General Studies Paper 1 (Indian Society): India’s female labour force participation rate (LFPR)


IAS Junior Mains Answer Writing June-Sep 2019 Schedule (Click Here)


Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Indian Society)


There is a declining women labour force participation in India over the last decade. Examine the reasons for the decline and suggest some measures to improve this condition.



There has been a sharp decline in the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India—from 31.2% in 2011-12 to 23.3% in 2017-18. In fact, as India grows economically, the number of women in workplaces is declining steadily, despite enrolment of girls in higher education courses is growing steadily to 46% in 2014 from 39% in 2007. The decision of and ability for women to participate in the labour force is the outcome of various economic and social factors that interact in a complex fashion at both the household and macro level. the most important drivers include educational attainment, fertility rates and the age of marriage, economic growth/cyclical effects, and urbanization. In addition to these issues, social norms determining the role of women in the public domain continue to affect outcomes.



Female labour force participation (FLFP) has been dropping at an alarming rate. More than half of the women who would like a job, particularly those in rural areas, say they do not have the skills required for the work they want to do, for example, leatherwork or textile manufacturing. Further, the opportunities that exist need to be more unbiased.

Reasons for declining participation of women in employment:

The reasons are a mix of economic, social and cultural factors.

  • Rising educational enrollment of young women

Over the last decade or so, India has made considerable progress in increasing access to education for girls as increasing numbers of women of working age are enrolling in secondary schools.

  • Lack of employment opportunities

Nonetheless, the nature of economic growth in the country has meant that jobs were not created in large numbers in sectors that could readily absorb women, especially for those in rural areas.

  • Effect of household income on participation

Despite inadequate job creation, household incomes did rise, which potentially reduced women’s participation, especially in subsidiary activities (“income effect”) due to change in preferences.

  • Maternity:
    • Many women who join the workforce are unable to re-join after having a child.
    • The landmark legislation Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, which entitles a woman to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, is becoming a big hurdle as start-ups and SMEs have become reluctant to hire them. The increased cost for companies and this may discourage them from hiring women.
  • Urban-Rural divide: Part of it, in the case of rural women, is due to withdrawal from agriculture due to mechanisation, fall in farm incomes, rapid urbanisation, etc. In 2004-05, we saw a rise in construction jobs, especially for males, which meant more income leading to migration from villages to towns.
  • Low labour force participation among Indian women is not due to cultural norms, dom­estic work burdens and undercounting. Planning for female employment must also include safe transport and hostels near workplaces.
  • Gender pay gap: When women enter the workforce, they don’t necessarily find the jobs they are seeking. They are not allowed to progress same as men, they most often don’t even have parity in pay. There is persistent gender inequality in the labour market and women are often relegated to poor value add work.
  • Concerns about safety and Harassment at work site, both explicit and implicit.
  • According to NSSO, urban males accounted for 16% of India’s population, but held 77% of all jobs in computer-related activities in 2011-12. This shows, how gender has become a discriminatory factor for certain white-collared jobs.
  • Social norms about household work are against women’s mobility and participation in paid work. Childbirth and taking care of elderly parents or in-laws account for the subsequent points where women drop off the employment pipeline.
  • The number of women applying for jobs is increasing, with more opting for higher education. But many opt not to take up a job if the job profile is not what they are seeking.
  • Measurement: Though most women in India work and contribute to the economy in one form or another, much of their work is not documented or accounted for in official statistics, and thus women’s work tends to be under-reported.


Way forward:

Women’s labour force participation and access to decent work are important and necessary elements of an inclusive and sustainable development process.

  • Non-farm job creation for women: there is a need to generate education-based jobs in rural areas in the industrial and services sectors
  • India’s growth strategy has focused on domestic demand and high-value service exports, which generate too few employment opportunities for women, particularly those with medium levels of education. export-oriented, manufacturing-centred growth strategy Must be adopted.
  • The state governments should make policies for the participation of rural women in permanent salaried jobs.
  • The governments should also generate awareness to espouse a positive attitude towards women among the public since it is one of the most important impediments in women’s participation in economic activities.
  • Local bodies, with aid from state governments, should open more crèches in towns and cities so that women with children can step out and work. The crèches will open employment opportunities for women.
  • Higher social spending, including in education, can lead to higher female labour force participation by boosting female stocks of human capital.
  • Skilling the women:
    • Initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, and new gender-based quotas from corporate boards to the police force can spur a positive change. But we need to invest in skill training and job support.
    • The private sector could also take active part in training women entrepreneurs. For example: Unilever’s Shakti program, which has trained more than 70,000 rural women in India as micro-entrepreneurs to sell personal-care products as a way of making its brands available in rural India
  • Equal pay: The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value that is protected by Indian law must be put to actual practice. Improved wage-transparency and gender-neutral job evaluation is required to achieve this end.
  • Assuring safe access to work: It is important to improve existing transport and communication networks and provide safe accommodation for women who travel to or has migrated for work.
  • For political empowerment of women, their representation in Parliament and in decision making roles in public sphere is one of the key indicators of empowerment.
  • A policy framework encouraging and enabling women’s participation should be constructed with active awareness of the “gender-specific” constraints that face most women. Gender responsive policies need to be contextually developed.



Women continue to face many barriers to enter labour market and to access decent work and disproportionately face a range of multiple challenges relating to access to employment, choice of work, working conditions, employment security, wage parity, discrimination, and balancing the competing burdens of work and family responsibilities. In addition, women are heavily represented in the informal economy where their exposure to risk of exploitation is usually greatest and they have the least formal protection. Considering these insights Policy makers in India and throughout the region should take a comprehensive approach to improving labour market outcomes for women through improving access to and relevance of education and training programs, skills development, access to child care, maternity protection, and provision of safe and accessible transport, along with the promotion of a pattern of growth that creates job opportunities. Ultimately, the goal is not merely to increase female labour force participation, but to provide opportunities for decent work that will, in turn, contribute to the economic empowerment of women.


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