India and its economy have made tremendous progress in recent years, with the GDP showing a 4X growth from the 90s till mid-2010s. However, women, by a fair distance, have not been able to grow and progress with the Indian economy. The female labour force participation rate stands at just 27 per cent when compared to the 96 per cent for men. With a global average of 49 per cent, India lacks far behind in terms of female participation in the workforce. There are several factors that influence the dismal rate of the participation of women at workplaces.

India’s deeply-rooted patriarchal norms restrict the mobility and freedom of women to live the life of their own and make their own decisions.

The burden of household work which is not in favor of women and unlikely to change any time in future.
Huge scarcity of gender-balanced and equally-paid jobs as compared to men.

It is important that women get the necessary access to jobs that pay them the same amount as received by their male counterparts. It’s a primary human right and not something that must be demanded. Women today are very ambitious and their lack of participation cannot be attributed to a lack of will or interest. Whether it’s urban or rural India, many women aspire to go and work if they get jobs that pay them well. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP can grow and become strong at a rapid rate if the subsequent participation of women in the workforce is increased. It only makes it imperative and logical that women who are talented can contribute towards a strong economy and a bright future for the country.

With the advent of digital technology, work practices are getting refined for good. As the businesses adopt the latest cutting-edge technology and solutions, the way people do their jobs and meet the goals and objectives of the organisations are getting changed. The time is ripe to rewrite the rules and reduce the gender disparities towards ensuring holistic participation of women and rewrite the rules of working women in India.

Why work distribution and responsibilities need a rework?

According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, men only do 12 per cent of unpaid work as compared to the staggering 66 per cent done by women. It is a global phenomenon and affects women across the globe as they get burdened with numerous responsibilities. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women spend close to eight hours of doing unpaid work as compared to one hour of unpaid work by men. Women also get engaged in a lot of care work for their children, elderly and end up spending almost five hours worth of their day doing that.

Women who spend a lot of time doing unpaid and care work will automatically have less freedom to make their decisions and live life according to their terms. In rural areas, young girls are often burdened with household chores and are not allowed to go for higher education. Also, there are several preconceived notions that in families where male member earns decently, the woman must not think of working. These are significant factors that further push women towards a lot of unpaid work and curtail their freedom to think and live an independent life.

There are women-centric work laws in India but often they paint a wrong picture or end up stereotyping an issue. The fact that Indian women receive 26 weeks of paid leave as part of their maternity benefits and nothing similar for men, highlights how women are primary caregivers. These laws, too, are available at only major corporations where women receiving such benefits are not many. Besides the significant gender wage gap, women are also left behind when it comes to promotions. Men, in most cases, do not try to remain away from work due to the fear of missing out and lagging behind their counterparts at the workplace. Policies must be redefined so that the caregiving responsibilities are a bit balanced to tilt it in the favor of working women in India.

Need for social security and protection

According to the “The Future of Work in India: Inclusion, Growth and Transformation” report published in 2018, around 51 per cent of the Indian workforce is self-employed. Casual labourers account for 33.5 per cent and regular, salaried workers are 15.6 per cent of the overall workforce. The national labour regulations do not cover all the above workers who form a significant portion of the workforce. At the same time, many women in India are a part of the informal economy as compared to professional jobs. Around 60 per cent of the Indian unregulated domestic work sector is occupied by women.

With the changing trends in businesses and economy, the world is witnessing a rising trend of independent contracting, gig economy, temporary work and platform work. These jobs offer a lot of advantages like reduced barriers to entry, lower transaction costs, cheaper access and flexibility. However, these jobs do not cover various aspects of social security and benefits that are given to employees in permanent jobs. There is a need to make better provisions for both social security and protecting the interests of those involved as independent workers. It can be given directly to individuals who work independently rather than routing it through their employees.

Need for a safer workplace for women

The 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act that prevents, prohibits and offers redressal is a welcome measure but hardly known by those who must know it. Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) conducted a survey in 2018, in which it was revealed that 84 per cent of organisations were unaware of this act. While policies would be available in many organisations, steady implementation becomes important. It is all the more crucial for the gig work economy that is already not a standard economy and doesn’t offer any security or protection of the rights of the freelancers. The rules and laws governing their interests must be created after all the gig economy is anticipated to grow rapidly in the coming years.

