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IWWAGE celebrates 5 years of Evidence to Policy
IWWAGE celebrates 5 years of Evidence to Policy

Global evidence shows that women make a significant contribution to the economy, yet they continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Despite economic growth, decline in fertility rates of women, and rise in schooling and improved learning outcomes for girls, Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) levels in India remain alarmingly low. Resources, assets and other rights and entitlements also continue to remain low, leading to limited to no impacts on other social development outcomes. Economic empowerment of women is fundamental to achieving gender equality and inclusive growth.

The Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) was set up in 2018 to address this challenge. The initiative aims to build on existing research and generate new evidence to inform and facilitate the agenda of women’s economic empowerment. IWWAGE is hosted by LEAD, an action-oriented research centre of IFMR Society and has strategic oversight and brand support from Krea University (sponsored by IFMR Society) to enable synergies between academia and the research centre. Since its inception, IWWAGE has partnered with renowned institutions, scholars and academicians, experts in the area in order to generate new evidence for developing deeper understanding of the issues around women’s labour force participation. It has also encouraged young scholars to come forward and work in newer areas of research on these issues. The initiative has also nurtured young talent, built their capacity in secondary data analysis, gain experience of field-based studies and develop writing skills to produce a body of work from IWWAGE that adds to the existing debates and discourse around measuring women’s work, identifying challenges and barriers faced by women in accessing labour markets, improving labour market outcomes for women as well as find mechanisms for improving and increasing opportunities for women in all sectors of the economy.

IWWAGE through partner organisations in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha is testing innovative solutions on the ground to understand what works to build women’s agencies. The initiative SWAYAM (Strengthening Women’s institutions for Agency and Empowerment) provides technical assistance to DAY-NRLM under the Ministry of Rural Development on raising awareness and capacity building to integrate gender perspectives across different verticals of the NRLM and state cadres, establishing gender resource centers that respond to women’s needs and support the optimization of existing resources. Additionally, IWWAGE through SWAYAM is also engaged in the evaluation of programmes that measure the strength of women’s institutions as well as the efficacy of these programmes that endeavour to drive women’s empowerment.

IWWAGE has engaged with a range of stakeholders in its journey over the last 5 years carrying forward its mandate of improving women’s economic empowerment not only through evidence generation but also moving a step further and attempting to integrate its findings into policies for women – working with the government, helping with developing policy interventions with the private sector and raising awareness on critical issues by engaging with media and designing large scale campaigns.


A day-long convening was held in New Delhi to mark the 5 years, showcase some of its milestones and discuss potential focus areas for a way forward. The convening began with opening remarks by Sona Mitra, Principal Economist, IWWAGE leading to the keynote plenary.

The keynote plenary was delivered by the Hon’ble Chief Economic Adviser, Shri Anantha Nageswaran, followed by a discussion with eminent panelists Shri Kapil Viswanathan, President, Krea University and Ms Archna Vyas, Depuy Director, Communications, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The next session was focused on ‘Learnings around women’s labour force participation’. The panelists comprised of Ms. Farzana Afridi, Professor of Economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Ms. Sabina Dewan, President & Executive Director, JustJobs Network, Ms. Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Senior Social Development Specialist, The World Bank, and Ms. Yamini Atmavilas, President, Strategy, Data & Research, The Udaiti Foundation, followed by a discussion with Ms. Shamika Ravi, Member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India.

They shared their views around the low Female Labour Force participation (FLFP) in India. It is a matter of concern that FLFP is lower in India as compared to other low and middle-income countries. The very low FLFP makes India an outlier among countries with similar levels of education and income. The panellists highlighted the reasons behind the low level of FLFP and its persistence over time which include both supply-side and demand side factors.


The next session focused on partnerships with Government on women’s economic empowerment. The speakers for this panel were Dr. Sakshi Khurana, NITI Aayog, Ms Nita Kejrewal, Jt. Secy,DAY-NRLM, MoRD and this session was moderated by Madhu Krishna, Deputy Director and India Gender Lead, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The last session of the day was on partnerships with organisations/ institutions. The panelists comprised of, Ms. Madhura Karnik, Chief Growth Officer, Haqdarshak Empowerment Solutions, Ms. Sumitra Mishra, Executive Director, Mobile Creches, Ms. Suneeta Dhar, Co-Convenor, Feminist Policy Collective, chaired by Ms. Sunaina Kumar T20 Coordinator and Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.  They shared collectives view on building partnerships, civil society organisations as part of the solution and how crucial it is for the organizations to hold equity in the community.


