By 2025, it is estimated that 70 per cent of Indians will be of working age. This ‘demographic dividend’ could give India an edge over the developed countries where a larger segment of the population would by then be past retirement.
However, this demographic dividend can easily turn into a demographic disaster if a majority of the working age population remains unemployable due to a lack of skills. India has one of the youngest populations globally, and women comprise a significant number of them.
Youth participation in the workforce is vital for economic growth and development as they are equipped with new-age skills, adapt to new changes and present a new perspective. However, if nearly half the youth population is excluded from the workforce, then economic growth is compromised, trapping women at the bottom of the economy.
Female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India has been one of the lowest among the emerging economies and has been falling over time. This has resulted in a decrease in the ratio of working females to the population of females in the working age group.
NITI Aayog said in a report titled ‘India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy’ female labour force participation in India has remained low, oscillating between 16 per cent to 23 per cent in the last few years. Structural barriers like access to education and lack of skilling have hindered participation of the female workforce in the country’s labour force.
Low participation of women in the labour force in India is attributed to the lack of employment opportunities, rising education levels and household incomes, and problems in measurement, such as under-reporting of women’s work.
Religion and social perceptions of women and the presence of young children in the household all influence the likelihood of India’s women to participate in the labour market. Structural characteristics in the labour market have played a more important role than changes in the underlying characteristics of the female working-age population in influencing participation rates.
These structural barriers, such as norms that inhibit women’s labour market options, in conjunction with a consistent decline in agricultural employment, are likely to be key factors in explaining the long-term stagnation in female participation rates. Therefore, it is right to say that low female labour force participation is the result of structural factors.
‘India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy’ report of NITI Aayog
According to the report, the expected expansion of India’s gig workforce by 2029-30 from 77 lakh in 2020–21 is to 2.35 crore. India requires a framework that balances the flexibility offered by platforms while also ensuring social security of workers.
The consequent platformisation of work has given rise to a new classification of labour — platform labour — falling outside of the purview of the traditional dichotomy of formal and informal labour. In an attempt to increase participation of women in the gig economy, the NITI Aayog has proposed fiscal incentives like tax breaks or startup grants for companies with about one-third of their workforce as women.
Ingredients of Better Policy:
- Fiscal incentives: such as tax-breaks or startup grants may be provided for businesses that provide livelihood opportunities where women constitute a substantial portion (say, 30%) of their workers.
- Platformisation of work and incentivising platforms: platform companies offer flexibility and choice of labour to all workers in general, and women in particular, empowering them to monetise their idle assets when and where they want — a benefit missing in traditional employment sectors — making them an attractive opportunity for women.
- Higher share of women managers and supervisors: businesses have a higher share of women managers and supervisors in the organisation to ensure that communication to workers does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.
- Better infrastructure and work design: To encourage more women, platforms may develop better infrastructure and work design.
- Enhance skill development: Empowerment of women, which can to an extent be addressed by integrating life skills coaching into skilling programs, and interfacing with their families and communities to change backward mindsets - are critical aspects of helping women reach their potential.
- Asset ownership: Ownership of assets have huge implications on the lives of women.
- Access to digital skills and technology: The gender skill gap is vast, especially for digital skills as women continue to work in more stereotypically ‘feminised’ sectors such as beauty, retail etc. and men continue to work in mechanised, technologically advanced sectors. The lack of digital skills prevents women from entering the rapidly advancing workforce.
- Gender sensitisation and accessibility awareness programmes: undertaking gender sensitisation and accessibility awareness programmes for workers and their families can improve female labour participation.
- Formal credit for women: Niti Aayog added that access to institutional credit could be enhanced through financial products specifically designed for platform workers and those interested to set-up their own platforms. Special emphasis may be placed on access to formal credit for women.
The participation of women in the country’s workforce has been woefully inadequate, and this needs to change for India to reap its demographic dividend. Capacitating our women is also the key to generational social transformation.
Empowerment of women is a critical part of a nation’s development and it is a balanced equation of her education, health, employability and decision-making power. Availability of agency and removal of constraints faced by women is imperative for sustainable and equitable development of both the community as well as the nation.
India needs to adopt a gendered lens in education and skilling programs to overcome the challenges of an underrepresented section of youth in the workforce, as well as support women in securing and retaining jobs. Introducing a ‘Platform India initiative’ on the lines of the ‘Startup India initiative’ can help in improving the female workforce.