Towards higher female work participation in India: what can be done?

Santosh Mehrotra, Professor of Economics, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Sharmistha Sinha


A continuous and sharp decline in the already depressed female labour force participation rate in
India post 2005, particularly in the face of its rapid economic growth raises questions about the
inclusiveness of the growth process. The paper recommends a set of policies based on the
analysis of the nature and trends of female work participation and a brief analysis of the
underlying reasons behind such trends. Women are moving out of the low productivity
agricultural sector, which necessitates an increase in employment opportunities in the nonagricultural
sector, particularly in rural and in semi-urban locations. Improving skills for
employability, especially in manufacturing clusters (which is where the jobs are) located close to
young girls’ rural homes, would help the females to join the labour force if non-agricultural jobs
are growing. To release women from unpaid work in the household to join the paid labour force,
it is essential to improve child care facilities and other basic service facilities, which again calls
for raising the share of public expenditure in some sectors and specific facilities. For instance,
increasing single working women’s housing, making public transport safer, and modifying public
programmes to cater to women’s needs can pave the way for more women to engage and remain
in the labour force, become active participants in the growth process, and thus achieve greater
economic empowerment.

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Suggested citation:

Santosh Mehrotra and Sharmistha Sinha, Towards higher female work participation in India: what can be done?, CSE Working Paper#20, Azim Premji University, January 2019.