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Women Employment in India

India's economy has undergone a substantial transformation since the country's independence in 1947.
Agriculture now accounts for only one-third of the gross domestic product (!"#$ down from %9 percent in
19%&$ and a wide range of modern industries and support ser'ices now e(ist. In spite of these changes$
agriculture continues to dominate employment$ employing two-thirds of all wor)ers. India faced economic
problems in the late 19*&s and early 199&s that were e(acerbated by the "ersian ulf +risis. ,tarting in
199-$ India began to implement trade liberali.ation measures. /he economy has grown-the !" growth rate
ranged between % and 7 percent annually o'er the period and considerable progress has been made in
loosening go'ernment regulations$ particularly restrictions on pri'ate businesses. !ifferent sectors of
economy ha'e different e(periences about the impact of the reforms. In a country li)e India$ producti'e
employment is central to po'erty reduction strategy and to bring about economic e0uality in the society. 1ut
the results of unfettered operation of mar)et forces are not always e0uitable$ especially in India$ where some
groups are li)ely to be sub2ected to disad'antage as a result of globali.ation. 3omen constitute one such
'ulnerable group.
,ince the times immemorial$ worth of the wor) done or ser'ices rendered by women has not been
recogni.ed. India is a multifaceted society where no generali.ation could apply to the entire nation's 'arious
regional$ religious$ social$ and economic groups. 4e'ertheless$ certain broad circumstances in which Indian
women li'e affect the ways they participate in the economy. Indian society is e(tremely hierarchical with
'irtually e'eryone ran)ed relati'e to others according to their caste (or caste-li)e group#$ class$ wealth$ and
power. /his ran)ing e'en e(ists in areas where it is not openly ac)nowledged$ such as certain business
settings. /hough specific customs 'ary from region to region within the country$ there are different standards
of beha'ior for men and women that carry o'er into the wor) en'ironment. 3omen are e(pected to be
chaste and especially modest in all actions that may constrain their ability to perform in the wor)place on an
e0ual basis with men. Another related aspect of life in India is that women are generally confined to home
thus restricting their mobility and face seclusion. /he women face constraints beyond those already placed on
them by other hierarchical practices. /hese cultural rules place some Indian women$ particularly those of
lower caste$ in a parado(ical situation5 when a family suffers economically$ people often thin) that a woman
should go out and wor)$ yet at the same time the woman's participation in employment outside the home is
'iewed as 6slightly inappropriate$ subtly wrong$ and definitely dangerous to their chastity and womanly
'irtue6. 3hen a family reco'ers from an economic crisis or attempts to impro'e its status$ women may be
)ept at home as a demonstration of the family's morality and as a symbol of its financial security. As in many
other countries$ wor)ing women of all segments of Indian society faces 'arious forms of discrimination
including se(ual harassment. 7'en professional women find discrimination to be pre'alent5 two-thirds of the
women in one study felt that they had to wor) harder to recei'e the same benefits as comparably employed
A section of Indian women--the elite and the upper middle class-- ha'e gained by the e(posure to the global
networ). 8ore women are engaged in business enterprises$ in international platforms li)e the Inter-
"arliamentary 9nion$ and ha'e greater career opportunities as a result of international networ). :reer
mo'ement of goods and capital is helpful to this section. 1ut most women continue to remain marginali.ed as
they are generally employed in a chain of wor) and seldom allowed independent charge of her 2ob. ,haring of
responsibility at wor) place or ta)ing independent decisions is still a remote possibility for them. 7conomic
independence of women is important as it enhances their ability to ta)e decisions and e(ercise freedom of
choice$ action. 8any of the wor)ingwomen$ who control their own income$ do contribute towards the
economic needs of family as and when re0uired. /hey often participate in discussions at their wor) place and
their 'iews are gi'en due weightage before any final decision. 3or)ingwomen do use and spend their income
at their own sweet will but sometimes permission of the husband becomes necessary for the purpose.
