India is one of the lowest globally in terms of female labour force participation (FLFP), ranking only better than Pakistan in South Asia. While the decline in FLFP in rural areas is starkly visible, the urban FLFP has been consistently low since the 1980s despite higher economic growth and increasing level of education among females. The economic cost of such low FLFP (16.8%) is huge and if, for instance, it could be raised to the level of FLFP in China (61.5%), it has the potential to raise India’s GDP up to 27%. This paper attempts to investigate the structural deficiencies behind this consistently low urban FLFP through a variety of perspectives, ranging from measuring the complexity of women’s work to the implications of caste, location and family structure. It finds factors like presence of female-friendly industries, provision of regular salaried jobs and policies that cater to women’s needs to work near home like availability of part-time work, can improve the situation, though prejudices arising from patriarchy require to be addressed to make these measures truly transformative and not palliative.
The Centre for Policy Research gratefully acknowledges support from Oxfam India in the preparation of this working paper.Publisher Page>