What is keeping women from going to work?

Dec 10, 2021 02:24 PM IST

This paper has been authored by Neelanjana Gupta who works at IWWAGE. It is a part of an initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at LEAD

Though the Indian economy more than doubled in size and the number of working-age women grew by a quarter over the last two decades, the number of women in jobs declined by ten million. Global indices and gender empowerment measures also paint a dismal picture. The 2021 Global Gender Gap Index revealed that India ranks 140th of 156 countries, compared to its 98th position in 2006. India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) (24.5% in 2018–19) has been declining and is well below the global average (45%).

Women workers wearing masks pluck tea leaves at Kondoli Tea Estate, on the first day of Unlock 1 in Nagaon district of Assam on Monday.(PTI)
Women workers wearing masks pluck tea leaves at Kondoli Tea Estate, on the first day of Unlock 1 in Nagaon district of Assam on Monday.(PTI)

Falling women’s labour force participation rate can be attributed to factors, such as childcare, occupational segregations, infrastructure, safety and mobility, and social identities. Violence against women and girls is also a barrier to their equal participation in and contribution to the society. There are multiple ways in which violence is experienced by women and several contexts in which it occurs, and thus, its costs and consequences are widespread.

A recently published paper by IWWAGE presents a state-level analysis of how the lack of safety—increasing rate of crime—acts as a barrier to work for women and girls, and the extent to which crimes against women and girls can be associated with the sharp decline in FLFPR from 31.2% to 23.3%. The paper focuses on factors that prevent women from stepping out to work painting a perception of lack of safety. These include rape, kidnapping and abduction, sexual harassment and molestation.

The paper also explores two key gender-oriented factors as potential reasons that can lead to high crime rates against women and girls: these are consumption of alcohol among males using data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and male unemployment rate from the PLFS.

The analysis presented in the paper uses two kinds of state-level data. The first is the female labour force participation rate in 2011-12 and 2017-18, as well as data from ‘Crime in India’ published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2011 and 2017.

National and state-level analysis of crimes against women and girls and their labour force participation

At the all-India level, there is a low but negative correlation between FLFPR and overall crime rate, and a moderately negative correlation between FLFPR and kidnapping and abduction. These results are indicative of the general lack of safety of women and can be considered to be a strong factor that discourages women from participating in the workforce. The report finds unexpected results for crimes of rape, molestation and sexual harassment, possibly because of the gross underreporting of these crimes against what is common knowledge from anecdotal evidence.

A state-level correlation analysis shows that there is a low but negative correlation between FLFPR and rate of Crimes Against Women and Girls (CaW&G) as well as FLFPR and Kidnapping and Abduction (K&A), meaning that an increase in crime rate is associated with a decrease in FLFPR. State-level data suggests that K&A can be considered as a strong factor that can influence women’s willingness and ability to step out to work, and discourages women from participating in the workforce.

A closer look at states that had the lowest FLFPRs during 2011-12 and 2017-18 in India—Bihar, Delhi, Assam and Tripura —strengthens the argument that crime rate is indeed strongly associated with women’s participation in the workforce. Bihar had the lowest FLFPR across in India for both the years as its FLFPR fell from 8.7% to 4.1%. Its overall crime rate for CaW&G approximately tripled during this time. When the rate for K&A incidents sharply increased from 2.9 per cent to 12.11%, the rate of rape of increased to 1.2%. The state which experienced the maximum fall in in FLFPR between 2011-12 and 2017-18 was Tripura, with women’s workforce participation rate falling by over 24 percentage points to 12.5% (2017-18). In 2017, it had a crime rate as high as 51.2%.

Overall, Delhi and Assam revealed a grim picture in terms of FLFPR as well as crime rates. In the time period observed, the FLFPR for Delhi declined only marginally from 14.8% to 14.3%. However, its overall crime rate rose by more than four times from 31.25% to 133.3%. In the case of Assam, while the FLFPR declined by 5 percentage points, its overall crime rate for CaW&G quadrupled. The rates of K&A and molestation stood high at 34.65% and 22.2%, respectively, the rate of rape almost doubled between 2011 and 2017.

However, this trend was not observed for states (Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Meghalaya) that had high FLFPRs in India in the years 2011-12 and 2017-18. In 2011, while Chhattisgarh (16.52%) and Himachal Pradesh (14.53%) both had moderate rates of overall crimes against women and girls, the rates went up significantly by 2017, rising to 61.1% in Chhattisgarh, and more than doubled in Himachal Pradesh at 35.7%. Similar significant increases in the crime rate were observed for Sikkim and Meghalaya.

Way forward

In order to prevent underreporting and improve the accuracy of data being captured, it is important to improve systems that capture data on crimes against women and girls. This raises the need to overhaul the very system of reporting events of crime to the police such that the data collection system reflects actual numbers. One way to capture crime data correctly is to have multiple sources of data collection, such as official reports from the police, surveys of victims, and self-reports from offenders, in addition to the NCRB which is based on the singular source of police FIR records. Additionally, given that crimes deter women from reaching their full potential, steps should be taken to altogether prevent violence against women and girls. Adopting a ‘SAFETY’ framework that focuses on strengthening – Services, Attitudes, Focus on community, Empowerment of women, Transport and other infrastructure, and Youth interventions – can be a critical element when designing and implementing policies and interventions to prevent and end crimes against women and girls.

You can access the research paper by clicking here 

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