Ambedkar said, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”. Today, India aims to be an economic superpower with the fastest growing economy, hence the case for change to improve women labour force participation has never been stronger. According to the World Bank, India ranks 120 amongst 131 countries in female labour force participation rates. It is no more just a debate about social equality and women’s independence, but about economic progress as well.
In India, women constitute 48.5% of the total population however 96% of working women are employed in the informal sector.
India’s female labour force participation rose to 31% when we started reforms in 1991. It then dropped abysmally low to 19% and it is now up to 26%, which is less than half of China’s 60%. As per the research conducted by McKinsey in 2015, statistics reveal that India can increase its 2025 gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at $4.83 trillion, by anywhere between 16% and 60% by increasing women participation in the labour market.
At the same time, no single policy measure can improve the outcomes for women in India. When The Maternity Benefit Act was amended in 2017 to increase maternity leave entitlement from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children, it had two objectives—prevent declining women labour force participation and improve the quality of labour market opportunities.
However, good intentions don’t always make good laws. While seemingly reformist, by placing the responsibility of providing benefits solely on the employer, it turned the tide and woman participation in the labour force further slumped.
Manufacturing (estimated at 23,266 lakh), education (estimated at 14,494 lakh) and retail (estimated at 12,450 lakh) are the top three sectors with the highest number of female workforce participation in India and, keeping in mind the amendments of the Maternity Benefit Act, it can lead to significant job losses.
Source: Financial Express