India is currently the G20-Presidency holder from 1 December 2022 until 30 November 2023. The term of this ‘Presidency’ is offered in rotation to all G20 members- it is perhaps important to iterate that given the massive Indian government PR push, currently riding a fiscal ‘propaganda wave’ in most of Central Governments’ communique and action (for state after state and department after department).
In research undertaken by the Centre for New Economics Studies’ (CNES’) Swabhimaan and InfoSphere Team, we closely analysed one of the key areas of tabled discussion by India and other G20 members, concerning the focus on women-led development plans for the group in this year’s deliberation agenda.
To understand how India performs on some of its own ‘gender-performance indicators’, we have looked at the latest data on:
Female labour force participation
Care work distribution within households between men-women
Nature of entrepreneurship conditions-business opportunities made available for women
India's FLFPR Rate Lowest in G20
As an anecdotal caveat, our team acknowledges the use of ‘gender’ as a socially constructed marker, which relates to not just women alone but also other gendered groups (LGBTQ+ communities).
While the overall female labour force participation rates (FLFPR) have increased, in the last decade, for G20 countries such as Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico (Team Infosphere), India’s FLFPR has been declining since 2004.
India’s FLFPR is one of the lowest in the world and the lowest in the G20 countries at 19.23 percent as per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022. In contrast, the average FLFPR for the G20 cohort lies at 49.78 percent.
India’s low FLFPR is unprecedented, considering many usual-unusual factors that keep women from the organised-formal workforce, despite knowing the fact, based on recent NFHS data, that a ‘high fertility ratio’ and ‘low education rates’, are no longer a cause for concern-or a deterrent for women’s ability to be part of the organised workforce. The country has seen a reduction in fertility from 4.0 to 2.5 children per woman as per recent data.
Additionally, India has also seen a rise in girls’ enrolment in primary education and has seen female enrolment, for women aged 15-24, in any educational institution go from 16.1 percent to 36 percent (ILO 2014). This change in these factors in the recent decades should correlate to an increase in FLFPR; however, the opposite is true. As per World Bank estimates, in 2004, India’s FLFPR was 30.2 percent which fell to 22.9 percent in 2021. World Economic Forum pegs India’s FLFPR even lower at 19.23 percent in 2022, in their Global Gender Gap Report 2022.
FLFPR and Women's Contribution to Care Work
The major contributor to India’s low FLFPR can be traced to women’s contributions toward care work at home. Indian women are responsible for most of the unpaid domestic work in the houses, may it be towards the maintenance of households, or taking care of dependent family members.
According to the International Labour Organisation, Indian women contribute 297 minutes a day towards care work, while men contribute 29 minutes the same. This implies women shoulder the burden of 90.5 percent of the care work, while only 9.5 percent is cared for by men. Furthermore, while on average, even in other G20 countries, women shoulder most of the burden of care work, the distribution of responsibilities is not as skewed. On average, women in other G20 countries account for 70.77 percent of the care work (Team Swabhimaan).
When it comes to Care-Work distribution, countries in Europe (except Italy), the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada are the most favourable performers, averaging around 61 percent of unpaid care work being performed by women. These countries perform better in this criterion, because their governments are capable of, and choose to invest in social care. Whereas in developing countries, like India, the burden falls heavily on women. This implies that the time that they could be utilized for formal wage-earning labour, they spend on caring for their families, for which they accrue no compensation.
FLFPR and the Wage Gap
What is interesting is that even when domestic work is outsourced, and domestic help is hired, women are still responsible for ensuring the quality of care. Additionally, even when households hire domestic labour, women of the household find themselves contributing to another form of unpaid care work, rather than joining the workforce. An ILO-IIHS study on India’s metropolitan cities of Bengaluru and Chennai found that 40 percent of households hire domestic work to free up time for care for elders and children and 30 percent of households hire for alleviating the burden of housework. It was found that in only 8.5 percent of households in Chennai, and 13.5 percent of households in Bengaluru, domestic help is hired to free up time for paid employment.
Furthermore, an increase in FLFPR would also help close the wage gap between men and women, as an increase in the number of women in the workforce for regularised wage jobs would help reduce wage gaps. Currently, as per Global Gender Gap Report 2022, Indian women, on average earn $2,130 annually to $9,900 earned annually by Indian men, implying that men earn 78 percent more than women in India. The average of the remaining G20 countries, when it comes to the difference in average income is 43 percent. This means that of the G20 countries, India has the highest wage gap.
Entrepreneurship and Recommendations for India
Though there are a lot of hurdles when it comes to economic opportunities for women, Indian women are performing well when it comes to entrepreneurship. As per the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2020/2021 report, the Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) in India is at 14.4 percent. Out of this, the TEA for men is at 16.3 percent while that for women is at 12.3 percent. Additionally, women in India are reported to have start-up intentions at parity with men and close to the global average (GEM). However, when compared to other economies when it comes to gender equity in entrepreneurship, India still has a long way ahead. The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2021 ranks India at 57th place in 65 countries.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, underlying cultural conditions (unsurprisingly!) continue to play a significant role. As per the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2021, women tend to have a lesser inclination towards business ownership and further reluctance to grow the business they own due to a lack of funding.
The recommendation for India is to work towards increasing enrolment in higher education for women, enhance opportunities for women for work across different sectors, develop a robust care infrastructure, increasing access to financial resources for women entrepreneurs through direct fiscal interventions i.e. single window clearances, tax breaks and other measures that can help directly promote women entrepreneurship in the country.
Without leading the discourse through its own example, and illustrated leadership in ‘gender-based performance indicators’ within its own domestic work set-up, there is little substance to India’s G20 Presidency pivot towards tabling a comprehensive ‘women-led developmental’ policy framework for other G20 nations if nothing more, this opportunity could be used for preparing a robust ‘common minimum program’ for all countries, including India, to perform better in the areas highlighted here.
A radical re-imagination of growth and developmental opportunities offering a wider platform for Indian (and G20) women (especially those at the margin) through policy can be a starting point for subsequent transformations to happen across other nations too.
(Deepanshu Mohan is Professor of Economics and Director, Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES), Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, O.P. Jindal Global University. CNES Team Swabhimaan includes Senior Research Assistants: Tavleen Kaur, Shreeya Bhayana along with Research Assistants: Archisha Tiwari, Aarjavi Shah. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)