International Women’s Day is not just a symbolic gesture to celebrate the contributions of women in myriad fields but an occasion to reflect on their status in society and the issues that impede their growth and genuine empowerment. In the Indian context, women empowerment — economic, social and cultural — is still a work in […]
International Women’s Day is not just a symbolic gesture to celebrate the contributions of women in myriad fields but an occasion to reflect on their status in society and the issues that impede their growth and genuine empowerment. In the Indian context, women empowerment — economic, social and cultural — is still a work in progress. Catchy slogans like ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ may have helped in promoting public awareness about girl child education but the ground realities pertaining to women’s education, safety, security and equal opportunities at workplaces are far from encouraging. For instance, the gross underutilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund, meant for schemes aimed at improving the safety and security of women, shows an inexcusable apathy towards the issues concerning women’s safety. A parliamentary panel has pointed out that of the Rs, 9,549 crore allocated under the fund, created by the Central government in the wake of the nationwide outrage over the 2012 Nirbhaya rape-murder case, only Rs 4,241 crore has been released and around Rs 2,989 crore utilised. This is a big let-down for a country where the atrocities against women remain high and the conviction rate very poor. Regrettably, India continues to be ranked among the ‘most dangerous countries for women.’ What is more alarming is that several cases of sexual assault go unreported for various reasons, including kinship with the perpetrator and lack of trust in the tedious judicial system. Despite growth in the economy and the working-age population in India, the participation of women in the labour force has been declining.
This is an alarming trend when seen against the backdrop of increasing crime against women and widespread gender discrimination. At 21%, India has one of the lowest female participation rates in the workforce across the world. It is less than half the global average. No matter which cluster of countries one compares with — high income or low, highly indebted or least developed — India comes off worse. The dismally low labour force participation rate can be attributed, at least partially, to the restrictive cultural norms regarding women’s work, the gender wage gap and lack of safety policies and flexible work offerings. The sharpest decline has been in the case of Scheduled Tribe women. The pandemic has worsened the situation, impacting the women disproportionately because a majority of them work in informal sectors, characterised by lower-paying and less secure jobs, income volatility, and the lack of a robust social safety net. The labour force participation rate, which includes those who are employed as well as those who are as yet unemployed but seeking work, is one of the important indicators that reflects the economy’s active workforce. According to the World Bank, Indian women’s participation in the formal economy is among the lowest in the world — only parts of the Arab world fare worse.
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