The program ended with a closing address by Sharon Buteau, Executive Director, LEAD at Krea University. Ms. Buteau reminisced about the humble beginnings of IWWAGE five years back and how crucial it is to bring the right people into the correct positions. IWWAGE as an institution is critical to creating knowledge and evidence around women’s economic empowerment and engaging in constructive discourses around the issue; an institution like IWWAGE is a spark creator. Partnerships and connections bring effective solutions, and IWWAGE has been acting as a platform to bring people together and bring knowledge-based solutions that are embedded in the Indian context while also drawing from global evidence.


The world is changing, and it is pertinent to think of ways in which women can be equipped to deal with changes. We must persevere when we work with issues of such complexity. IWWAGE has pioneered and persisted in the last five years, and we look forward to many years.

IWWAGE also launched a compendium capturing our journey over the last five years, “From evidence to action, shaping the future of women at work”. You can access the flipbook here:


You can find the whole recording of the session here:


Arpita Paul
Arpita Paul

Senior Research Associate

Arpita Paul is a statistician cum demographer with over 10 years of quantitative research experience in public health, market research, survey implementation around RMNCH issues in different contextual settings. Her research activities mainly focused on social determinants of health and wellbeing, understanding various aspects of maternal & child health, factors determining the health, wellbeing and living arrangement of the elderly.

Before joining IWWAGE, she was working with Public Health Foundation of India, Gurugram where she was the lead analyst. She has substantial experiences in survey design, large scale data handling, and advanced statistical analysis along with expertise in various statistical software. She has a PhD in Demography from International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai and a post graduate degree in Statistics from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

In her spare time, she enjoys reading and dancing.

Need for Evidence on Skilling in India

In recent years, India’s demographic dividend has sparked scrupulous policy actions to increase its labour force participation. With India having the largest youth population in the world, the government aims to empower the youth using the ‘4E approach’ (Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship, and Excellence). The strengthened emphasis on the aforementioned pillars is inclusive of skill development and has therefore generated a renewed buzz around it. Skill development is increasingly considered a key stepping stone not just towards enhancing India’s overall labour force participation, but especially for the economic upliftment of a pertinent group of beneficiaries, women.

ILO’s Global Employment Trends (2013) rank India 120th out of 131 countries in female labour force participation. The Periodic Labour Force Survey 2020-21 reports that only 34 per cent of females within the working age group are employed. Skilling is looked upon as one of the solutions to the problem. This blog argues that good quality data is a prerequisite to assess the effectiveness and gendered outcomes of skilling programs running across the country.

If we were to google the terms “skill”, “India” and “women” today, approximately all search results would point towards and encourage the importance of skill development for women’s economic empowerment. Even though skill development programmes have existed for decades, they have found a recent push to generate and ensure improved work opportunities for the heightened employable population of the country.  Budget 2023-24 also prioritized funding for the launch of the national flagship programme on skill development: Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) 4.0, which, in lieu of the rising technological advancements, aims to promote skilling in new-age courses like 3D printing, robotics, AI etc.

Several skill development programmes are running across the country, which are differentiated on the basis of their funding sources, policy-making, and implementation bodies, etc. Guided by the National Policy on Skill Development (2015), various schemes are run by the state such as the aforementioned PMKVY, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushal Yojana (DDUGKY), Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS), and National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS). The central body that coordinates all possible skill development efforts across the country is the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), accompanied by its various facilitating bodies. The Ministry was launched in 2015 to improve the link between the demand and supply of skilled workforce and further build the vocational and technical training framework.

Among various facilitators for skilling schemes, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) was set up to help generate funding through Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP). Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds have also driven towards skill development for women.

