India’s demographic dividend, being a nation of young people, puts us at a great
economic advantage over other ageing countries. There exist challenges in reaping
the benefits of this dividend. India’s woeful gender gap in the workplace makes us
much poorer as a nation, economically and socially.
Some statistical data:
About 48.5% of Indians are women, that’s nearly half of our population. The World
Bank says that the share of Indian women above the age of 15 employed in our
workforce is only 25%. It was 34% in 1991 and has been sliding steadily since. In
China, the number is 60%.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), India ranks 121 out of 131
countries in Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP), one of the worst in the world.
Any talk of a demographic dividend is meaningless when one half of the population is
just not participating in the economy.
(i) The National Family and Health Survey reveals that more than half of Indian
women do not even enjoy free mobility; they are not allowed to move out of their
house unaccompanied by a male member.
Even for women who are allowed to work, travelling to the workplace is a
challenge. In many parts of India, there is either no public transport or the quality of
it is so forbidding to women that going to work is not a feasible option.
(ii) Patriarchal mindset: Patriarchy is a social system of privilege in which men are the
primary authority figures, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority,
control of prosperity and authority over women and children.
(iii) Migration and Agricultural factor: As agricultural prospects fade further; a large
part of rural India keeps migrating to urban centres in search of work. This again puts
women at a disadvantage; most often it is men who travel out with women left
behind to tend to children and the elderly.
(iv) Women with children face tremendous discouragement within their family
setups to go out to work, further the absence of any childcare support infrastructure
renders it impossible for mothers to continue full-time work.
(v) Safety in the workplace is another huge issue.
- Need for policy initiatives to empower women as gender gap in India persist even
against the backdrop of economic growth.
- Improvements in labour market prospects have the potential to empower women.
- This will also lead to increase in school enrolment of younger girls.
- Inculcating gender equality in children could go a long way towards ridding society
of regressive mindsets, attitudes, and behaviour.
- Educating Indian children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in that direction.
Decades of conditioning is not easy to undo, particularly in a society as conservative
and regressive as ours. Such a low female labour participation comes at a huge cost,
even to our GDP. The social consequences of a larger assimilation of women into our
workplace is immense. We need women, not just in our boardrooms but on our shop
floors, in our factories and on our workstations. India needs its own MeToo moment,
of a different kind.