Safety, on the whole, remains a major issue for working women in India, besides the societal norms that restrict their free will and mobility. Many women in India still need to seek the permission of their husband or elders before making any decision or venturing out of the home. With the environment in most Indian states not safer for women, it further leads to decreased participation of women at work and other activities outside their house.

Need for diversification of women in other industries

Working women in India have been predominantly found in large numbers in sectors like healthcare, education, social work, to name a few. These industries do not offer high-paying jobs despite working patterns remaining at par with fellow industries. The participation of women in high-paying industries and jobs like IT and financial services remain very low. The jobs that are highly-skilled see 8 out of 10 positions filled by men. According to the 2018 ORF-WEF research study, 36 per cent of the organisations do not look forward to hiring female employees as they prefer male employees. This is in contrast to the perception that the participation of female employees in the workforce is seeing a rise. There are several challenges ahead in the form of uneven distribution of high-skilled jobs, occupational segregation, and gender preferences of organisations. The gender disparity is further visible in the choice of higher education. Boys are always groomed for higher studies so that they have better job prospects. There is a need to push women towards obtaining better degrees and subsequently taking up higher-paying jobs. They can also become role models and motivate the next generation, to eventually improve the situation.

Need for balanced wages

The 1976 India’s Equal Remuneration Act clearly states that the same or similar work must have equal pay for men and women. However, the disparity in the wages still continue and increase further with the factors like experience and age, which de-motivates women to continue working. Several countries around the world still have a significant gender pay gap, but most have managed to narrow it down. Iceland was the first country in the world in 2018 to make a mandate on the gender and ethnicity-based pay gap. Any organisation with over 25 employees requires auditing its accounts every three years to receive certifications from the Government. Such measures could really pave way for reducing the gender-based pay disparity in the future.

However, with the growing influence of the gig economy, the problem might not solve. According to the “India Wage Report, Wage policies for decent work and inclusive growth” report published in 2018, the highly-experienced men who work as freelancers earn twice the money as compared to their female counterparts. The issues are far from being addressed and the situation could take a lot of time and steady interventions to improve.

Need for a better inclusivity of women

Traditionally, the planning for most of the important, facilities, products and services have been designed keeping men in mind. Whether it was seat belts or medicines. It has been proven that seatbelts are less safe for women as according to studies, 47 per cent female drivers are more likely to get injured in a crash. Women and men have different anatomies and responses to certain medical conditions. Despite this fact, medicines have been usually tested on males, leaving women at risks. The importance of women in the consumer world has largely been restricted to cosmetics and there is a growing need to think beyond that. There lies a bright opportunity for course correction and make future products and services women-oriented.

Currently, only 14 per cent of working women in India run businesses, which can be attributed to the fact that there is a lack of access to finance and resources. The establishment of the Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) by Niti Aayog could be termed as the step in the right direction. The participation of women in the Indian parliament is around 10-15 per cent which is a cause of concern again. The situation will only improve if more women are posted at leadership positions. It will help make the voices of other women heard and inspire the next generation of women to become leaders and bring about the much-needed change. Social media and its immense potential can be harnessed in the right manner to bring a mind-shift change.

What the future holds for working women in India

As the trends in the business world change, the gig economy, which is on the rise, can be a great opportunity for women to contribute their valuable skills while at the same time retaining flexibility. With the changing business patterns, non-routine tasks will require better skills like listening, interpretation, problem-solving, communication, etc. Women have been traditionally known to be better listeners, which has been further validated through a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to the study, women were found to be better than men when it comes to problem-solving in teams. This was proved in all of the 52 countries that were surveyed. This makes women well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Inclusion has been spoken for a very long time and there can’t be a better opportunity to implement it whole-heartedly.

To conclude, there is nothing that could stop women from breaking the social norms, shedding off inhibitions and standing at par with men in any of the male-dominated industries. However, for that to happen, working women in India must be first the given the chance to occupy the same space as men at the workplaces.

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