Gender Parity Can Boost India’s Economic Growth

India’s rising per capita income over the last ten-fifteen years has been accompanied by a curious case of women opting not to work. A reversal of this trend could significantly boost India’s GDP growth, and it is important for Government, industry and society at large to ensure greater participation of women in the economy.

This is evident on examining the country’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR)*. In recent decades, India has experienced a continuous decline in its FLFPR. This has taken place at a time of high economic growth and favourable demographic conditions as well as rise in women’s education in this period. In 2013, the International Labour Organization (ILO) ranked India’s FLFPR at 121 out of 130 countries, one of the lowest in the world**.

Figure 1 presents total FLFPR over the years, along with those for rural and urban, as per the Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status (UPSS) approach from the World Bank paper ‘Prcarious Drop: Reassessing Patterns of Female Labour Force Participation in India’.
Female Labour Force Participation Rates in India, using UPSS for Ages 15 and above (%)

Source: Precarious Drop: Reassessing Patterns of Female Labour Force Participation in India, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper
*Female Labour Force Participation Rate is defined as the number of female persons/person-days in the labour force per 1000 female persons/person days (NSSO).
**World Bank, ‘Precarious Drop, Reassessing Patterns of Female Labour Force Participation in India’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 8024, April 2017.

The total FLFPR came down from 42.7% in 2004-05 to 32.6% in 2009-10 to 31.2% during 2011-12. The World Bank paper estimates that as many as 21.7 million women workers chose to remain home between 2004-05 and 2009-10, with most of them in rural areas.

As of 2016, FLFPR in India was the lowest among the BRIC countries. Further, among its other neighbouring nations, India records one of the lowest FLFP rates and has fared only better than Pakistan (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Female Labour Force Participation Rates in 2016 among BRICS and other Neighbouring CountriesFemale Labour Force Participation Rates in 2016 among BRICS and other Neighbouring Countries

Source: World Development Indicators, World Bank Data

The decline in FLFPR took place simultaneously with an increase in female literacy rates over the last decade. As per census data, female literacy rates increased by more than 25 percentage points from 1991 to 2011 (Figure 3) – from around 39% in 1991 to more than 65% in 2011.

Figure 3: Literacy Rates by Gender in IndiaLiteracy Rates by Gender in IndiaSource: Office of the Registrar General, India

In the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, published by the World Economic Forum, India was ranked 87 out of a total of 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, which examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental categories or sub-indexes i.e. Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. Of these, India ranks low in terms of economic participation and opportunity, securing a rank of 136. In terms of health and survival and educational attainment as well, the ranks are rather low at 142 and 113 respectively.

These figures are worrisome, considering that women labour is a rich and valuable resource for a country to boost its growth opportunities. The Indian economy could achieve higher growth rates if it pushes reforms to increase women’s participation in the labour force.

According to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey, India could see an additional GDP of $700 billion by 2025 with better economic participation of women, and most of this increased GDP would come just by raising the FLFPR from the current 31% to 41%. Another McKinsey report estimates that India could increase GDP by up to 60% or US$2.9 trillion by 2025 if the participation rate for women were to rise to the same as that of men.

Increased participation of women in the labour force is not only important to achieve higher economic growth and efficiency but is essential for improved socio-economic conditions as well. Increased FLFPR would economically empower women by increasing their decision-making power in the household, help bring down poverty to a large extent, and lead to improved living conditions for both women and children. This calls for measures and policies to be undertaken to address the widening gender gap and build women’s participation in the workforce. The Government in collaboration with industry, society and academia can develop strategies to achieve these goals.

CII Initiatives in Promoting Women’s Empowerment

CII is committed to promoting women’s economic empowerment and has undertaken several initiatives to promote increased participation of women in the Indian economy.

The CII National Committee on Women Empowerment works with the industry to strengthen women’s role and participation in the economic sphere and community areas. The focus areas are: gender equality at workplace, prevention of sexual harassment at workplace, and women empowerment at the community level.

To enable women to leverage career opportunities and enhance professional skills, CII launched the Indian Women Network (IWN) in 2013. The IWN envisions using learning, sharing and mentoring to help women become achievers in their respective fields.

Over 188 initiatives in learning and development, health and well-being and policy and advocacy have delivered value added and need-based interventions to 17,195 women members so far. Services are offered to women at entry level as well as middle and senior management, helping in developing skills such as communication and leadership for the workplace as also enabling better awareness on health and wellness issues. In the area of policy too, IWN develops tailored solutions designed to elicit the best effort from women. Its recommendations for changes in the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 were accepted as inputs and implemented by the Government.

The CII Foundation lays special emphasis on empowering women at the grassroots. Since 2005, CII has institutionalised the annual CII Woman Exemplar Award. The Women Exemplar Programme identifies, recognizes, empowers and supports women working at grassroots. It recognizes women who have, against all odds, excelled and contributed significantly to India’s development process. Since its inception in 2005, 35 women exemplars have been recognized and awarded.

In 2016, twenty-five selected members from eight states of the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Network underwent training through a unique capacity building programme in Kolkata, Chennai and Pune. The objectives of the workshop were to enhance their leadership quotient and help them become effective managers. The Exemplars are currently being mentored by sector experts to help them scale their initiatives.

The Anganwadi Adoption Programme, now in its third year, aims to provide direct support for infrastructure, equipment and capacity building, ensure early childhood education, and reduce morbidity, mortality and malnutrition in children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Gender Parity is one of the important features under the “India Inclusive” theme in the CII Agenda for 2017-18. Some of the new CII initiatives under the agenda include the CII IWN Gender Diversity Awards to recognize and reward gender diversity practices, the launch of Stri Shakti Abhiyan with the vision of harnessing women’s potential through skill development and the CII IWN–ISB (Indian School of Business) orientation programme on board leadership for women board members. CII also plans a Pledge for Parity to be adopted by CEOs.

Major CII recommendations for women under the CII Agenda 2017-18 include a policy framework on flexible working hours, conducive environment for professional development, skill development for second career opportunities and bringing parity at workplace.

With these and more initiatives, CII aims to raise awareness and create the right environment for effective participation of women in workforce.

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