;owe'er when it comes to ma)ing in'estments$ they often lea'e it to their husband or other male member of
the family to in'est on their behalf. 8any of them do not ta)e decision e'en in case of important
in'estments$ li)e$ life insurance$ national sa'ing schemes or other ta( sa'ing in'estments. 3or)ingwomen do
feel concerned about the economic needs of the family but when not consulted in such matters$ they regret
being ignored especially when they contribute monetarily towards economic well being of the family. After
globali.ation women are able to get more 2obs but the wor) they get is more casual in nature or is the one
that men do not prefer to do or is left by them to mo'e to higher or better 2obs. lobali.ation has indeed
raised hopes of women for a better and ele'ated status arising out of increased chances to wor) but$ at the
same time$ it has put them in a highly contradictory situation where they ha'e the label of economically
independent paid wor)ers but are not able to en2oy their economic liberty in real sense of the term. India is
the first among countries to gi'e women e0ual franchise and has a highly credible record with regard to the
enactment of laws to protect and promote the interests of women$ but women continue to be denied
economic$ social and legal rights and pri'ileges. /hough they are considered to be e0ual partners in progress$
yet they remain sub2ected to repression$ marginalisation and e(ploitation. It has been ad'ocated by many
researchers (Amartya ,en$ 199&# that independent earning opportunities reduce the economic dependence of
woman on men and increase her bargaining power in the family. /his bargaining power depends on the
nature of wor) she is employed in. 1ut the income earning acti'ities increase the wor)load of a woman
unless the man accepts an increased share in domestic wor). ,ince globali.ation is introducing technological
inputs$ women are being marginali.ed in economic acti'ities$ men traditionally being offered new scopes of
learning and training. +onse0uently$ female wor)ers are 2oining the informal sector or casual labor force
more than e'er before. :or instance$ while new rice technology has gi'en rise to higher use of female labor$
the increased wor)-load for women is in operations that are unrecorded$ and often unpaid$ since these fall
within the category of home production acti'ities. /he wea)er sections$ especially the women$ are denied the
physical care they deser'e. /here is$ thus$ hardly any ability for the ma2ority of Indian women to do 'aluable
functioning< the 6capability6 to choose from alternati'es is conspicuous by absence.
Although most women in India wor) and contribute to the economy in one form or another$ much of their
wor) is not documented or accounted for in official statistics. 3omen plow fields and har'est crops while
wor)ing on farms$ women wea'e and ma)e handicrafts while wor)ing in household industries$ women sell
food and gather wood while wor)ing in the informal sector. Additionally$ women are traditionally responsible
for the daily household chores (e.g.$ coo)ing$ fetching water$ and loo)ing after children#. Although the
cultural restrictions women face are changing$ women are still not as free as men to participate in the formal
economy. In the past$ cultural restrictions were the primary impediments to female employment now
howe'er< the shortage of 2obs throughout the country contributes to low female employment as well. /he
Indian census di'ides wor)ers into two categories5 6main6 and 6marginal6 wor)ers. 8ain wor)ers include
people who wor)ed for = months or more during the year$ while marginal wor)ers include those who wor)ed
for a shorter period. 8any of these wor)ers are agricultural laborers. 9npaid farm and family enterprise
wor)ers are supposed to be included in either the main wor)er or marginal wor)er category$ as appropriate.
3omen account for a small proportion of the formal Indian labor force$ e'en though the number of female
main wor)ers has grown faster in recent years than that of their male counterparts.
,ince Indian culture hinders women's access to 2obs in stores$ factories$ and the public sector$ the informal
sector is particularly important for women. 8ore women may be in'ol'ed in undocumented or 6disguised6
wage wor) than in the formal labor force. /here are estimates that o'er 9& percent of wor)ingwomen are
in'ol'ed in the informal sector and not included in$ official statistics. /he informal sector includes 2obs such as
domestic ser'ant$ small trader$ artisan$ or field laborer on a family farm. 8ost of these 2obs are uns)illed and
low paying and do not pro'ide benefits to the wor)er. Although such 2obs are supposed to be recorded in the
census$ undercounting is li)ely because the boundaries between these acti'ities and other forms of household
wor) done by women are often clouded thus$ the actual labor force participation rate for women is li)ely to
be higher than that which can be calculated from a'ailable data. 3omen wor)ing in the informal sector of
India's economy are also susceptible to critical financial ris)s. "articularly 'ulnerable are the poorest of the
poor. ,hould they become ill$ lose their 2ob$ or be unable to continue wor)ing$ they and their families may fall
into debt and find themsel'es in the depths of po'erty. At ris) are millions of poor who depend on the income
generated by one or more women in their household. /hese women do not ha'e regular salaried employment
with welfare benefits li)e wor)ers in the organi.ed sector of the labor mar)et. :emale wor)ers tend to be
younger than males. According to the -&&1 census$ the a'erage age of all female wor)ers was >>.=
compared with the male a'erage of >=.%./hese data are reported by local employment offices that register
the number of people loo)ing for wor). /he accuracy of$ these data is 0uestionable because many
unemployed people may not register at these offices if there are no percei'ed benefits to registering. In
addition$ the offices operate more e(tensi'ely in urban areas$ thus li)ely undercounting unemployment in
rural areas. ?ne would e(pect that as cultural impediments to wor) decrease$ younger women would be the
ones entering the wor)force< older women who ha'e ne'er wor)ed in the formal sector are not li)ely to start
wor)ing later in life. /hroughout the economy$ women tend to hold lower-le'el positions than men e'en when
they ha'e sufficient s)ills to perform higher-le'el 2obs. @esearchers ha'e estimated that female agricultural
laborers were usually paid 4& to =& percent of the male wage. 7'en when women occupy similar positions
