Resource centre on India's rural distress

India’s women and the workforce -Ashwini Deshpande

-Hindustan Times

Women are not dropping out. They are being pushed out by the lack of demand for their labour. There has been movement out of agriculture into informal and casual jobs, where the work is sporadic, and often less than 30 days at a stretch. The new modern sector opportunities, especially in high value-added service sectors, mostly accrue to men.

Why is women’s employment declining in India? The thrust of the predominant explanations is that women are dropping out of paid work or the labour force either because of fear of sexual violence outside the home; or fear of being stigmatised by the community that might see their work as a marker of low status, i.e. the inability of the husband, the main breadwinner, to provide for the family; or a rise in conservative attitudes that believe a woman’s place is inside the home and kitchen, and that if the woman steps outside the socially approved threshold, it would invite a backlash.

All these explanations prima facie sound persuasive and plausible. But consider this. Recorded labour force participation rate (LFPR) of Indian women, never very high, logged a dramatic decline between 2004-05 and 2011-12. It has continued to decline thereafter, albeit at a lower rate. The bulk of the decline has been in the LFPR of rural women, with the sharpest decline seen in the case of Scheduled Tribe or Adivasi women.

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