By: TIRTHA SAMANT
As the gap between women’s education and women’s employment continues to widen, the question arises if women are truly being empowered
Despite high education among women, the rate of women’s employment is very low in India. According to data compiled by the World Bank, the number of working women in India dropped from 24 percent to 18 percent between 2010 and 2020. Similarly, the India Discrimination Report 2022 released by Oxfam India states that women in India, despite possessing the same educational qualifications and work experience as men, will be discriminated against due to societal and employers’ prejudices. Likewise, though India tops the world in producing female graduates in STEM, it ranks 19th in employing them. These numbers remain true across other fields as well. The wide gap between the number of females graduating every year and those entering the workspace is an issue of paramount importance that needs to be addressed. This article aims to critically analyse this challenge while looking at a possible way forward.
Education: The steady progress
India’s present gender gap in terms of literacy is more than twice the 2016 global average and even higher than that for lower-middle-income countries. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, in 2017-18, 186 million females in India cannot even write a simple sentence in any language. This statistic is a call for attention, showcasing that India is far from achieving the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)—“inclusive and equitable quality education” and “lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
The wide gap between the number of females graduating every year and those entering the workspace is an issue of paramount importance that needs to be addressed.
Interestingly, the gross enrolment ratio of female students at higher educational institutes stands at 27.3 percent, which according to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019-20, is more than that of male students which is 26.9 percent. The same survey states that 49 percent of total enrolments in higher educational institutes is female (nearly18.9 million) and 44.5 percent of the enrolments in distance learning institutes are also females. However, in the Institutions of National Importance followed by deemed university and state private universities, the share of female students is lowest. What is worth noting here is that these institutes are the ones that carry large-scale placements as compared to others.
India, a developing third-world country, faces discrimination against women across fields and age-old patriarchal attitudes and customs have created more hurdles for women. Although the nation is progressing in terms of literacy rate and education of females, the dropout rates of females at primary school levels in rural areas are high and those who seek higher education do not always end up working, thus widening the gap between the number of females graduating and those entering workspaces
The employment to population percentage in India according to the World Bank data is 72.2 percent for males and 25 percent for females.
Employment: The stark contrast
Despite the women-centric initiatives in the country, only 14 percent of the total 280,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists in research development institutions in India are women. When it comes to each of such workspaces, the tables turn from that of the higher educational institutes and the position holders in both private and public workspaces (both corporate and governmental) are largely men. The employment to population percentage in India according to the World Bank data is 72.2 percent for males and 25 percent for females. India, sadly, is a paradox wherein it does have more female graduates but no working women or researchers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only catalysed the gender gap in the employment sector. With millions losing their jobs due to global lockdowns, the female unemployment percentage rose in 2020 to 5.5 as seen in 2013 according to World Bank data. During the pandemic, women who worked in the informal sector as house-help and daily wage workers thus faced the brunt of unemployment.
Many research studies have showcased declining rates in Indian women’s labour force participation over recent years, irrespective of the pandemic period. The fact that female literacy and female employment share a U-shaped relationship has only recently been talked about and considered as one of the factors why the rates decline. The recent rise in levels of women’s education has put a great number of women in the lowest part of the U-curve.
Causes for the gender gap
This gender disparity is a result of varied underlying causes, which can be classified into three (dependent) areas: Society, private sector, and government. The rooted patriarchal mindset and intolerance towards women in society has created the largest obstacle for women to succeed; unhealthy practices in private sector jobs like unequal opportunities and distribution of work and those in the public sector like asking personal questions to female candidates discourage women from entering the workspace; and the lack in proper execution of gender-friendly policies fuel the increasing gender gap in employment.
As most workspaces are discriminatory in nature, women have largely turned towards the option of entrepreneurship, and also creating safe spaces for fellow women.
Problems such as lesser employment opportunities for women, discrimination at workplaces, the lack of safety and security, unequal wages for the same work, instances of bullying and harassment by male counterparts interlink the three areas and furthermore exacerbate the concern. A cause that is one of the major hindrances in women entering workspaces and is yet least talked about is the prejudice of society as well as employers.
As most workspaces are discriminatory in nature, women have largely turned towards the option of entrepreneurship, and also creating safe spaces for fellow women (largely of women and by women). An example of this is the Kubernein Initiative by author and geopolitical analyst Ms Ambika Vishwanath and strategy and communications specialist Ms Priyanka Bhide.
Empowerment: The way forward
India’s GDP growth rate can climb above 9 percent if women were given an equitable share of jobs according to a World Bank Commentary. According to the same, it can even boost the nation’s growth by 1.5 percent points annually if 50 percent of women could join the workforce. The 2018 McKinsey Global Institute report states that India could add up to US$ 770 billion to its GDP—more than 18 percent—via advances in gender parity in work and society.
While the pandemic has done more damage by accelerating the issue and increasing female unemployment across sectors, according to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, 2022, it will take 132 years to eliminate the prevailing gender gap in the workforce, globally. India ranks 135th in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2022. This is concerning and needs the attention of governments, corporate spaces as well as society at large. The report suggests, “a comprehensive approach to improving labour market outcomes for women through improving access to and relevance of education and training programs, skills development, access to childcare, maternity protection, and provision of safe and accessible transport, along with the promotion of a pattern of growth that creates job opportunities.”
At a governmental level, a gender-inclusive employment guarantee scheme can help women come forward and avail job opportunities on a greater level.
A very important aspect of voicing for the female labour workforce is to ensure that the workspaces are female-friendly, possess good hygienic conditions, secure facilities, and safe transport mechanisms, thus, paving a way towards upskilling and reskilling pathways in order to fulfil the needs of the changing employment markets.
At a governmental level, a gender-inclusive employment guarantee scheme can help women come forward and avail job opportunities on a greater level. The pandemic has hit the urban informal workforce and majorly women due to the livelihood crisis. Schemes such as The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Mukhya Mantri Shahri Ajeevika Guarantee Yojana and ‘Mukhyamantri Karma Tatpara Programme (Odhisha)’ can be made more gender-inclusive to ensure the entry of more women into the workforce.
Society at large needs to redefine and deconstruct the perspectives towards a working woman. The narratives that women should be the care-givers and home-makers should cease to exist.
Bridging the gender gap in employment is thus not only the responsibility of one single stakeholder. Considering that the causes are due to flaws on multiple grounds, the solutions too need to come up collaboratively from the society, the private sector, and the government.
Thus, collaboration is the only way to make some progress and move forward. A progressive outlook from the end of society, the government supporting the cause by framing and correctly implementing gender-inclusive policies, and employers giving their best in creating inclusive and safe workplaces—both private and public—can together take us towards achieving gender parity.