Unlocking Potential: Towards Gender Inclusive Urban Livelihoods

Author: Garima Agarwal | Abhisikha Das

By 2030, India’s urban population is projected to surpass 600 million. With 7-8 million youth entering the labour force each year, India is positioned to benefit significantly from its demographic dividend. However, the full potential of India's workforce remains unrealized among women. Despite structural improvements for women, such as declining fertility rates, rising education levels, and better nutrition and sanitation, the Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) has only increased by 9.5 percentage points from 2017-18 to 2021-22 after decades of decline. The current rate of 37% (PLFS 2022-2023, PIB) indicates significant room for improvement.

To harness this potential, it is crucial to understand FLFPR trends and the underlying factors. The data shows that the increase is mainly due to higher participation among rural women, primarily in agriculture or as unpaid helpers, while urban participation remains low. This disparity highlights the need for an urban-specific focus on women's work patterns and motivations. Although cities contribute 60% of India’s GDP, only 25.4% of females aged 15 years and above in urban areas participate in the labour force, compared to 74.5% of males.

Addressing this issue requires a gender-responsive approach to creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. Several factors influence women's participation in the labour force, including economic development, education, training, capacity building, fertility rates, domestic labour, access to childcare, and other supportive services. These factors are intertwined with societal norms and cultural contexts, forming complex ‘push and pull’ dynamics that cannot be overlooked.

One critical aspect affecting women's work participation is what we measure as work. Women in India and many developing countries engage in a wide range of unpaid work, both economic (e.g., working on farms or family enterprises) and care/domestic work. Despite the economic contributions of the former, these women are neither paid nor recognised as workers. Improved data collection has highlighted an increase in unpaid women workers from 31.7% in 2017-18 to 37% in 2022-23, but much of women's work remains unaccounted for.

Women’s disproportionate care burden, such as taking care of children and the elderly and managing domestic duties, is often not considered ‘work.’ This invisible care work not only supports other household members' participation in the labour force but also restricts women's ability to engage in economically productive work. On average, women spend around 7.5 hours daily on care work, compared to men's 2.8 hours.

Another crucial factor is the quality of work available to women in the labour force. Most women are engaged in informal, low-skill, low-pay work, exposing them to exploitation, poor working conditions, limited mobility, and a higher risk of violence, thereby increasing their vulnerabilities. Women often work out of necessity and leave the labour force as soon as their household's economic condition improves slightly. This not only acts as a barrier to women's entry into the workforce but also reduces the retention rate of those already working.

From a policy perspective, addressing these issues requires viewing urban livelihood through a gender lens. This includes recognizing the care burden of women, socio-economic push and pull factors, and the quality of available jobs. While women-centric industries should be leveraged for job creation, diversifying women's job opportunities are equally important to ensure suitable, quality, and dignified employment. Challenges in male-dominated industries go beyond gender norms and societal constraints; often, policy requirements inadvertently create a male-centric default. For example, bus driving is predominantly male-dominated, and state transport corporations’ hiring criteria, such as a 3-year Heavy Motor Vehicle license and a height requirement of 160 cms., inherently exclude many women, perpetuating gender disparity.

With an expected migration rate rise to around 40% by 2030, the increase in urban growth will largely result from migration. 'City-maker' migrants and their work patterns will play a critical role in shaping the future of our productive resources. Despite women comprising almost half the population, they currently contribute only 18% to our GDP. Forward-looking policies can provide the necessary impetus to increase female labour force participation, leading to a more equitable future.





Published on 
Tuesday, 11 June 2024

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