Applied Economic Research’s National Data Innovation Centre (NCAER-NDIC) suggests a tremendous undercount of women’s work using standard labour force questions, particularly in rural areas.
  • Although women try to find whatever work they can, they are unable to gain employment at an intensive level that rises above our labour force survey thresholds. This suggests an enormous untapped pool of female workers that should not be ignored.

Possible solutions

1. Establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Employment and Skill Development –

  • Establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Employment and Skill Development is a welcome move by the new government.
  • It is to be hoped that this committee will take the issue of declining female employment as seriously as it does the issue of rising unemployment among the youth.

Development of transportation infrastructure – 

One of the most powerful ways in which public policies affect rural women’s participation in non-agricultural work is via the development of transportation infrastructure that allows rural women to seek work as sales clerks, nurses and factory workers in nearby towns.

Multi-Sectoral Reforms –

If the cabinet committee were to focus on multi-sectoral reforms that have a positive impact on women’s work opportunities, the potential gender dividend could be far greater than the much celebrated demographic dividend.

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