With such a range of policy intentions and the subsequent programmatic actions towards skilling for women, it is important to gauge how they have impacted women’s engagement in the labour market. The cardinal focus could be to understand how far the extensive skilling ecosystem has upskilled and led women towards being sustained labour force participants, what works for them within these skilling programmes, and what challenges continue to exist that require redevelopment.

According to the Skill India Reporting Hub, the administrative data on the overall implementation of PMKVY portrays that out of more than 60 lakh women enrolled for the scheme, less than one-fifth ended up getting placed. This stark difference between enrollment and placement highlights the need to understand and inspect the skilling process in India. Just like any other social development program, gender sensitivity is also pertinent to the skilling process- wherein, challenges specific to women exist, in addition to overall hurdles with respect to the existing labour supply and market demand.

Gender sensitivity in skilling programs goes on to but is not limited to, recognizing differential needs, building improved support systems, generating disaggregated information, and taking further action based on continued reflection and feedback. Setting up of 5000 new Skill Hubs all across India to further the efforts of Skill India, and “provide comprehensive vocational and skilling training” was highlighted during Budget 2023-24. However, how these hubs will undertake efforts to increase enrolment and retention of women candidates is yet to be seen.

The state-led skilling schemes do undertake measures for increasing women’s participation through reservation, running women-only Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), and providing stipends for travel and residence. However, the statistics suggest the need to go beyond them. There is a need to reflect, regroup and renew our actions to make the continued efforts towards skilling more effective.

It is arduous to delve deeper into the challenges that surround the skilling of women in India due to limited data availability. Administrative data on state-led skilling programs is available through the following portals: Skill India Reporting Hub, NCVT MIS, PMKVY Dashboard, NRLM (on DDUGKY), MSDE dashboard, and NSDC. The data shared through these portals vary with respect to the indicators they contain, and are often not consistently updated or are sparsely filled. The most desolating fact within these available portals is that only a few provide sex-disaggregated information. Even when examined at the state level, only a  few states (Assam and Bihar) provide sex-disaggregated information on their MIS administrative portals on skilling. This is accompanied by a lack of information on process indicators – where ‘enrolment of candidates’ is the consistent measurable indicator, with information lacking on other process indicators such as completion of training, certification, placement, etc. Therefore, the need of the hour is to first build information systems that would help monitor the track we are on before we pace up our actions.

Further, the data on post-placement bifurcation, including employment type, retention rates, etc., is also publicly unavailable. Information on PPP and the role of the private sector in the skilling ecosystem are also not amalgamated within these portals. Data on efforts added by such non-state actors to skill the present population are also almost completely lacking.

The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) is one of the nationally representative surveys that collect primary data on India’s labour force participation, which also happens to include some indicators on the state of skilling in India. Apart from the sparse information obtained through PLFS on skilling, the assessment of the effectiveness of the skilling ecosystem in India is predominantly seen in micro studies. Though it is found that skilling enables women to join the labour force, many studies report challenges that vary depending on the different stages of the skilling process – from the generation of policies, and release of programs or schemes to their uptake, operation, and finally, their contribution to the existing labour force.

The literature further reports that the participation and uptake of women within these programs are deeply affected by societal norms which control their educational status, decision-making, mobility, and access to information and technology.  Importantly, these barriers also encompass how skilling programs are rolled out. For example, the introduction of courses under PMKVY for a ‘digital India’ in lieu of technological advancements would also require taking cognizance of the existing gender differential access to technology.

Therefore, robust evidence generation is pertinent for the skilling programs to identify challenges, improve and run effectively. Such an effort may help track changes in female labour force participation through skilling. However, to further help improve women’s overall well-being and standard of living, access to quality jobs with improved working conditions is necessary. It is essential therefore to track where the women tend to get employed, the sectors they are employed in, and the working conditions they are exposed to by uniting the broad skilling ecosystem in India. Developing such a system would require a holistic approach towards skilling which ensures synergy between policy-making, funding, and implementing bodies. The MSDE could act as a body that oversees these processes and puts into place an accountability mechanism.

Though skilling may prove to be an essential factor in helping more women join the Indian workforce, a meaningful policy dialogue on the subject will only be  possible with the support of enhanced quality of data. This will not only be possible through  cogent data collection, but also making existing data more accessible to development practitioners and policymakers. Such intersectional data can lead to meticulous future actions to address gender inequality and can act as an essential driver of economic growth and prosperity. But most importantly, aid in uplifting individual rights and empowerment.

