India won't succeed if Indian women don’t succeed

When fewer women participate in the labour force, the economy operates without the talents and abilities of half the population. The unfair playing field has extraordinary economic costs, and can greatly affect the economic health of the country.
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Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Iran, West Bank and Gaza - these countries are the only nations that have a lower Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) rate than India.

All other countries are better than India in this regard. Take a moment. Let that sink in.

Afghanistan does better than India. So does Bahrain. Bhutan does much better. So do China and Indonesia. And the list goes on.

The FLFP or the Female Labour Force Participation Rate is the percentage of women in the workforce in a country. In India, only 21 percent of the workforce consists of women. This is less than half the global average. As an Indian, this statistic causes me great distress.

Think about the potential that goes unused, solely because of the gender of the individual.

Having more women in the workforce is beneficial to everyone, including men.

What causes this abject level of FLFP in India? What can be done about it? What would India look like if FLFP was much higher?

Why wait till 2080, when we could be there today?

The Indian workforce consists of 500 million people, growing at a rate of approximately 5 million people per year.

Women constitute 100 of these 500 million. If I simplistically extrapolate the present number, we will have 300 million more workers by 2080. If as many women were in the workforce today as men, we would already have 300 million additional workers.

That would happen today. Not 60 years from now.

India is headed to become the most populous country by 2027, and will soon have the largest workforce in the world. Imagine the benefits for women joining the workforce. Hundreds of millions of women would raise the GDP of the nation conspicuously. As a result, family incomes will rise. Achieving gender equality right now can reap a myriad of benefits, economically and socially.

When more women join the workforce, wages rise - including for men

According to Harvard Business Review, greater participation by women in the workforce means there will be a larger workforce, which would lead to higher productivity and wages over time.

It also says that for every 10 percent increase in women working, there is a five percent increase in wages overall. Adding more women to the labour force should bring substantial economic gains than an equal increase in male workers.

When fewer women participate in the labour force, the economy operates without the talents and abilities of half the population. The unfair playing field has extraordinary economic costs, and can greatly affect the economic health of the country. Ask yourself: why would you want to forfeit these benefits? Solely due to social norms about gender roles? Isn’t it time to rethink the role of women in the workplace in specific, and in society in general?

Good intentions can have unintended bad consequences

We have kept our women away from these activities of ours and have thus become victims of a kind of paralysis. The nation walks with one leg only. All its work appears to be only half or incompletely done. ~ Mahatma Gandhi at the Gujarat Political Conference in Godhra in November 1917, referring to the scant participation of women in India’s independence movement.

India is bearing the consequences of the lack of women in the workforce and has begun to do something about it. It has launched programmes such as the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana, and has amended the Maternity Benefit Act in 2017.

The 2017 Maternity Benefits Act has increased the number of weeks of paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Although this sounds like a great idea that would allow women to maintain work-life-balance, the fear is that this has led to an increase in employer’s bias.

Employers are now believed to be more hesitant towards hiring women as they feel paid maternity leave may affect their company's finances adversely. While working on gender reform, it is crucial to understand the underlying social and economic imperatives.

Despite widespread poverty, social issues keep women out of the workforce even in rural India

No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.

~ Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of the US

Rural areas have been affected the worst when it comes to lack of female participation in the workforce. There has been a three-fold rise in unemployment rates for young rural women from 4.8 percent in 2011-12 to 13.6 percent in 2017-18. This reinforces what gender economists and experts have always said: women want to work, but lack jobs.

Millions of young girls and women were rendered unemployed due to the shrinkage of the agricultural sector and the lack of alternative jobs. This has caused us tremendous losses as a society since these women were contributing significantly to the rural economy. Social norms and gender stereotypes have prevented women in rural areas from developing. If we cannot improve at the village level, we are doomed at the national level.

The 5-trillion economy coal of India is hollow sloganeering if women do not participate

A McKinsey Global Institute report suggests that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by the year 2025 by advancing women’s equality. This proves that gender equality is not just a social and moral issue, but also an economic one. The present Indian government has announced its goal to make India a $5 trillion economy by the year 2024.

This has been widely criticised and even ridiculed. It is deemed near impossible, as it took around 13 years to make India a $2.8 trillion economy from a $1 trillion economy.

However, we still have one trick up our sleeve: we could mobilise the women in the workforce and that could give the Indian GDP a much-needed boost. 

The IT And STEM industry could be revolutionised by including women 

India is widely known as a global hub for Information Technology (IT) and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The IT industry in India has a large share in the global services sourcing industry. However, even this remains frustratingly male-dominated. Closing the gender gap in these industries would improve the industry by several billion dollars, and could add several million jobs to these industries. The new jobs are likely to be fruitful because women graduating from STEM often progress into better positions. India has been gifted with a massive population. By utilising our labour force, we can change India and quite likely the whole world.

Bangladesh was like India; now it is far ahead

Bangladesh and India used to have a similar FLFP until Bangladesh put it’s best efforts to add women in the workforce, particularly in the apparel industry. Upon adding more women to the workforce in the readymade garment industry, Bangladesh established itself as one of the largest exporters of readymade clothing. Large brands like H&M, Zara, Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch outsource the production of their clothes to Bangladesh.

If Bangladesh could turn the tables by closing gender gaps, why not India? Think about it this way: Indians are indirectly paying wages to Bangladeshi women instead of encouraging Indian women to produce the same garment.

Gender issues sound like social issues, but they have deep economic repercussions. India has always dreamed of being an economic superpower and self-reliant. The easiest way to achieve this would be by fostering gender parity. Not only should an equal number of women and men be in the workforce, but also they should also contribute equally to the economy.

This article first appeared here.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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