Rising Female work participation: A sign of Stressed livelihood

GS Paper I and II

News Excerpt:

With changes in the work status of females, predominated by the rise in agri sectors, the rising contribution of females in the labour market epitomises a stressed livelihood.


Current Challenges:

  • Decrease in work profile quality: Due to the increasing dependence of rising LFPR and WPR on the agri sector, the work profile's quality reflects a decline in the proportion of regular and casual wage work.
  • Changing trends in incomes: A gainful situation would imply abundant employment opportunities in productive sectors, translating into rising incomes. 
    • Conversely, a distressing situation would emanate from a decline in average real incomes, forcing women to seek work, even in less productive sectors and at lower wages.

Key takeaways from the PLFS data:

  • Disguised unemployment: The wages for the self-employed segment, male and female, are majorly driven by the rural areas (80% weight). 
    • Rural self-employment accounts for the disguised unemployment clustered under 
      • Helper in the household enterprise, 
      • Own account worker and 
      • A significant portion of wages is based on their activities; they do not represent actual cash wages.
  • Decline in urban wages: With respect to self-employed women, the weight of wages from rural (lower paying vs urban) has seen a remarkable rise from 72% in September 2018 to 84% in June 2023; the contribution of higher paying urban wages has declined.
    • As a result, the 4-year CAGR for self-employed females was a meagre 3.5% (INR 5636/month).
    • After COVID-19, real female wages (net of inflation) fell by 5.4%.
  • The narrow gap in the Male-female regular wages: The regular salary/wage growth for rural females (7.8% 4-year CAGR, 1.8% in real terms) was higher than for males (5.7% CAGR), reflecting the narrowing female-male gap in regular wages.
    • However, the proportion of regular wage earners among females has declined in rural areas (8%, -0.1pp) and risen in urban areas (50.8%, +0.5pp).

  • Increased workload and responsibilities for women: Declines in real income per worker amid the rise in dependency have led to a forced increase in women’s participation in the workforce despite lower earnings.

What can be the Implications for Society?

  • Structural implications: Stretched per capita incomes can affect investment in education and health, thereby impairing labour productivity and future earnings capability.
  • Issue of Triple Burden: A woman is expected to carry on work, household, and childcare responsibilities. Predominated by the rise in agri sectors and incomes mainly from self-employment, the rising contribution of females in the labour market epitomises a stressed livelihood rather than a bountiful situation.
  • Decrease in Urban Employment: At a broader level, the recent trends observed through PLFS mirror an important dimension of the rising Ruralization phenomenon and declining proportion of employment in the urban industrial and services sectors, translating into rising dependence on rural sectors.

Way Forward:

  • Need for the change in ideology: The domestic ideology has reinforced the identification of the domestic sphere and the house as the woman's place. As such, reproductive work is naturally considered women's work. Domestic work has no clear demarcations between and leisure; it is without beginning and end, and in many societies, women tend to work longer hours than men.
  • Need to organise, Mobilize, and challenge injustice: There is an urgent need to improve women's condition at the household level and assist them in their traditional roles to create more time for them to embark on income-generating enterprises. 
    • However, improving their condition needs to be done in a transformative way that challenges the gender division of labour and women's subordination to men in society. 
  • Need to make her economically empowered: A critical issue concerning reproductive work is the lack of recognition of the economic cost, which has resulted in it being undervalued, unpaid, and invisible. Recognising this as work and the obstacles it presents for women's economic empowerment is crucial.

Mains PYQ

Q. What are the continued challenges for Women in India against time and space? (UPSC 2019)

Q. How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle-class working woman in India? (UPSC 2014)