Prakriti Sharma is a Senior Research Associate at IWWAGE, and has previously worked in the intersection of migration and feminist economics. She is currently engaged in visiblizing women’s work through its improved measurement.

Launch of annual campaign Nayi Chetna with the Ministry of Rural Development

Launch of annual campaign ‘Nayi Chetna’ with the Ministry of Rural Development
A step against gender based discrimination

Gender-based discrimination, often seen in the form of violence against women, girls and gender-diverse individuals, continues to be one of the biggest deterrents to achieving self-growth, well-being and a life of dignity. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 data reveals that 30% of women between the age of 18 and 49 have experienced violence (physical, sexual, or emotional) since 15 years of age. It also reveals that as many as 77% women never sought help from anyone about the violence inflicted on them. Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) ‘Crime in India 2021’ report show that India registered 31,677 cases of rape in 2021 – an average 86 daily – while nearly 49 cases of crime against women were lodged every single hour. With a global rate of 1 in 3 women being a victim of violence, and given its physiological and psychological impacts, this human rights violation deters individuals from achieving their full potential and living a life of their choice. Individuals from socially marginalized groups are more acutely affected as gender-based violence is an added layer of vulnerability.
IWWAGE in partnership with Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana – National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM), UNICEF and Roshni recognize this social evil as a hindrance towards achieving individual and social development and aims to take necessary actions advance the rights of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals. Strategic efforts have been made towards gender-mainstreaming by integrating gender approaches into its policies and programming to address gender inequality. These include building capacities of rural community-based institutions to identify and take action against issues of gender-based discrimination and setting up institutional mechanisms to make this process sustainable. The staff on ground and in the field were also given training and sensitization to integrate gender approaches into operations to create an enabling environment for multi-sectoral gender-responsive and transformative interventions in rural communities.

To add momentum and build on these ongoing efforts against gender-based discrimination, an annual national-level Gender Campaign against Gender-based discrimination, ‘Nayi Chetna’ was initiated. This month-long campaign was flagged off on the 25th of November marking the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, ending on the 23rd of December. The campaign was graced and launched by Hon’ble Sh. Giriraj Singh, Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of India and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Minister of State for Rural Development, Government of India, along with other senior officials from MoRD. IWWAGE also showcased an animated movie called ‘Kamli Ki Kahaani’ translating as ‘The story of Kamli’, a case study-based story following the lead ‘Kamli’, a victim of domestic violence. Through the medium of the video our aim was to educate the audience on various forms of violence and on redressal mechanisms provided by the government for anyone who may be a victim of violence.

The goal of the campaign is to advance the agency and rights of women and gender diverse individuals, by addressing structural barriers for dignified living with no fear and discrimination and violence based on their gender and intersectional identities. This marks the first campaign as the campaign will be observed annually for the next five years, with a focus on specific themes responding to gender equity each year. Importantly, this is envisioned in the spirit of a ‘Jan Andolan’ or People’s movement with follow-up actions planned for the rest of the year beyond the month-long campaign. It will thus gradually work towards deepening an intersectional approach to address multiple vulnerabilities, enhanced convergence and deepening the understanding of gender and generating relevant and ownership for multisectoral action.
The campaign ran in all 34 states and union territories of India. This campaign was implemented by all states in collaboration with CSO partners, and actively executed by all levels including the State, District, Block engaging the Community Institutions along with the extended community. It also marked the inauguration of 160 Gender Resource Centres (GRCs) in 13 states. GRCs are intended to act as a catalyst to support women through social, legal & economic empowerment in private and public spaces, within the family, community and at the workplace. There are 1,251 gender resource centres set up across the country from where women facing gender violence can seek help. The Campaign also brought together all line departments and stakeholders to create a concerted effort in acknowledging, identifying, and addressing issues of violence. There was an array of activities which were conducted during the campaign, some of which were night walk, rallies, street plays, wall paintings, hosting of legal and gender camps and women leadership workshops.

