This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Manish Dutta. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What Explains India’s Low Female Labour Force Participation?

Image source: Peoples Dispatch

In 2020, the Indian government looks to implement all the provisions of the four codes on wages, industrial relations, social security, occupational safety, health and working conditions. These codifications essentially subsume 44 central labour laws under these four labour codes.

The labour laws are very essential for every worker who currently works under an employer. It is also important, keeping in mind the needs of freelance workers. The labour laws ensure that the rights of the workers are protected and that the workers are not exploited by their employers. It also provided the right of the worker to get justice if the employer breaks any rule which leads to the exploitation of the worker. The 44 central labour laws have been carefully constructed over the years, and trade unions, as a primary stake-holder, played a huge role.

The government said that the amalgamation of the labour laws under the four labour codes is historic since it would benefit both the workers and their employers, while the trade unions are of the opinion that the codes nullify the historic struggle of trade unions for labour-friendly laws.

Following this, huge protests by trade unions like the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and others were held at the national capital. The protest also included many questions like the long-standing demand of many trade unions to include the informal sector and benefits of social security for them. This is also linked to lower female labour force participation.

Maternity Benefits, If Skipped, Can Lead To A Lower Female Labour Force Participation

Maternity benefits are an internationally recognised right, which provides for wage compensation during pregnancy and after delivery. The benefits are also required keeping in mind the exclusive care and breastfeeding for the nutritional benefits of the newborn.

The Maternity Benefits Act of 1961 before the intervention of the Labour Codes covered the provision of only women employed in the organised sector. The Unorganised Workers Social Security Act of 2008 also included provisions of maternity benefits but no entitlement of wage compensation was attached to it. The National Food Security Act (NFSA) promised ₹6000 to all pregnant mothers, but the scheme Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) limits the benefit only to the first child and also reduced the amount to ₹5000.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, if a little more inclusive, can actually educate the Indian labour force about safe workspaces. Image credit: Reuters

The introduction of The Code on Social Security subsumed the existing Acts on maternity benefits. The Code explains and guarantees maternity benefits under formal work for all women.

The earlier maternity benefits act made it mandatory for establishments to set up creches. The new code fails to make it mandatory states that the establishments may set up a creche in an establishment with more than 50 workers.

In the informal sector, the code vaguely promises that the central or the state government (since labour falls under the concurrent list) will come up with schemes in time which will benefit the informal women workers of maternity benefits. It does not provide any detail guidelines for the maternity benefits as it did for women in the formal sector.

Poor Implementation Of Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplaces Act

Workplaces have been repeatedly proved to be hostile and unsafe towards women, both in the formal sector and the informal sector. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, 2013 defines what constitutes sexual harassment at workplaces and requires all employers consisting of 10 or more than 10 employees to set up the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

Maneka Gandhi 2014-19 – Union Minister of Women and Child Development.

For informal workers or any workplace consisting of less than 10 employees, the complaints are to be made at the Local Complaints Committee (LCC) set up at each district by the district officer. However, the implementation of this Act has so far been very hard.

Maneka Gandhi, the then Minister of Women and Child Development, requested the then Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister, Arun Jaitley, to make it mandatory for companies to reveal whether they have put in place an ICC.

Arun Jaitley replied that it may not be desirable and also informed that industry representatives were against, “enhanced disclosures under the Companies Act, 2013”. Most of the companies have not set up an ICC.

Ministry officials in response said, “We regularly get sexual harassment complaints from women employees in well-known firms that still don’t have a panel. Many firms believe that having such a cell will lead women employees in creating a nuisance.”

For the informal sector, the problem is more acute. Majority of the workers are not aware of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act.  The LCC and ICC in most places do not get any members who are well versed with the working of such bodies. Awareness programmes to do the same are not held for the LCCs because of lack of funds. Also, because the informal sector is not set up within the four walls the implementation of the orders of the LCC becomes very difficult.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, if a little more inclusive, can actually educate the Indian labour force about safe workspaces. However, the onus of implementing the guidelines falls on the Ministry of Labour and the Labour Codes. The newly constituted labour codes fail to address the issue of sexual harassment of workplaces which is a prime reason why the female labour force participation is decreasing.

No Equal Pay And Availability Of Daycare Services For Children

Most of the women are not given equal pay for equal work even with the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 in place. Women in the informal sector with no overall monitoring are given even lower wages. The income of women in this sector also drastically decrease when they are pregnant, and even after childbirth because of the unavailability of a creche for their children.

These structural biases and the availability of basic social security for women like maternal benefits, I feel is one of the prime causes for lower participation of women in the labour force.

The growing gender gap in economic participation which got reflected in the Global Gender Gap Index is alarming. Studies have shown that women with access to daycare earn 50 % more and that more than 70% more older children started to go to school and to colleges.

Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

The labour code instead of bringing some clarity to the long-standing demand of the safety and better working conditions for the informal sector remains ignorant and leaves it at the mercy of the central and state governments to implement required schemes and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act.

Also, the people who make these laws and people who are at the charge of implementing those are men. For example, in one of the training sessions for the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, out of 68 attendees, 10% were men.

If one looks at senior corporate leadership posts in India, 95% is held by men. It seems that men do not take sexual harassment at workplaces seriously and as a result, the number of women in the workforce dwindles. Given the track record of the government, it is highly unlikely that the situation for the unorganised women workers is going to change soon.

The industries welcomed the new labour code. The policy-makers, who are mostly men, consistently make the workplaces uninhabitable for women, which makes women leave work and force them to adhere to societal gender roles. This, in turn, reinforces the patriarchal social norms. It is time to question such labour laws that get framed even in the face of the growing gender gap. Proper maternal benefits and social security is the first step to ensure greater participation of women and formalise informal work.

Featured image for representation only.
Featured image credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.
You must be to comment.

More from Manish Dutta

Similar Posts

By Mrigakshi Talukdar

By Saloni Bhardwaj

By Binti Period

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below