The current global women in workforce participation rate are under 47% while for men it is 72%. This gender gap in employment is not a good sign for the advancement of the global economic and social environment. Read here to learn more about the challenges faced by the women workforce globally and in India as well.
If economies don’t provide their women, who make up over half of their population, the same rights as males, they will fall behind in the development race. Women benefit from gender equality, but society and the economy also benefit from it because it makes them more robust and dynamic.
Greater numbers of women entering and continuing in the workforce, advancing to management positions, and emerging as intellectual and political leaders are all related to equal treatment of women under the law.
The fact that women have equal legal rights gives their involvement in all aspects of social, economic, and political life an immeasurable power.
How much progress has the world made in addressing gender inequality under the law?
Women in workforce: Global scenario
The past 20 years have witnessed some progress for women in the world of work and in terms of gender equality in society.
Today, more women than ever before are both educated and participating in the workforce, and there is greater awareness that gender equality is of paramount importance in efforts to reduce poverty and boost economic development.
The adoption of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and the resolve of world leaders “to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value” (Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8, target 8.5.) and “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (SDG 5) by 2030 are proof of that awareness.
Yet, despite the progress made thus far and the global commitments to secure further improvement, women’s prospects in the world of work are far from equal to men’s.
- Globally women enjoy only 77% of the legal rights that men do. At the current pace, it would take at least 50 years to approach legal gender equality everywhere.
- Globally, the Covid-19 Pandemic disrupted the participation of the women workforce more than men.
- Despite an increase in women pursuing higher education globally, a gender gap in employment rates remains among highly educated women and men in some countries.
- Unpaid caregiving responsibilities can prevent paid employment opportunities, and this work disproportionally falls to women.
- Globally, only 1.5% of men provide unpaid care on a full-time basis, compared to 21.7% of women. Covid-19 has widened this gap even further.
- The pay parity is also alarming between women and men in the same workforce.
- Among the OECD countries, 2.4 billion women of working age do not have equal economic opportunities and 176 economies maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation.
The past five decades have seen some progress in ensuring gender equality as more countries decided to remove legal barriers for women workforce.
- Women’s participation rates are gradually approaching those of men in many developed countries.
- Much of the progress achieved over the past couple of decades in developed countries can be attributed to the fact that women and men in these countries have near equal educational achievements and women face less restrictive social norms regarding paid work.
- Economies with historically larger legal gender gaps have been catching up, especially since 2000. Economies with the highest growth rates in the Women, Business, and Law score include Bahrain, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates.
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Women in the Workforce in India
India has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. By 2030, India is forecast to be the third-largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S. and China. Millions of Indians are emerging from poverty each year.
Most countries develop faster with women in their workforces which is true for India too. Throughout the 1990s and particularly in the early 2000s which were decades of robust GDP growth, female workforce participation grew, albeit from very low levels.
But the figures are still when it comes to the women workforce in India.
- According to the latest World Bank figures, from 2021, fewer than 1 in 5 Indian women work, at least formally.
- Though most work in India is informal like agricultural or domestic work which often doesn’t get counted.
- Over nearly two decades, India’s female labor participation rate looks like a steady downward curve: From 32% in 2005 to 19% in 2021 – the most recent year for which statistics are available.
As India develops, women are dropping out of its workforce in record numbers. This is happening among rich and poor women, in urban and rural areas across social class, religion, and age groups.
Challenges faced by women in the workforce
Today, women are more literate and educated than ever before. They’re enrolling in schools and colleges in greater numbers and staying in school longer than previous generations did.
But that hasn’t translated into jobs, at least not statistically. Developing countries show the highest ratio of female-to-male unemployment rates across income groups.
- Gender Bias: Women continue to remain underrepresented at every level, starting from entry-level jobs to high-paying roles. This underrepresentation gets worse in senior management positions.
- Insufficient Maternity Leave: During child-rearing years, the unemployment penalty for women is longer. This means that when women take longer leaves, they have a much harder time getting rehired.
- Mental/Physical harassment: About 30-70% of women in different kinds of jobs face unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical harassment.
- Unequal Pay: Research finds that the median salary for women is roughly 22 percent lower than the median salary for men. In India, the Labour Bureau in India has found that in rural areas in the agricultural sector, the daily wage for men is ₹264.05 and ₹205.32 for women. In non-agricultural sects, the average daily wage rate for men is ₹271.17, while for women it is ₹205.90.
- Family Duties: Women are expected and forced to move in and out of employment, depending on their family’s needs. Reasons such as a mother’s responsibility, dividing time between household activities and office, issues created for going on business Tours/training, safety concerns, etc are the few family issues faced by women workforce.
Reforms in laws affecting women’s pay, laws affecting women’s work after having children, constraints on women starting and running a business, gender differences in property and inheritance, etc are needed.
It’s necessary to improve legal equality for keeping the rights of women workforce intact. Major regulations for equal remuneration for work of equal value, allowing women to work at night and in an industrial job in the same way as men, etc need to be implemented.
In India, the government has come up with several initiatives for improving opportunities for women workforce-
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
- Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
- Several State Governments including Karnataka UP have allowed factories to employ women on night shifts.
The freedom to work – by choice, in conditions of dignity, safety, and fairness – is integral to human welfare. Guaranteeing that women have access to this right is an important end in itself.
From an economic perspective, reducing gender gaps in labour force participation could substantially boost global GDP. The regions with the largest gender gaps would see huge growth benefits. Many developed countries would also see their average annual GDP growth increase, which is significant during times of near-zero economic growth.
-Article written by Swathi Satish