Any government which is serious about ensuring women’s economic empowerment and equal access to livelihoods must address the numerous challenges that exist along this highly gendered continuum of unpaid, underpaid and paid work. Comment.

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  • In the introduction, provide Context about Women workforce participation by citing some facts/data.
  • Mention the various factors responsible for poor participation of women in the workforce.
  • Provide conclusion

Currently, the participation of women in the workforce in India is one of the lowest globally. The female labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India fell from 31.2% in 2011-2012 to 23.3% in 2017-2018. This decline has been sharper in rural areas, where the female LFPR fell by more than 11 percentage points in 2017-2018.

The various factors responsible for poor participation of women in the workforce:

  • Low social acceptability of women Low social acceptability of women working outside the household,
  • Lack of access to safe and secure workspaces
  • The widespread prevalence of poor and unequal wages.
  • A dearth of decent and suitable jobs.
  • Work and education-A recent study observed a strong negative relationship between a woman’s education level and her participation in agricultural and non-agricultural wage work and in family farms. Essentially, women with moderately high levels of education do not want to do manual labour outside the household which would be perceived to be below their educational qualifications. The study also showed a preference among women for salaried jobs as their educational attainment increases, but such jobs remain extremely limited for women.
  • Women devote a substantial amount of their time to work which is not considered as work, but an extension of their duties, and is largely unpaid. This includes unpaid care work such as childcare, elderly care, and household work such as collecting water. The burden of these activities falls disproportionately on women, especially in the absence of adequately available or accessible public services. It also encompasses significant chunks of women’s contribution to agriculture, animal husbandry, and non-timber forest produce on which most of the household production and consumption is based.
  • Also, they are engaged in subsistence-level work in agriculture in rural areas, and in low-paying jobs such as domestic service and petty home-based manufacturing in urban areas. However, with better education, women are refusing to do casual wage labour or work in family farms and enterprises.
  • Experts opine that any government which is serious about ensuring women’s economic empowerment and equal access to livelihoods must address the numerous challenges that exist along this highly gendered continuum of unpaid, underpaid and paid work.
  • Government approach must entail facilitating women’s access to decent work by providing public services, eliminating discrimination in hiring, ensuring equal and decent wages, and improving women’s security in public spaces.
  • It must also recognise, reduce, redistribute, and remunerate women’s unpaid work.
  • An Action aid document, which has compiled a people’s agenda through extensive discussions across States, provides critical recommendations to policymakers on issues of concern to Dalits, tribal people, Muslims and other marginalised communities with a focus on the needs of women.
  • Focus on gender-responsive public services such as free and accessible public toilets, household water connections, safe and secure public transport, and adequate lighting and CCTV cameras to prevent violence against women in public spaces and to increase their mobility.
  • Furthermore, they want fair and decent living wages and appropriate social security including maternity benefit, sickness benefit, provident fund, and pension.
  • Women have also expressed the need for policies which ensure safe and dignified working and living conditions for migrant workers. For example, in cities, governments must set up:
  • migration facilitation and crisis centres (temporary shelter facility, helpline, legal aid, medical and counselling facilities).
  • They must also allocate social housing spaces for women workers, which include rental housing and hostels .
  • They must ensure spaces for women shopkeepers and hawkers in all markets and vending zones.
  • We urgently need to find childcare solutions like common creche,pre- nursery/anganwadi etc that are collectively financed, affordable and work for all.
  • In addition to the above, women have strongly articulated the need to enumerate and remunerate the unpaid and underpaid work they undertake in sectors such as agriculture and fisheries. Their fundamental demand is that women must be recognised as farmers in accordance with the National Policy for Farmers; this should include cultivators, agricultural labourers, pastoralists, livestock rearers, forest workers, fish-workers, and salt pan workers.
  • Thereafter, their equal rights and entitlements over land and inheritance and access to inputs, credit, markets, and extension services must be ensured.
  • Women also reiterates the need to recognise and redistribute their unpaid work in the household. For this, experts opine that the government must collect sex-disaggregated household-level data with suitable parameters.

Unless policymakers correctly assess and address the structural issues that keep women from entering and staying in the workforce, promising more jobs — while a welcome step is unlikely to lead to the socio-economic transformation that India currently needs.

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