Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Insights into Editorial: Gender discrimination defines India’s economy



Insights into Editorial: Gender discrimination defines India’s economy





It has now widely been accepted that a country cannot fully realise its potential without ensuring the participation of women workforce. This remains a serious concern in India’s case. Despite its recent economic advances, India’s gender balance in labour force participation, entrepreneurship, and growth remains among the lowest in the world. Improving this balance is an important first step for India’s development and its achievement of greater economic growth and gender equality.



India is still lagging behind in many areas compared to other developing and developed countries. Statistics reveal that improvement in education hasn’t completely chipped away at the gender disparity in employment.

  • The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2015 ranked India at 87 out of 144 countries. India’s overall female labour force participation (FLFP) rate remains low and has, in fact, dropped from 35% in 1991 to 27% in 2014. As per World Bank data, the world average is around 50% and South Asia is at 31%.
  • According to a 2015 International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper, in urban India, the recent FLFP rate is even lower at less than 20%; within this, segments such as graduates are around 30%, which although higher than the national average, have seen a decline since the 1990s.
  • Another study notes that women account for only 24% of senior management roles globally. In India, women held 19% of senior manager roles, but only 14% did so at the executive level. India is ranked among the worst of 48 countries in terms of female leadership.


Pattern of participation of women in various sectors:

  • Women entrepreneurs in India are mostly concentrated in low-paying industries. This gender concentration in low-wage industries has increased over time. In the manufacturing sector, tobacco products, apparel and textiles attract the largest count and share of women entrepreneurs, perhaps because these industries are known to have lower physical labour requirements.
  • Among services, it is the education, sewage, refuse disposal, sanitation and financial intermediation services that attract the largest share of female proprietors. There is a strong negative relationship between average industry wages and the share of female-led plants in the manufacturing sector. The association between the share of female-owned plants and average industry wages in the services sector is also negative, but not as strongly so.
  • Industries that show higher rates of female entrepreneurship and employment are also, broadly, the industries that show the highest segmentation in terms of female employees being matched to female owners. Gender segmentation is larger for small plants. Segmentation is larger for an average male employee vis-à-vis an average female employee across all size bands. Said differently, on average, a male employee is more likely to be working with a male co-worker than a female employee is to be working with a female co-worker.


What needs to be done?

Physical and human infrastructure play a key role in tapping into gender as a new growth driver. Inadequate infrastructure affects women entrepreneurs more than men, because women often bear a larger share of the time and responsibility for household activities. Travel in India can be limited and unpredictable, and women face greater constraints in geographic mobility imposed by safety concerns and social norms. Better transport infrastructure should alleviate a major constraint for female entrepreneurs in accessing markets. India’s future growth escalators are in creating a robust platform for growth, and successfully utilizing its workforce, both male and female.

  • The role of rising female education needs further investigation, as it is not associated with a commensurate rise in labour market attachment. Education appears to play other roles. It is suggested that education also plays a role in the marriage market, and it affects productivity of home production.
  • The role of policies needs to be investigated more clearly. More micro evidence on the effectiveness of employment policies is crucially necessary. Experimental Evidence provide interesting evidence, but more is required here. The role of macro, trade and structural policies also needs to be investigated.



Unlocking the potential of women definitely requires an increase and shift in the composition of overall employment opportunities as well as questioning of societal strictures. As the country commends itself on world-leading economic growth and aspires towards a $20 trillion economy, it becomes necessary to take women along to make this goal a reality. Societal change will be the largest needle mover, but a constant push through the government, organizations and individuals is critical to bend societal norms for the better.