A recent World Bank report has laid bare the huge gap that India needs to bridge for promoting gender equity in terms of job creation and employment of women. It links women employment with economic growth. Though the Indian government has been promoting equal work and equal pay for both men and women since 1976, it is a fact that women have largely remained out of the job sector or have been paid very less compared to what men get for the same job.
While the government has strengthened various rules and regulations, enacted stringent legislations like the maternity benefit Act, sexual harassment of women at workforce Act etc., for providing conducive work environment, the condition of Indian women in the job sector still bears a dismal look.
The report titled, ‘India development update’, throws light on the economic condition of the country at present in the wake of demonetization and estimates a growth of 7.2 per cent in the current fiscal and 7.7 per cent by the year 2020 in case the government works towards improving the investment scenario.
Unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been using ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start-up India’ as the mantra for catching up with China and touching the double-digit growth rate, the World Bank has a different solution to offer. It says India can touch a double-digit growth rate in case it utilizes the potential that Indian women hold.
It carries a special section on ‘unlocking women’s potential’. The section starts with the story of a postgraduate woman, Kavita, who wishes to be a teacher and gets a job as well. Perturbed by the kind of salary she is offered, she decides to add on another qualification in accountancy. After a long wait, she gets a well-paid job but she is asked to work for long hours, something that her parents do not like and she is forced to sit at home. The story ends with her mother finding a suitable match for her.
Kavita’s story shows how aspirations of a woman end up in disappointment in Indian society — sometimes because of salary issues, bad work environment and, at times, due to family pressure. The story represents millions of women, who are well-qualified, but are asked to sit at home or are jobless.
The report has placed India at the 120th position amongst 131 nations in female labour force participation rate (LFPR). Considering the kind of population it has and being one of the fastest growing economies, the ranking is much below what would be expected from a country with similar GDP.
Not only this, the LFPR has declined during the last one decade by 10 per cent. Now the question is: Are we actually growing or are we experiencing negative growth? The report has given three proximate reasons for this decline in LFPR. One, the girls tend to stay in school for a longer period now than 10 years ago. This has been justified by the increase in enrolment rates of secondary and higher education courses.
Two, the participation rate reduces due to rapid urbanization of rural areas. There has been a decline from 41 per cent to 29 per cent in rural female LFPR between 2004-05 and 2011-12 respectively. In the urban areas, it has stagnated at as low as 20 per cent. A majority of women worked in the agriculture sector during 2004-05. Rapid urbanization of rural areas has also affected the agricultural activities with less job prospects for women resulting in a decline in LFPR.
In other words, women were largely employed in the agricultural sector. A dip in agricultural activities has rendered them jobless. Three, the report says that a majority of women retire from jobs as they attain 45 years of age.
The participation rate is low even amongst educated women as most of them want to continue with their studies. Only 40 per cent women who are graduates and above tend to work, compared to 59 per cent in Bangladesh and 75 per cent in Indonesia and Brazil.
The share of women in the service and industry sector is as low as 20 per cent in India, which is far less than Bangladesh and Vietnam, where women have a much larger share than men. Just imagine, a country like Bangladesh is much ahead of India in terms of female LFPR!
As jobs in the agriculture sector decline, sufficient jobs have not been created in service and industry sectors for women. Considering the fact that 42 per cent of science and technology graduates are women, who do not find a ‘suitable’ job, it is a big drag on the Indian economy.
It has also been found that women in India work more or less due to family compulsions. If the household income is less, women would hold even low-paying jobs. As household income rises, women tend to drop out and go back to their traditional roles of housewife, looking after children and doing household chores.
Based on interviews with 400 women, coming from different sections of society, the World Bank report concludes that a majority of women would like to work in case they find a well-paying job, close to their residence with flexible working hours. Marriage and children play a major role in a woman’s decision to participate in the workforce.
The report also shows that 80 per cent of the regular jobs that offer good salaries go to men. It is not that women are not given preference. A majority of the employers, who were interviewed for the report, wanted to employ women as they tend to be more honest and hard working. However, the answers differed for different functional areas.
For instance, women are preferred for jobs requiring customer service and care than technical, administrative or finance functions. In other words, a woman, even if she holds a technical qualification, will be given preference for a position requiring customer service than a man.
Lack of favourable laws is another reason why women do not apply or accept regular jobs. They are also not allowed to work in certain factories, mining etc. by law compared to other countries, where there are no such restrictions. Despite the enforcement of maternity benefit Act, the World Bank’s employer survey reveals that only 40 out of 618 enterprises offered maternity leave. Only a few offered salaries during maternity leave and only seven firms had some arrangements like crèche for taking care of children. The firms, which either offered maternity leave or crèche facility, had a higher female workforce compared to those, where no such facility was there.
As a matter of fact, women typically do more work than men, be it agriculture or any other industry. The fact is if they were not part of the Indian economy, our GDP would have plunged further. Yet, most of the work done by them is not recognized. They are exploited and under-valued.
Monster, a job portal, came out with a report last year. It estimated a gender pay gap of 25.4 per cent in the country. It means that median hourly wages offered to a woman in India is 25.4 per cent less than that offered to a man. The gap is higher in the manufacturing sector (34.90 per cent) and information technology sector (34 per cent). Similarly, in legal and marketing, health, social work, education and research sector, the gap is estimated at around 24 per cent. Financial services, communication, logistics sectors have the lowest gap of 17.70 per cent. This is true for the job guarantee scheme, MNREGA, as well.
As far as entrepreneurship is concerned, only 14 per cent women run their own businesses and 80 per cent of these enterprises are run single-handedly. Around 35 per cent of these establishments are engaged in agricultural or dairy businesses while manufacturing and retail sector account for 30 and 18 per cent respectively. The female entrepreneurship index, where India is positioned at 70th position out of 77 countries, suggests lack of networking as a major weakness in the entrepreneurship eco system.
All said and done, it is clear from the report that India has to move away from the traditional mindset that it has been promoting, either through industry conglomerates or through different laws regulating the industry. The report should come as an eye-opener for the bureaucrats and government authorities.
An estimate suggests that bridging the gender gap in work force would increase the country’s growth rate by 6 per cent, something Modi would like to flaunt in the coming few years. But, then, it will need a change in the government policy for increasing the women’s participation rate in the country’s workforce.
The writer, a company secretary, is director, communications, Deepalaya, and can be reached at email@example.com#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)