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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 22, New Delhi, May 15, 2021

The Need of Women Centric Employment Policies in India | Sonam Arora

Friday 14 May 2021

by Sonam Arora

Women’s empowerment by way of enhancing their participation in education and employment has remained a key area of policy discourse across the globe including G7 countries. The subject has gathered more attention ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Indian economy. It has not only aggravated the gender bias but also put a large number of women at the brink of losing hopes of an economic survival in the post pandemic era. Women accounted for 10.7% of the workforce in 2019-20 but suffered 13.9% of the job losses in the first month of the lockdown shock in 2020. According to centre for monitoring Indian economy, urban women participate much lesser in the workforce than rural even though they are better educated and enjoy a higher probability of regular employment. Moreover, the impact of economic shocks on younger women is worse than the rest of the women. (Vyas, 2020) The working paper from Azim Premji University titled “Down and Out? The Gendered Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on India’s Labour Market” points out that women are seven times more likely to lose work during the national lockdown and eleven times more likely to not return to work after a job loss. Clearly, the catastrophes of economic downturn are severe for women as a section of the society.

Educational attainment and economic participation are two of the four dimensions of World Economic Forum’s global gender gap report. With a drop by 28 spots and being one of the worst performers in South Asia, India has been ranked 140th among 156 nations in 2021. On one hand, gender parity in the overall Indian higher education system reached 1.0 in 2018-19. On the other, female participation in labour stood at only 17.5% in 2017-18 and only increased slightly to 18.6% in 2018-19 as compared to 55.5% for their male counterparts for 2017-18 and 2018-19 (GoI, 2020). In spite of huge investments and increasing access at all levels of school and college education, India could not reap the multiplier effects of education on employment.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated gender inequality especially in formal employment because participation of women in employment (paid work) in high-growth periods was declining and they bear a disproportionate burden of care economy (unpaid work). According to the time use survey of 2019, 57.3% males were engaged in employment and related activities while the proportion was only 18.4% for females. And 53.2% of participants were engaged in the unpaid domestic services of which the proportion of females was higher at 81.2% compared to 26l.1% for males (GoI, 2019). The precarious balancing act of managing household chores and work responsibilities leads to a greater exploitation of women as a human resource (Arora, 2020). This means in order to transfer women from unpaid work to paid work the country needs women centric employment initiatives. The launch of the first all-women Amazon VCS centre and job title “stay-at-home mom” by Linkedin are two recent initiatives in favour of women. Since flexible options of working from home provide an opportunity to a lot of women who are either deprived or drop out of work, these initiatives embark a new era in the Indian labour market.

Women constitute a significant proportion of the labour force and an important role in boosting economic growth. India is in the phase of demographic dividend where the share of working-age population is particularly high which can propel per capita growth rates through labour force participation, savings and investment effects. But if women stay out of the labour force, the effects will be much weaker and India could run up labour shortages in key sectors of the economy. It was estimated that per capita income could be 10 per cent higher by 2020 and 20 per cent higher by 2030 than in the baseline scenario if India’s gender participation gap in the labour force could be halved (Kapsos, Silberman, & Bourmpoula, 2014). With the rising number of women giving up paid work due to added household pressure is not productive at both micro and macro levels. At micro level, the educated talent goes unaccounted leaving behind a large surplus labour that could have been utilised economically. At macro level, skilled individuals are productive factors and impact productivity, efficiency and returns leading to loss of aggregate growth. If women keep withdrawing and there are no timely policy interventions to bring them back into work and create enough work opportunities for unemployed then, it will cost the Indian economy a significant part of its GDP potential. Rising joblessness and falling labour force participation rates are lethal for the growth trajectory. Thus, we need comprehensive employment policies that are women centric and target creation of enough and decent work opportunities in the post-pandemic period.

(Author: Sonam Arora is a Ph. D. Scholar, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi, India 110016, Email: sonamarora[at]


  • Arora, S. (2020). Correlates of gender bias and formal employment in India: Insights for quick revival after Covid-19 pandemic. Manpower Journal (Special Issue: Covid-10 and the economy).
  • GoI. (2020). PLFS 2018-19. Delhi: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • GoI. (2019). Time Use in India-2019. Delhi: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • Kapsos, S., Silberman, A., & Bourmpoula, E. (2014). Why is female labour force participation declining so sharply in India? ILO Research Paper .
  • Vyas, M. (2020). Female workforce shrinks in economic shocks. Retrieved 05 09, 2021, from Centre for monitoring Indian economy:
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