and ha'e similar educational le'els$ they earn 2ust *& percent of what men do$ though this is better than in
most de'eloping countries. /he public sector hires a greater share of women than does the pri'ate sector$
but wages in the public sector are less egalitarian despite laws re0uiring e0ual pay for e0ual wor)./here is
e'idence that suggests that technological progress sometimes has a negati'e impact on women's
employment opportunities. 3hen a new technology is introduced to automate specific manual labor$ women
may lose their 2obs because they are often responsible for the manual duties. :or instance$ one 'illage
irrigated its fields through a buc)et system in which women were 'ery acti'e. 3hen the 'illage replaced the
manual irrigation system with a tube well irrigation system$ women lost their 2obs. 8any other e(amples
e(ist where manual tas)s such as wheat grinding and weeding are replaced by wheat grinding machines$
herbicides$ and other modern technologies. /hese e(amples are not meant to suggest that women would be
better off with the menial 2obs rather they illustrate how women ha'e been pushed out of traditional
occupations. 3omen may not benefit from 2obs created by the introduction of new technology. 4ew 2obs
(e.g.$ wheat grinding machine operator# usually go to men$ and it is e'en rare for women to be employed in
the factories producing such e0uipment. 4ational ,ample ,ur'ey data e(emplify this trend. ,ince the 197&s$
total female self-employment and regular employment ha'e been decreasing as a proportion of total
employment in rural areas$ while casual labor has been increasing (4,,?$ 1994#. ?ther data reinforce the
conclusion that employment options for female agricultural wor)ers ha'e declined$ and that many women
see) casual wor) in other sectors characteri.ed by low wages and low producti'ity. ?ther agricultural wor)
includes wor)ers in'ol'ed with li'estoc)$ forestry$ fishing and hunting$ plantations$ orchards$ and related
7'en if a woman is employed$ she may not ha'e control o'er the money she earns$ though this money often
plays an important role in the maintenance of the household. In Indian culture women are e(pected to
de'ote 'irtually all of their time$ energy$ and earnings to their family. 8en$ on the other hand$ are e(pected
to spend time and at least some of their earnings on acti'ities outside the household. @esearch has shown
that women contribute a higher share of their earnings to the family and are less li)ely to spend it on
themsel'es. @esearch has suggested that as the share of the family income contributed by woman increases$
so does the li)elihood that she will manage this income. ;owe'er$ the e(tent to which women retain control
o'er their own income 'aries from household to household and region to region. 8any women still sought
their husbands' permission when they wanted to purchase something for themsel'es. In northern India$
where more stringent cultural restrictions are in place$ it is li)ely that few women control family finances.
+onditions of wor)ing women in India ha'e impro'ed considerably in the recent years. Ironically$ despite the
impro'ement in their status$ they still find themsel'es dependent on men. It is because of the fact that man
in patriarchal society has always wielded economic independence and power to ta)e decision. ,ince the
wor)ing woman earns an independent income in the same patriarchal set-up$ where the basic infrastructure
of society has hardly changed$ though her own role within the same structure is passing through a
transitional phase$ it is but natural that she would remain 'ulnerable to e(ploitation e'en in her economically
independent state. ,ociety perhaps yet needs to accord due recognition to women to ta)e the lead role and
women$ at the same time< need to be oriented 'igorously towards assuming this role in the society.
AAA! I4!IA :?94!A/I?4
An Organization Committed to the Over all Development of Rural India
:ree ,ociology notes
for +ollege ,tudentsB
Women in India
Women's Contribution to the Economy
Although most women in India work and contribute to the economy in one form or another, much of their work is not documented or accounted for
in official statistics. Women plow fields and harvest crops while working on farms, women weave and make handicrafts while working in household
industries, women sell food and gather wood while working in the informal sector. Additionally, women are traditionally responsible for the daily
household chores (e.g., cooking, fetching water, and looking after children). Since Indian culture hinders womens access to !obs in stores,
factories and the public sector, the informal sector is particularly important for women. "here are estimates that over #$ percent of workingwomen
are involved in the informal sector.
"he informal sector includes !obs such as domestic servant, small trader, artisan, or field laborer on a family farm. %ost of these !obs are unskilled
and low paying and do not provide benefits to the worker. %ore importantly, however, cultural practices vary from region to region. "hough it is a
broad generali&ation, 'orth India tends to be more patriarchal and feudal than South India. Women in northern India have more restrictions placed
on their behavior, thereby restricting their access to work. Southern India tends to be more egalitarian, women have relatively more freedom, and
women have a more prominent presence in society. (ultural restrictions however are changing, and women are freer to participate in the formal
economy, though the shortage of !obs throughout the country contributes to low female employment. )ut in the recent years, conditions of working
women in India have improved considerably. %ore and more women find themselves in positions of respect and prestige, more and more
workplaces are now populated with women who work on e*ual terms as men. Working is no longer an ad!ustment, a mere necessity+ but a means
to self worth and growth.
Women have now not only found their place in work places but are also party to governance. In recent years there have been e,plicit moves to
increase womens political participation. Women have been given representation in the -anchayati .a! system as a sign of political empowerment.
"here are many elected women representatives at the village council level. At the central and state levels too women are progressively making a
difference. "oday we have women (hief %inisters in five large states of India. "he Womens reservation policy bill is slated to further strengthen
political participation.