Usually, economic growth goes hand in hand with emancipation of women. But data available with the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows otherwise for India. Between 2004 to 2011, when the Indian economy grew at a healthy average of about 7%, there was a decline in female participation in the country’s labour force from over 35% to 25%. It’s a puzzling picture; over the past few decades access to education for Indian women has increased but still they have increasingly stayed away from employment.
The New York Times has analysed the data to link it with age old gender norms in India; in a male dominated society, women are rarely encouraged to seek jobs outside their homes. There are also biases against certain jobs which lead to poor participation of women in the labour force.
But in certain sector like financial services, Indian women lead the charge. While only one in 10 Indian companies are led by women, more than half of them are in the financial sector. Today, women head both the top public and private banks in India.
Another example is India’s aviation sector, 11.7 percent of India’s 5,100 pilots are women, versus 3 percent worldwide. But these successes only represent a small section of women in the country.
India does poorly in comparison to its neighbours despite a more robust economic growth. In comparison to India, women in Bangladesh have increased their participation in the labour market, which is due to the growth of the ready-made garment sector and a push to rural female employment. In 2015, women comprised of 43% of the labour force in Bangladesh. The rate has also increased in Pakistan, albeit from a very low starting point, while participation has remained relatively stable in Sri Lanka. Myanmar with 79% and Malaysia with 49% are also way ahead of India.
Research done by ILO shows that there has been a some increase of women employment in urban areas, rural India shows the exact opposite trend since 2004. ILO attributes this to three factors: increasing educational enrolment, improvement in earnings of male workers that discourages women’s economic participation, and the lack of employment opportunities at certain levels of skills and qualifications discouraging women to seek work.
But no study on Indian women is complete without considering their contribution to household work which goes without any national accounting.