Women in the Indian Workplace
India is the world’s second largest populated country with over 1.3 billion people living within its borders. Of these 1.3 billion, 60 percent live in poverty. Indian poverty is further exacerbated by a growing income inequality. According to the British charity, Oxfam, only the top 10 percent of people in India own the majority of the country’s wealth (80 percent). This has real-world consequences; three out of every four Indians still live in small rural villages, and seven out of twenty are illiterate. These statistics present serious challenges for India’s development.

If the majority of India’s population is too poor to buy consumer goods, the economy will not be able to grow as quickly. Complex as the issue of poverty in India may seem, there is one relatively simple and effective solution; fully incorporate women in the workplace in India.

How Women in the Workplace in India Will Help the Economy

According to Catalyst, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to represent women’s interests in the workplace, women access higher education in India at the same rates as men (27 percent). However, the labor statistics are a different story. Only about 29 percent of Indian women work compared to 82 percent of Indian men. This leaves the Indian economy at a developmental disadvantage. If the rate of women in the workplace in India jumped to a mere 40 percent by 2025, India could add $700 billion to its GDP.

Unfortunately, according to The Economist, instead of increasing, the rate of female participation in India’s labor force has been decreasing in recent years. Since 2005, India’s labor force has dropped at least nine percentage points, despite overall population growth. This leaves India with one of the largest untapped worker populations in the world. If Indian women worked just as often as men, the nation would have over 200 million extra workers. According to The International Monetary Fund, this shift would grow the nation’s economy by 27 percent, effectively making India a developed country.  

Why Women in India Are Not Working

There are several factors influencing the drop in women in the workforce. Firstly and primarily, there is the issue of cultural bias against women working. In India, especially after the marriage, most women are expected to remain in the home. In fact, women working is considered a mark of a lower social status. This is why, as a whole, as Indian households become wealthier, fewer women are participating in the workforce.

Secondly, there is the issue of maternal responsibility. Indian mothers are expected to shoulder the burden of household duties on their own. Employers have to provide 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, but there is have no obligation at all to provide paternity leave. On top of this, employers are deterred by the requirement to provide childcare for women returning to work. When combined with the high expectation of caring for the family, these factors create a “motherhood penalty”  for working women.

Finally, regardless of gender, many traditional Indian jobs are disappearing because of industrialization. Because of Indian law, unlike in other developing countries, they aren’t being replaced by women-friendly factories. This scarcity further reduces the opportunities for women in the Indian workplace. A 2012 poll found that when jobs are harder to come by, 84 percent of Indians believe men are more entitled to have them.

How India Is Working To Include Women in the Workforce

The obstacles created by culture, politics and the economy may seem insurmountable, but various organizations have already been putting forth various solutions. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi launched two programs on the anniversary of former, late, female leader Jayalalithaa. One provides working women with scooters, making their commutes to work easier and safer; the other plants 70 lakh trees to honor the 70 years since Jayalalithaa’s birth.

The Prime Minister also launched Make in India (2014) and Startup in India (2016) in order to not only invest in the people of India by helping to fund small businesses but also to provide jobs that these businesses would bring to India. Both of these initiatives provide opportunities for women to enter the workforce.

Furthermore, another government organization, Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP), was launched to encourage women’s participation in business by offering support and collaboration with industry partners while NGOs such as CARE India are mobilizing to support the country’s working women by empowering individuals to be role models for their communities.

In the future, in order to ensure the development of these organizations, India should continue to work to change the social norms that have surrounded women regarding work and maternal responsibilities. The Indian government should look deeply into their development plans and aid working women by changing policies that disproportionately harm them. Only when there is a more balanced amount of women in the workplace in India, can the country develop fully.

Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Pixabay