India struggles to keep women at work

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India has experienced stable economic growth in recent years. However, fewer and fewer women are participating in the labour market.

Out of India’s female working age population, only 25.5% have a job, or are currently looking for a job. The proportion of employed women in Bangladesh is two times higher than that of India. Both Nepal and Sri Lanka also have female labour force participation rates higher than India.

The reason for this low participation is complex and consists of cultural factors, gender discrimination, and lack of resources.

According Shamika Ravi, a researcher at Brookings India, India needs an attitude change in the government to improve the conditions for women. This year’s budget is one sign that this is still missing. For the new fiscal year of 2016-2017, the central government allocated 4.5% of the government spending on women.

Women are lagging behind men when it comes to social indicators such as education, health, and economic mobility, and this year’s budget does not do enough to tackle this inequality.

MGNREGA leading the way

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which delineates the right to work, was enacted by law in 2005, and is giving women access to jobs in rural India.

According to the law, at least one-third of the workers under the program should be women, but official statistics show that the average is just over 50%.

Women are also entitled to equal wage as men, and the work site is required to have day care centres. MGNREGA acknowledges that there are gender differences in India, and that these must be accounted for when women enter the labour market.

Women who work under MGNREGA have said that the income they earn gives them a more important role in the household, and a voice in household decisions.

Research shows that increased female participation under MGNREGA leads to increased school attendance for children, and that both women and children’s health is improved.

MGNREGA still lags behind when it comes to facilitating work that is more appropriate for women, as most of the work is targeted toward fit males.

The work carried out under MGNREGA must be manual labour, which includes digging wells, making irrigation systems, and roadwork.

This work is at times difficult to manage for women, and more gender-specific work would be a good way to improve the gender acknowledgement under MGNREGA.

Increased maternity leave

India recently changed the law for maternity leave, by increasing the leave for women in the private sector from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.

Increased leave will have a positive effect on female wages and labour force participation in the long term, through the improvement of job security for women.

The fear, however, is that the change in the law could lead to increased discrimination against women in the labour market, and therefore reduce female participation further.

Very few women are employed in the formal sector in India today, therefore the law will have minimal effect for most women, who are employed in the informal sector and are not covered by labour laws.

Why is it important to have more female workers?

IMF chief Christine Lagarde believes India could get a 27% net increase in its gross domestic product if equal amounts of women and men participated in the labour market.

Considering the effects female labour force participation also have on women and children’s health and school enrolment, increasing the labour force participation of women should be the first priority of the Indian government.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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