The Labour Force Participation Rate Study shows that women’s presence in the workforce has consistently fluctuated between 18-21% since 2017 until 2021.
By Anu Jain and Ahmad Bari
As India has become one of the youngest nations globally, with a median age of 28 years, the global community has lauded the country’s youth as the most advantageous demographic dividend in today’s times. Recognising that a younger workforce translates into an increased pace of economic development, the Government of India accelerated spending on skill development initiatives and employability training. Especially for women, the government has played a crucial role in creating instruments that enable women’s self-reliance journey. Along with affirmative action adopted for skill trainings, the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015, also paved the way to create more seats for women and gender mainstreaming among content delivery of skill development. To promote entrepreneurship and skill development among MSMEs, the government has increased spending from Rs 556 crores in FY 2021-22 to Rs 718 crores in FY 2022-23 while removing approximately 25,000 compliances for high governance for women. The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020, too, is a step in the right direction with the latest mandate of the National Curriculum Framework, being a steppingstone towards holistic school education and entrepreneurship.
However, despite increased prioritisation via progressive regulations and increased spending, women’s participation in the Indian economy is absent. The Labour Force Participation Rate Study shows that women’s presence in the workforce has consistently fluctuated between 18-21% since 2017 until 2021, while it remained the same for men. Even the female wage being 60-65% of the male wage since the last three decades. In 2021, India hit a historic low with only 23% of the country’s female skilled labour that are represented in formal employment. Even though progressive actions are seen, stark differences in adoption of skill development programs among males and females still prevail. For instance, the National Skill Training Institutes for women offer only 21 courses, while the general ITIs, where men predominate, offer 153. Even among the 21, stereotypical courses in occupations for women, such as cosmetology, fashion design, or interior design predominate. Lastly, female enrolment is still low despite growing from 6% in 2014 to 21% in 2018.
Against this backdrop, if half the country’s population does not actively participate in the growth, the demographic advantage shall remain unrealised.
Why aren’t there enough women in the workforce?
India faces unique yet multi-faceted challenges regarding the negligible representation of women in the economy. The government has boosted spending on female literacy via campaigns like Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao, and gender mainstreaming in the Budget 2022 by 11%. This points out that literacy alone cannot translate into effective employment. On one hand, continuous measures focus towards a higher rate of primary, seconday and higher education for girls, while on the other, there is a huge section of degree-holding women without jobs.
Stereotypical gender biases, and non-availability of formal work for women, among other ills, disadvantage women in accessing employment. A major factor is the time spent by women performing unpaid care and domestic work. While men spend an average of 2.5% of their time performing care and #domestic work, women spend as much as 25% of their time doing the same. Most women in India are engaged in low-paying work, with neither social protection nor job security. Especially among rural women, limited access to resources, lower education levels, and deep-seated gender norms keep them confined to lower-paying jobs with little skill development and training prospects.
It is widely known that skill development programs and awareness to enter non-traditional professions have the potential to bridge the gap between the availability of such professions and the inclination to take such jobs. Skill development, thus, plays an empowering role in livelihood generation, sustenance, and scaling of women-centric jobs and women-led enterprises. Thus, there exists a need to create and integrate measures via diverse stakeholders to enable women entrepreneurs to create uptake of skill development programs. Not only would skill development help with that, but also create better agency, digital and financial literacy, while also boosting leadership.
What more needs to be done?
Firstly, with the industry 4.0 revolution, it has become exceedingly important for women to keep up with technology and the future of work. The Covid-19 pandemic widened the gap of women’s digital access, with only 25% of women owning mobile phones instead of 41% of men8. If access to smartphones and internet capacity, are not brought about, India would have wasted its opportunity to leverage its women demographic. The Covid-19 pandemic catalysed technological advancements and newer ways of working, resulting in employees adapting to new job roles and work patterns. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 14% of the global workforce would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence. Thus, creating technology and solutions that increase opportunities for women to access new skills and go ‘online’ will result in better scenarios for women recouping post Covid-19.
Secondly, non-for-profits like EdelGive and Barefoot College International play a huge role in bridging this very skill gap by adopting courses like ENRICHE training (offered by Barefoot) to enable life skills development, financial and digital skills for rural entrepreneurs by taking skill development to them. Thus, additional spending by the government of India and other stakeholders needs to focus on holistic bridges and advancement of capacity building for women. A hub and spoke model, as in the case of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra, can be adopted in rural areas and villages to create last-mile connectivity to skill development among women at the peripheries of society. Moreover, fee-based skill development courses need to be subsidised by the government of India, to enable higher adoption of industry-led skill training for women. A focus on inculcating leadership and financial literacy as a skill will also ensure empowerment.
Women and girls are among the most powerful agents of change in the global drive towards meeting most of the SDG goals. Supporting women in mobilizing their potential leads to positive impact created by these conduits of change and has a multiplier effect on the generations to come. A direct result of skill development is financial independence for women and access to entrepreneurship, which results in 100% agency and confidence. Thus, the overall success of these interventions is dependent on how we address the seen and often unseen socio-cultural influences embedded in a woman’s life journey.
The authors are director-ENRICHE, Barefoot College International and senior lead- women empowerment, EdelGive Foundation respectively.
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