Watch the recording here

Surabhi Awasthi
Surabhi Awasthi

Senior Research Associate

Surabhi Awasthi is a Senior Research Associate at IWWAGE, and is currently working with the Strengthening Women’s Institutions for Agency and Empowerment (SWAYAM) for the National Rural Livelihood Mission. She has previously worked with the National Human RightsCommission as a consultant providing research support in the policy and research division on theissues related to women and children. Before joining Iwwage, she led the research team for theGeography of Philosophy Project based at IIT, Delhi, and headquartered at the University ofPittsburgh (USA). She is a trained qualitative researcher with experience in narrative inquiry andethnography; her research interests include gender, labor, and changing family institutions.Surabhi holds an M.Phil. in Social Work from the University of Delhi, where she was awarded aJunior Research Fellowship from the University Grants Commission, India. Through her work,she aims to bridge the gap between academia and practical policy goals, particularly related tofurthering women’s equality in India through education and welfare policy.In her free time Surabhi enjoys cooking and researching about food history and food science, andspend time with her cats.

Suchika Gupta
Suchika Gupta

Research Associate

Suchika is working as a Research Associate at IWWAGE. She has completed her Bachelors in Arts from Sri Venkateswara college, Delhi University and MSc in Economics from Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune. She is a research enthusiast and loves gardening, making crafts, doing yoga and is a big linguaphile in her free time. Her research interests include poverty, inequality, trade, gender, and other developmental areas.

Shreya Ghosh
Shreya Ghosh

Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager

Shreya Ghosh is Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager at IWWAGE. She is responsible for the execution of IWWAGE’s policy advocacy strategy and is the primary point of contact for various policymakers and policy influencers to engage in a constructive dialogue to advance women’s economic empowerment in India.

She has nearly thirteen years of experience across sectors including livelihoods, education and child protection, with gender and disability as cross cutting themes. She began her career with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), GoI, and has thereafter worked with reputed organisations including Tata Trusts and Child Rights and You (CRY). Prior to joining IWWAGE, Shreya was the lead for policy and advocacy at CRY, where she was responsible for the development of evidence-based policy briefs, providing policy inputs into research reports, strategic engagement with policy stakeholders at national level and supporting the programme teams on advocacy for system strengthening.

Shreya holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

Sruthi Kutty
Sruthi Kutty

Program Manager

Sruthi is a Program Manager (Research) at IWWAGE. In the past, she has donned various roles in the policy and government consulting realms working on a range of developmental issues with think tanks, government agencies, civil society organizations and citizens’ groups. Before joining IWWAGE, she worked with UN Women as the Coordinator of the Feminist Policy Collective.

Sruthi’s experience comprises of diverse engagements around feminist economics, women’s entrepreneurship, gender-sensitive urban planning as well as documenting the gendered impact of development projects. She holds a Bachelors degree in Engineering from Mumbai University, a Masters degree in Public Policy & Governance from Azim Premji University, Bangalore and a PG Diploma in Communications from Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai. She is generally always on a quest to find feminist perspectives in everyday life.

Prakriti Sharma
Prakriti Sharma

Senior Research Associate

Prakriti is a Senior Research Associate at IWWAGE. She holds a Post Graduate Degree from TERI School of Advanced Studies in Sustainable Development Practice. As a researcher, she has worked for organisations such as IFAD India, UNICEF Uganda and NITI Aayog where she has conducted on-field research studies, supervised primary and secondary data collection, led and conducted desk reviews, performed data analysis and co-authored various reports. Throughout her career, her core research interests have been gender and livelihoods.

Preeti Bawa
Preeti Bawa

Senior HR and
Administrative Manager

Flawless in administrative and HR skills, Preeti is passionate towards the operations work she is doing. She has robust and more than 17 years of experience in Admin and HR management especially in the Development Sector. Prior to moving to IWWAGE, Preeti worked as an Administration Manager with Catalyst, another project of LEAD (IFMR Society) at Krea University .

She has worked with FHI 360 for a decade in various capacities including Admin Officer and supporting Country Director. She has great counseling skills.

Preeti has an Economics degree from Delhi University, Diploma in Office Management from YMCA, and Operational Management Diploma from MIT and PGPM from Great Lakes Institute.