Proactive steps needed to get more women into salaried jobs

In the same January-March quarter this year, the share of women engaged in self-employment went up to 41.3 percent from 40.3 percent in the previous quarter.
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.Express illustrations

A crucial way of breaking free from patriarchal chains and boosting growth across the economy—more women with independent, regular sources of income—often goes under-served. In this context, recent data from the government’s Periodic Labour Force Survey should set off alarm bells. During January-March 2024, the share of urban women in regular salaried jobs hit a fresh low at 52.3 percent, down from 53 percent in the October-December 2023 quarter. This is the lowest share of women in wage employment in any quarter of the past six years. When compared to the peak of women’s regular wage employment, at 61.2 percent in the first quarter of 2020-21, this is a major regression.

In the same January-March quarter this year, the share of women engaged in self-employment went up to 41.3 percent from 40.3 percent in the previous quarter. Self-employment, especially for rural women, is a euphemism for unpaid household work or in small family businesses. It is seen as inferior employment to salaried work that assures regular incomes—a stepping stone to an independent life. The National Statistical Office’s data also shows that, while the labour force participation rate among urban women had gone up to a new high of 25.6 percent in the first quarter of the calendar year, it is  still quite low in absolute terms and lower than the rural number.

Lest we think gender disparity in employment is a problem at the bottom of the pyramid, it must be pointed out that women in the upper echelons too do not fare better. After the amendment to the Companies Act in 2013, it has been mandatory to appoint at least one woman director on the boards of companies with an annual turnover of `100 crore or more. Though the legal nudge has increased women’s representation, by 2022 only 18 percent of the Nifty500 companies’ board members were women. To speed up women’s employment, proactive administrative steps are needed. The impact, for example, of the recruitment of a larger number of women by state governments in their police forces has been positive. In the long term, it is a fight to change patriarchal attitudes; but in the short term, data shows the change is too slow for comfort.

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