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Boosting the women workforce

Boosting the women workforce

In a country that has managed to achieve a lop-sided sex ratio, the unnaturally fewer number of women happen to contribute to the economy in several unrecognised ways at multiple levels. Beginning with the common menial works, women have consistently and inconspicuously held erect the structure of India's labour force. Their engagement in activities goes a long way in meeting targets for the economy. But, as matters have recently come to light, the role of women in the labour force have been on the decline owing primarily to education and migration, and future projections point to a further skew. As per the findings of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the estimated female labour force participation for women aged 15 years and above in the country during 2004-05 was 42.7 per cent. In 2009-10, it fell to 32.6 per cent, and in 2011-12, it declined to 31.2 per cent. 2017-18 saw a further decline to 23.3 per cent. Although contended that the outcome of the surveys are not comparable due to the different deployment of methodologies, these results, however, depict a glaring decline in the rate of female labour force participation over the years. Believing that factors like higher level of participation of women in education and migration are the possible reasons behind this, it deserves to be universally acknowledged that the participation of women in labour force has no replacement, and thus, any change in the status of this altogether is bound to affect the bigger picture.

Swami Vivekananda famously said what holds tremendous relevance today: "There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on only one wing". Adhering to the cause of up-scaling the socioeconomic status of women is a necessity in today's day and age as skilling women and preparing them to actively and intelligently shoulder the burden of economic growth and over all progress while India surges ahead in the race to become a global economic super power. For a nation that aims to become the third-largest economy of the world by 2030, roping in maximum human resource that India is blessed with is the way forward. The particular endowment of India's demographic dividend could be a massive resource if tapped correctly and skilled and educated appropriately. A Government of India skills gap analysis depicts that by 2022, the country will need an additional 109 million skilled workers in 24 key sectors of the economy. These statistics set the context and highlight the urgent need to enhance the existing skill sets of millions of youth to facilitate their transition from an academic to professional life—to put their learning to practical use and make them competent and confident to be a part of a global workforce. Notwithstanding the abundance of potentially skilful youth, the low female participation in the economy is indeed a major challenge. As per a report by Deloitte "Empowering Women and Girls in India for the Fourth Industrial Revolution", the female labour force participation in India has fallen to 26 per cent in 2018 from 36.7 per cent in 2005. This has been attributed to the lack of access to quality education and underlying social, economic barriers limiting the opportunities for women. On the other hand, a report released by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman titled 'Status of Women in India', in September 2019 says that Narendra Modi government's skills development schemes and initiatives are not benefiting women and special measures are required to ensure the provision of appropriate skills and employment opportunities. This report holds significance as it specifically assesses the impact of various government schemes on women and finds that they are lagging behind men in "acquiring employable skills".

It cannot be emphasised enough that gender equality is the first step towards the empowerment of women—the necessary ingredient for a thriving economy and prospering society. There needs to be a concerted effort by all agencies concerned to help women achieve this collective aim. In comparison to other Asian countries, India lags far behind with respect to the participation of women. Given how India is still an emerging economy, any compromise on this front will cost the economy heavily. Statistics uphold that just one out of five persons in the 15-30 years age bracket entering the labour force is expected to be a female in the five years ending 2023, when India's labour market demography is projected to peak. An internal study conducted by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) reveals that 7 crore additional individuals in the working-age (that is 15-59 years) are expected to enter the labour force by 2023, of which 84.3 per cent or 5.9 crore will be in the age group 15-30 years.

India's female labour force participation rate ranks much lower than other Asian economies in 2019, including Vietnam at 73 per cent, China at 61 per cent, Singapore at 60 per cent, Bangladesh at 36 per cent, and happens to be closer to the estimates in countries such as Lebanon at 24 per cent, Pakistan at 24 per cent, Libya (26 per cent), Tunisia (24 per cent) and Sudan (24 per cent), according to World Bank data. Although, globally, the data shows that the female labour force participation rate (for 15 years and above) has been slowly on the decline in the last decade from 49.09 per cent in 2009 to 48.11 per cent in 2013 and to 47.66 per cent in 2019, the pertinent point is that the 20.1 per cent female labour force participation rate during 2019-23, as projected by NSDC, is higher than 16.4 per cent estimated in PLFS 2017-18 for the age group 15-29 years. While more youth may be expected to be gainfully engaged, it is also speculated that a major shift would happen in the youth population in the coming 10-15 years—the signs of which have already appeared in the age group of 15-19 years. Many female candidates in this age bracket may not be actively in the labour force but instead may opt for higher education, and thus, with the altering pattern of education, female labour force participation rate needs to be watched closely for the 20-34 years age group. 52 per cent of the male entrants and 42.6 per cent of the female entrants in the 15-30 age bracket are projected to be in the age group of 15-20 years, as per the findings of the study. With evolving patterns and changing situations, and considering that migration of women is increasing seen as a sign of development and their empowerment, the movement of large numbers of single women for work or study in other regions indicate the advent of a new order and not necessarily a decline in the participation of women in the labour force measured thus far. What needs to be really done at this juncture is that policies and work environments be made more conducive to encourage greater participation of women across various sectors. The economy must also evolve in tandem to meet their aspirations.

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