Giving Compass' Take:

• Dona Tomy and Sneha Menon explain the gaps in data and information about women’s workforce participation in India.

• How can funders help to fill in the gaps in information on this topic? 

• Learn how social enterprise is changing women's work in India

The gender disparity in India’s workforce has been well-documented, and there are numerous projects and papers that analyze India’s low female labor participation. But there has been little by way of meta-studies that examine public policies, programs, data, and research across various parameters to motivate a better understanding of why female labor/workforce participation (FLWP) in India is so poor, and what can be done to change this.

As per the latest NSSO PLFS survey, the state of FLWP has worsened, and only 17.5 percent of women are part of the labor force, compared to 55.5 percent of men. In an attempt to address this, the government has actively pursued policies to increase the FLWP rate for several decades. Its approach has evolved from providing educational scholarships and reservations/quotas, to promoting self-employment and capacity building through skill training.

Still, the challenge of effective implementation, coupled with deep-rooted social norms have constrained the impact of these policies. For instance, as per the most recent PLFS, 51.5 percent of women who received vocational/technical training are out of the labor force, and 10 percent are unemployed. In fact 54.8 percent of employed women are part of the informal sector, limiting their access to decent work.

Across national surveys, a compilation of 29 metrics related to gender and the workplace emerged. While some basic quantitative indicators like employment status, type, and salary are well-measured in these datasets, fundamental qualitative indicators—such as terms of employment, working conditions, access to finance, and hiring practices—are rarely documented.

It also appears that metrics such as care work, household decision making, use of time, workplace harassment, freedom of movement, and social norms are equally rare. Another important aspect missing from national databases is behavioral and perception-based data such as career goals, aspirations, attitudes, and expectations from work.

Increasingly, the importance of support services within programs, such as proximate services, safe transportation, migration assistance, and counseling is being highlighted, but very few schemes actively incorporate these elements into their framework. Apart from the National Crèche Scheme and MGNREGA, no livelihood schemes factor in the need for daycare for the children of the targeted women beneficiaries.

Read the full article about women’s workforce participation in India by Dona Tomy and Sneha Menon at India Development Review.