The Marriage Penalty

Context: Recently, an investigation highlighted anomalies related to hiring of women employees in Apple iPhone maker Foxconn assembly plant in Tamilnadu. It was alleged that married women’s are being rejected on grounds of pregnancy, family commitment and greater number of leaves.

Though Foxconn came up with the clarification statement in which it highlighted that 25% of its new recruitment comprises women and around women constitute 70% of its total workforce.

However, this news article delves into several factors responsible for low Female LFPR in India.

Labour force Participation rate (LFPR)

  • The labour force participation rate is the measure to evaluate working-age population in an economy.
  • Labour force participation rate is defined as the percentage of working population in the age group of 15- 64 in the economy, currently employed or seeking employment.
  • As per OECD, it is calculated as the labour force divided by the total working-age population.

Status of Female Labour Force Participation Rate

  • As per the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2022-23
    • LFPR for male in India increased from 75.8% in 2017-18 to 78.5% in 2022-23 and corresponding increase in LFPR for female was from 23.3% to 37.0%.

Now as per the findings of the report FLFPR is rising. However, It is still concerning when we focus on

  • Gender disparity – Male (78.5%) i.e. more than double of that of Women.
  • Rural Urban Gap – Higer in rural areas – reflects feminization of agriculture; lower in urban areas – Lack of formal employment opportunities
  • Comparison with developed economy – Europe and central Asia – 52%; North America – 56% ; East Asia and Pacific – 59%. FLFPR in India is below the global average of 47 percent for several years.

Reasons for low FLFPR in India

  • Unpaid care work: Women in India often have to bear the burden of unpaid care work, such as taking care of children, elderly family members, and household chores. It is often undervalued and not recognized as work.
  • Societal norms and cultural expectations: In India, traditional gender division of labour dictate that women should focus on household duties and raising children, while men are the primary breadwinners. Any deviation from such established norms attracts ostracization and marginalization which acts as a demotivation for women to take up formal jobs.
  • Lack of access to education: Girls are often denied access to education, or they drop out of school early due to poverty or familial responsibilities. This lack of education and skill development limits their employment opportunities and earning potential.
  • Limited job opportunities: Women often face discrimination in the job market, and there are fewer job opportunities available to them compared to men. For example, in the technology and finance sector.
  • Safety concerns: Women in India often face safety concerns and harassment at the workplace and also while commuting to and from work. It discourages them from seeking employment outside of the home.
  • Rising Household Incomes: Rising incomes allows women to escape harsh labour on farms and construction sites and focus on their families.
  • Lack of Rural connectivity: Lack of transport network to villages may prevent women from taking non-agricultural work in Neighbouring towns. Lack of transport services affects women more than men.
  • Nuclear families: The growing trend of nuclear families keeping childcare left to women with no support from family elders.
  • Lack of supportive policies: India lacks supportive policies, such as parental leave, and flexible work arrangements, which can enable women to balance work and family responsibilities.

Government initiatives to Improve Female Work Participation:

  • For Survival and Education of Females
    • Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme: For creating awareness among the people to educate all girl children in the country. The initiative intends to tackle the issue of the diminishing sex ratio in recent years, raise social awareness, and improve the effectiveness of welfare benefits for girls.
    • National Education Policy (NEP), 2020: The policy prioritises gender equity and envisions ensuring equitable access to quality education to all students, with a special emphasis on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs).
  • For Safe and Convenient Accommodation
    • Working Women Hostel: One of the main difficulties faced by working women is lack of safe and conveniently located accommodation. The objective of the scheme is to promote availability of safe and conveniently located accommodation for working women, with day care facilities for their children, wherever possible, in urban, semi urban, or even rural areas where employment opportunities for women exist.
  • For Supporting Women affected by violence
    • One Stop Centre (OSC) and Universalization of Women Helpline: To provide 24 hours immediate and emergency response to women affected by violence through referral (linking with appropriate authority such as police, One Stop Centre, hospital) and information about women related government schemes programs across the country through a single uniform number. Women Helpline (WHL) will be integrated with One Stop Centre Scheme (OSC) under which one OSC shall be established in every State/UT to provide integrated support and assistance to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces under one roof.
  • Codification of the Labour Laws for harmonizing the needs of job seekers, workers and employers
    • Labour Codes:  The four Labour Codes namely, the Code on Wages, 2019, the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, the Code on Social Security, 2020 and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020. Codification of the Labour Laws provides a policy framework for harmonizing the needs of job seekers, workers and employers.
    • The Labour Codes will, inter-alia, reduce multiplicity of definitions & authorities, facilitate implementation and use of technology in enforcement of labour laws and bring transparency and accountability in enforcement, promote setting up of more enterprises, catalyzing the creation of employment opportunities in the country.
  • Equal Opportunity and Congenial Work Environment
    • Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017: The Act increased the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, also made a provision for mandatory crèche facility in establishments having 50 or more employees, permitting women workers in the night shifts with adequate safety measures, etc.
    • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013: To provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  • Promoting Entrepreneurship
    • Female Entrepreneurship: To promote female entrepreneurship, the Government has initiated schemes like MUDRA, Stand Up India and Mahila e-Haat.
    • Rashtriya Mahila Kosh: Provides micro-credit at concessional terms to poor women for various livelihood and income generating activities.
    • Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP): Under the scheme, women entrepreneurs are provided 25 per cent and 35 per cent subsidies for the project set up in urban and rural areas respectively.

Measures to improve Female Work Participation:

  • Need of National Women’s Urban Employment Guarantee Act (WUEGA): Women should form at least 50% of the programme management staff, with a vision for decentralized management and local community involvement. Includes provisions for childcare at work sites, free public transportation for women, and work availability within a 5-km radius.
  • Ensure high participation of women in MGNREGS:  Recommendations given by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj: Government must take measures for better promotion of “women-centric works” through creation or linking of existing livelihood projects under the scheme. Ministry of Rural Development needs to bridge the wage disparity among states by notifying a uniform wage rate structure.
  • Identification of niche sectors: There is need for identification of niche sectors like countries like the United States initiative like Girls Who Code in the USA aim to close the gender gap in technology, Japan and Italy are focusing on the healthcare and social work sectors as areas of potential job growth for women.
  • Accounting for care work: There is a need to capture the value of care in the GDP calculation. Flexible Work Options as like Netherlands: Promote work models like part-time work, remote work, and parental leave policies, empowers women to manage work-life balance effectively.
  • Invest in a wide range of care infrastructure and services solutions: Covering not only childcare, but also elder care, domestic work, and long-term care for highly dependent adults to reduce dependency and access the silver economy. For instance, Japan has leveraged some private sector partnerships for investments in affordable senior living and care services. As the share of elderly persons in India’s population is expected to rise from 10 per cent currently to 20 per cent by 2050, India, too will need to prioritise elder care infrastructure and service investments.

Japan’s ‘womenomics’ 

  • Japan was grappling with falling fertility rates, a declining population, and stagnant growth, a series of reforms on “womenomics” were introduced as part of the “Abenomics” era.
  • Women’s labour force participation rate (WLFPR) in Japan has grown by ten percentage points, from 64.9 percent in 2013 to 75.2 per cent in 2023.
  • Majority of the “womenomics” reforms have been linked to investments in the care economy and rebalancing gender norms. 
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