The number of working women in India has fallen to record lows in the past two decades. Last month, India surpassed China as the world’s most populous country, prompting analysts to point out the potential benefits of its significant young demographic. However, a major obstacle to realising this potential is the insufficient representation of women in India’s workforce. The BBC’s Arunoday Mukharji reports.
There are many reasons for this. India is still a largely patriarchal society, where women are expected to be primary caregivers at home. Indian women spend eight times the number of hours on unpaid care work compared with men, according to a national time use survey from 2019. The global average is three times. Experts say that safety concerns and not being able to find jobs close to home also prevent women in big cities from joining the workforce.
Official data shows that only 32% of Indian women work after they get married – and most of them are part of the agricultural sector. Ashwini Deshpande, an economics professor and head of the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis at Ashoka University, says that the country needs to create more non-farm opportunities in rural areas so that women can find jobs beyond agricultural work. “If you want to gain from India’s gender dividend, then women need to be productively employed,” she says.
A 2018 McKinsey report estimated that India could add $550bn to its gross domestic product by increasing its female labour force participation by just 10%. Currently, women employees account for less than 20% of India’s manufacturing sector. But some changes are visible, especially in the industrial belt of Hosur in Tamil Nadu. Located just 35km (21 miles) away from the information technology hub Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), Hosur is home to a host of industries and has become an attractive destination for investments.
Gabriel India Ltd – an auto parts company in Hosur – says that more than 20% of the workers in its factories are women. The firm says the move makes sense from a business point of view. “Our internal studies have shown that attrition rates for women are lower,” says Atul Jaggi, president and deputy managing director of Gabriel India. The company provides perks such as on-site accommodation, subsidised food and several training programmes to attract more women workers. “It doesn’t cost more. These are basic facilities which any good organisation should have,” Mr Jaggi says.