Low female labour force participation

AUG 25

Mains   > Society   >   Role of women   >   Labour reforms


  • The female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India has increased to 25.1%, as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) covering June 2020 to July 2021.


  • Labour force participation rate is a measure of the proportion of a country’s working age population that engages actively in the labour market, either by working or by looking for work.
  • Female workforce participation rate in the country has shown a precipitous and persistent decline since 1987.
  • Census 2011 estimates the workforce participation rate for females to be 25.52 % for the country, 30.3 % for rural areas and 15.44 % for urban areas.


  • U-shaped hypothesis:
    • The decline in the 1980s and 90s can be explained by the hypothesis. But despite experiencing the structural changes such as decline in fertility rates and expansion of women’s education, Indian FLFPR is on a downward track.
  • Gendered division of labour:
    • The cultural norms place the primary responsibility of routine domestic tasks on women. This limits their ability to participate in the labour market.
    • India’s female-to-male ratio of time devoted to unpaid care work stands at 9.83, which is the third highest in the world.
  • Glass ceiling effect:
    • It represents a barrier that prohibits women from advancing toward the top of a hierarchical corporation, regardless of their quali?cations and achievements. There are only 29% women in senior management positions worldwide.
  • Safety concerns:
  • Reluctance to recruit:
    • As per the India Skills Report 2022, as many as 55.44% of women were considered highly employable, but the number of females being employed is lesser than that of males. This can be a result of 3Ms: marriage, maternity and mobility.
  • Poor working conditions:
    • Up to 91% of women in paid jobs are in the informal sector. Low wages, lack of social security, poor working conditions here discourage women from seeking employment.
  • Differential pay:
    • The gender pay gap in India is among the widest in the world, with women, on an average, earning 21% of the income of men, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021.
  • Digital divide:
    • Only 25% of females in India own a mobile phone compared to 41% of men. Moreover, only 35% of Indian women use the internet, reducing their opportunities.
  • Social conditioning:
    • The nurturing in a casteist-patriarchal society like India does not factor in the elements of gender sensitivity. Women are usually considered second-class citizens and subordinate to men, which influence labour mobility.
  • Stereotypical gender biases:
    • Women tend to be side-lined to occupations perceived as unskilled and “low-value”, particularly in care jobs.
  • Mechanisation:
    • Machines in agriculture, like seed drills and threshers, have reduced manual jobs that were mostly performed by women.
    • India’s manufacturing sector has not created labour intensive jobs that could be taken up by women who have been displaced from agriculture.
  • Inaccuracies in calculation:
    • There are serious inaccuracies in recording women’s contribution to economic activity. For instance, the methods used to measure GDP are criticised for excluding the unpaid work done by women. Hence, the dignity of women’s efforts remains unrecognised.



  • Article 14: Equality before law for women.
  • Article 15 (3): The State shall make any special provision in favour of women and children.
  • Article 39 (D): equal pay for equal work for both men and women
  • Article 39 A: To promote justice, on a basis of equal opportunity and to provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or scheme or in any other way to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
  • Article 42: The State to make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
  • Article 51(A)(e): To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.


  • Code on Wages, 2019:
    • It subsumes the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. It provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for same work or work of similar nature without any discrimination.
  • Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017:
    • It provides for enhancement in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks and provisions for mandatory crèche facility in establishments having 50 or more employees.
  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
    • Aims to provide every woman, irrespective of her age or employment status, a safe and secure working environment free from all forms of harassment.
    • Provides for the establishment of committees to provide a forum for filing complaints to facilitate fast redressal of the grievances
  • Right to education Act


  • National Commission for Women
  • Network of women Industrial Training institutes and National Skill Training Institutes for Women
  •  Mahila Shakti Kendras (MSK)


  • Mission Shakti:
    • An integrated women empowerment programme aimed at strengthening interventions for women safety, security and empowerment. 
    • ‘Mission Shakti’ has two sub-schemes - 'Sambal' and 'Samarthya':
      • "Sambal" sub-scheme is for safety and security of women. It consists of schemes of One Stop Centre (OSC), Women Helpline (WHL), Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) and Nari Adalats
      • "Samarthya" sub-scheme is for empowerment of women. It consists of erstwhile schemes of Ujjwala, Swadhar Greh and Working Women Hostel
  • Nirbhaya Fund:
    • Post-2012 Nirbhaya case, a dedicated non lapsable fund was set up in 2013 with the focus on implementing the initiatives aimed at improving the security and safety of women in India.
  • Skill India mission
  • MUDRA Yojana
  • Sector specific schemes:
    • Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN) Scheme and SERB – POWER to mitigate gender disparity in science and engineering research.


  • Gender mainstreaming in the Budget 2022 by 11%
  • Acknowledging women’s efforts through Nari Shakti Puraskar, Rajya Mahila Samman etc.
  • Draft national policy for women, 2016
  • National Career Service (NCS) Project which comprises a digital portal that provides a nation-wide online platform for jobseekers and employers for job matching.


An increase in female labour force participation by 10% points could add USD 770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. Hence, urgent measures are needed to boost female labour force participation. This can be attained through:

  • Establish gender-based employment targets for urban public works by government.
  • Offering wage subsidies, especially to MSMEs for hiring women, and financial support to cover costs of maternity leave and creche facilities.
  • Tax benefits to private companies that provide employment to a significant proportion of women, say 30 percent women workers.
  • Governments can consider increasing targets for procurement from women-led enterprises.
  • Increasing public investment in the care sector to redistribute the burden of unpaid work and increase demand for care workers.
  • Incentive-based, course-wise gender-based targets for skill training under Skill India mission
  • Development of gender-sensitive infrastructure like separate washrooms at workplaces and hostels.
  • Design flexible, hybrid work policies to enable work from home for women.
  • Stringent action against sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.
  • Strengthen microfinance system to ensure adequate credit supply to female entrepreneurs.


Q. There is a paradoxical trend of India’s economic development not getting reflected in its female labour force participation rate. Analyse the reasons for this and suggest measures to improve the situation?