Working Women And Empowerment

Working Women

My Facebook acquaintance recently posted photos of delivered dishes along with the remark, “Seems like women are getting more educated.” I became agitated upon realizing that this was directed towards educated and working women. It is possible that this will be interpreted as either good or terrible news.

Female employment in India has an intrinsic relationship with female empowerment. Female employment and empowerment have been considerable issues over the years. The rise in economic growth in India has brought significant change to the lives of Indian women and ultimately affects female employment. The national Household survey, Periodic Labour Force Survey, conducted by National Statistics Office (NSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), reveals the female employment status in India. Though India’s female labor force participation (FLFPR) rate—which measures the percentage of Indian women who are employed or actively seeking employment—has been below the 47 percent global average for a number of years, it is domestically on rise. The PLFS results indicate that 24.2% of the total rural females of age 15 years & above were self-employed in 2021-22 as compared to 13.6% in 2017-18. During these years,female employment as Regular wage/salaried employees and casual labour has also increased. During 2021-22, 2.9% of total rural females were Regular wage/salaried employees as compared to 2.5% in 2017-18.

The second scenario of females, who are outside the labour force, reveals the significant move of rural females towards the labour force and decline the percentage of females who are attending domestic duties to 28.3% only in 2021-22 as compared to 40.8% 2017-18,is a remarkable move. It can be interpreted that more and more rural females are participating in economic activities. However, the report’s breakdowns for urban women indicate that, in 2021–2022, 8.6% of all urban women worked for themselves, up from 6.3% in 2017–2018. Compared to 9.5% in 2017–18, urban females are more involved as regular wage/salaried employees (11.0%) in 2021–2022. In this instance, it is highlighted that 50.3% of urban females work at home and are not employed.  The increase in female participation in the workforce is encouraging, even though 50.3% of women do not work in metropolitan regions as per the report mentioned above. The study also shows that there is a positive correlation between the proportion of women pursuing higher education and their propensity to enter the labor force.

The data-supported narrative is progressing nicely thus far, which is very positive.

But the ongoing push to strike a balance between work and home is the bad news.  Whether a woman works or not, it is her responsibility to take care of household chores on time and cook wholesome meals for the family. Taking on responsibilities seems to be OK, but things get problematic when these responsibilities force someone to quit their job. There are several reasons why women leave their jobs, such as shifting due to marriage, raising children, aging health problems, and family pressure. As if these weren’t enough, they also have to worry about maintaining the family’s health. Earning women are valued; but, earning women who do not cook are not. She must always be in the giving mode because she is both a caregiver and a breadwinner. Undoubtedly, cooking at home is healthier, but should women be the only ones to demonstrate their culinary prowess? There has been a change in eating patterns that may not be as nutritious as it once was due to globalization and the growth of the food companies. This places even more of an obligation on women to prepare meals at home. Either the pride or the guilt, is implanted to make the obligation more apparent.

The eventual outcome is to  resign from the position at work or continue fighting ( read balancing) on your own until your health starts to suffer. Data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 2023 states that the employability gender gap in India is 50.9%, with only 19.2% of women in the labour force compared to 70.1% of men.. The World Economic Forum’s annual Gender Gap Report, 2023, positions India at 127 out of 146 nations in terms of gender parity, an improvement of eight places from the previous year. Needless to add, our neighbouring countries have better performance. To improve our ranking, we Indian families need to grow and learn that it is the collective work of a family which can provide good health to each other and not the sole role of the female only. Education, regardless of gender, requires commitment and involvement from the entire family if it has to be linked with economic empowerment. Women’s roles as all-rounders shouldn’t be exalted, placing unnecessary pressure on them to hold onto the title, nor should we instill shame for not being able to balance the demands of family and career.

Dr Trishna Sarkar, Asst Prof, Dept of Economics, Dr BhimRao Ambedkar College, University of Delhi.

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