Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 19 October 2023

The measure of the working woman

Gender ideologies often prompt couples to assign women to take over extra family duties while men remain free to concentrate on their careers.

Relevance: GS I and II

  • Prelims: Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR); Article 15 and 16; The National Commission for Women Act, 1990; Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013;
  • Mains: Gender issues; Challenges for working women;


  • Non-conducive to India’s growing ambitions: In India, family structures have historically often filled this need, with fathers working outside the home, and mothers providing child care and elder care. However, this model is not conducive to India’s growing ambitions. 
  • To grow into a $5 trillion economy, women must be included in the workforce through: 
    • Women’s work, often care work, must be appropriately valued.
    • Women must be adequately supported to participate in economic activity outside the home.


  • According to National Statistical Office (NSO), 81.2% of all women are engaged in unpaid domestic services, compared with 26.1% of men. 
  • It finds that men spend 42 hours on average on activities within the production boundary, i.e. what is traditionally counted as economic activity, whereas women spend 19 hours.
  • However, women spend 10 times more time on household maintenance and care for children, the sick and the elderly — 34.6 hours versus 3.6 hours.
The Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) in India is 32.8% according to government sources and 24% according to the World Bank, compared to China’s 61%, Bangladesh’s 38%, Nepal’s 29% and Pakistan’s 25%. 

Challenges faced by working women in India:

  • Gender pay gap: According to the Global Gender Gap Report, India has a 25.4% pay difference between men and women.
  • Mental/Physical Harassment: Sexual harassment is an abominable reality for Indian women on a daily basis. Every day, their greatest challenge is to retain their holiness in their homes, on the road, in their educational institutions, and at work.
  • Gender-based Discrimination: According to a report by Team Lease Services, five out of ten employees in India have experienced some form of discrimination - in terms of benefits, hours, leave, earnings, opportunities, and promotions, there is gender segregation in the workplace. Pregnant women and women with young children are also at a disadvantage throughout the recruitment process and when competing for job prospects.

The implications arising due to non-recognition of her work:

  • The issue of ‘Double burden’: Working outside the home and contributing to family income does not reduce any household responsibilities for a woman.
  • Increasing health issues due to restless hours: The care work done by women is not counted in the larger economic estimates, leaving them exhausted with lower leisure hours in a week than their male counterparts. These result in health issues which leads to non-communicable diseases on a long-term basis.
  • Data volatility: Low-income women usually work without support which is minimally expected. This again is not reflected in the data because of volatility, where women’s work patterns are seasonal, sporadic and irregular and they often contribute to family businesses from within the home. Domestic obligations keep them away from regular employment.
  • Implications on labour and employment policies: Statistical invisibility pushes household labour “outside the realm of protective labour legislation,” which limits the work day and regulates labour conditions. Women in India work 1.5 hours longer a day than men, mostly unpaid, often in unsanitary conditions.

Government initiatives to address the issues of working women:

  • Anganwadi system: The government already runs the world’s largest public system for child services, the remarkable Anganwadi system, which reaches 80 million children of up to six years of age through 1.4 million centres. These centres function best in a rural setting, where community members participate together.
    • However, since they are only open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., women still need additional care options if they are to work a full 8 hours a day.
    • National Creche Scheme: Creches help mothers build stable careers, as well as give children who would otherwise be exposed at work a safe, nurturing environment.

Surat case-study:

  • This case study narrates the condition and status of women workers engaged in the unorganized sector in Surat. This city, we all know is considered Gujarat’s economic hub and business capital, and is known for its small- and medium-scale industries (SMSIs).
  • Seeing the demand for raw materials and supply, and to increase skilled women participation, the companies over here have brought ‘freedom to work according to flexible hours’.
Out of every 100 women workers, 55 are working for embroidery units. The embroidery industry also provides the option of working from home and that suits some women workers more as they can simultaneously take care of their domestic responsibilities.

Way Ahead:

  • The freedom to work: Women by choice and in condition of dignity need to have a safe and fair integral part of the welfare society. Guaranteeing that women have access to this right is an important end in itself.
  • Taking this as an opportunity for financial inclusion: The childcare/preschool ecosystem is an estimated ₹31,256 crore industry, which is expected to grow at 11.2% CAGR till 2028.
    • To counteract the base inequality of income and provide high-quality child services to all, there is an imperative, therefore, for the public sector to ramp up its already considerable eff
  • Valuing the female care-work: Governments should change the way they value this labour. India can call for and lead the change in the internationally defined System of National Accounts so that changes can be incorporated into everything from GDP calculations to Census questionnaires.
  • Gender mainstreaming and sensitizing by Employers: The more women employees are informed about their company’s policy on sexual harassment and gender discrimination and the more they are encouraged to report all incidents of discrimination without fear, the more secure and empowered they will feel.

If India wants to raise its FLPR to empower its women, myths around women’s work must be dispelled, and women’s work must both be counted appropriately and supported fairly.


Laws related to Women's Protection:

  • The Indian Constitution as a “Fundamental Right,” the Constitution guarantees equality.
    • Article 15 includes provisions for women, children, and individuals who are socially and educationally disadvantaged. These provisions are not discriminatory in any way.
    • In matters of public employment, Article 16 guarantees equal opportunity. Women are guaranteed one-third of seats in Panchayats under the 73rd Amendment Act of the Constitution, and one-third of seats in Municipalities under the 74th Amendment Act.
  • The National Commission for Women Act, 1990
    • Creates a National Commission for Women to review existing statutory protections for women, prepare periodic reports to the Central Government on matters relating to safeguards for women’s rights, investigate complaints of deprivation of these rights, and provide financial assistance in the litigation of issues affecting women.
  • Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
    • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work.
    • It lays down the definition of sexual harassment and seeks to provide a mechanism for redressing complaints.
    • It provides for the constitution of an ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ at the workplace and a ‘Local Complaints Committee’ at the district and block levels.
    • The Supreme Court of India’s Vishakha Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment were superseded by this Act.
  • The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017:
    • On March 9, 2017, the Indian Parliament passed a law offering women working in the organized sector compensated maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks, a decision that benefits approximately 1.8 million women.
    • The law applies to all businesses with ten or more employees, and the benefit is limited to the first two children. The entitlement for the third child is 12 weeks.
    • As a result, India now has the third-highest maternity leave in the world.
    • Canada and Norway offer 50 weeks and 44 weeks of paid maternity leave, respectively.

PYQs Mains:

  • How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle class working woman in India? (2014)
  • ‘Women’s movement in India has not addressed the issues of women of lower social strata.’ Substantiate your view. (2018)

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