As six women ministers took to work as part of the newly formed Cabinet and the Ministry for Women and Child Development was upgraded to cabinet rank, Swaniti Initiative, a Delhi based development consulting firm working with legislators, explored how the rest of India was doing in terms on issues of women’s empowerment.
“We wanted to look at Female Workforce Participation as an indicator to assess the state of women,” said Shantanu Agarwal, head of data and analysis at Swaniti Initiative. Swaniti uncovered that the richest states in the country have some of the poorest female labour participation rates.
Based on data available from 2001 to 2011, Swaniti analyzed inter-state trends in female Labour Participation Rates (LPR). “The goal was to see if a rich state as measured by GDP, is likely to have more female participation or less,” said Dinesh Chand, Lead of Jigyasa, a user-friendly online platform created by Swaniti to tell a ‘story of India through data’.
The participation of women in our workforce nationally is low. Only 29% of the women in the age-group of 15-64 were willing to work in India in 2011, which is much lower than other major economies like China (64%), US (57%), and Japan (48%).
According to Swaniti’s research, the 4 states with highest per-capita Net Domestic Product (NDP) in 2010-11 (at 2004-05 prices) were Goa, Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujarat, in that order. But these 4 States stood 21st, 16th, 26th and 22nd respectively out of 28 states in terms of female labour participation rates, 2011. Kerala ranked 6th on NDP and 23rd on labour participation, while Punjab ranked 9th on NDP and stood at the bottom on female participation.
Interestingly, Kerala’s case is a little different from the other States with high per-capita income. While female labour participation rates have improved in Kerala between 2001 and 2011(+10%), however Haryana (-25%), Punjab (-22%) and Gujarat (-14%) saw a significant decline in female labour participation in the same period. “The significant decline in female participation in the workforce in these States is a matter of concern, and should hopefully be an important electoral agenda in the upcoming Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra”, feels Shantanu Agarwal.
A combination of strategies is needed to address this problem. “For both rural and urban women, skill development is critical”, says Rwitwika Bhattacharya, Founder of Swaniti. Despite several livelihood Schemes like National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) and National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), focusing on the special needs of women and a stark deficit in female labour force participation remains.
The mobilization of women through “women-only” self-help groups (SHGs) has been immensely successful in creating self-employment opportunities in many parts of India. Access to finance is also critical for women’s empowerment. Even, the 2014 BJP manifesto promises ‘loans to women Self Help Groups would be available at low interest rates’. The Rashtriya Mahila Bank is now operational, and it should build up scale to provide credit and banking facilities to more number of women. In some cases, business process outsourcing (BPO) from urban to rural India has been successfully implemented as a strategy for livelihood creation. This could be particularly useful for those women who are not willing to migrate from rural to urban areas.
“Swaniti aims to work with elected representatives to address some of these issues in different parts of the country”, says Bhattacharya signing off.