Register with us

IWWAGE-Institute for What Works to Advance Gender Equality

Women’s control over their economic resources: Evidence from NFHS 5

Economic violence refers to any act or behavior causing economic harm to an individual and generally involves coercive control of economic resources of a person . It is one of the many interconnected forms of violence often taking place at the domestic realm in the context of intimate relationships leading to adverse consequences on mental, physical, and financial well-being as well as other development opportunities of the victims and their dependents both in the short and long-term. This blog attempts to provide estimates of the incidence of economic violence in India based on the National Family Health Survey 5, conducted during 2019-21.

Although economic violence is now legally recognized in a few of the European Union member states like Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia and it is a commonly used tactic by perpetrators for coercive control over the victims and co-occurs with other forms of violence, it is less talked about and underreported. The under-reporting arises majorly due to the general lack of awareness about what constitutes economic violence. The gap in empirical understanding of economic violence and the factors influencing the occurrence of this form of violence also leads to a vacuum in the policy-making space through prohibitive measures to support the survivors.

There are majorly three types of economic violence categorized by the European Institute of Gender Equality: economic control which includes preventing, limiting, or controlling a victim’s finances and related decision-making; economic exploitation which means using the economic resources of a victim to the abuser’s advantage; and economic sabotage which involves preventing a victim from pursuing, obtaining, or maintaining employment and/or education. However, the identified indicators from NFHS 5 allows us to explore only the extent of economic control and economic exploitation experienced by women in India.

According to NFHS 5, 49% of women, aged between 15 to 49 years, don’t have the decision-making power on how to spend their own money. The situation is relatively better for urban women as compared to their rural counterparts since the share is relatively lower at 43% for urban women and 51% for rural women. This is because urban women face less restrictive socio-cultural norms and enjoy better agency as compared to rural women. Also, there exists vast state-wise variation when it comes to women’s control over their own money. The three states with highest shares of women with decision-making power over their own money, are Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka with the shares being 62%, 61%, and 59% respectively, whereas the worst performing states are Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam with the shares being 32%, 29% and 28% respectively. The state-wise patterns indicate varying levels of women’s agency and the associated socio-cultural norms across the states. 

The control over one’s own money also varies among women in different age-cohorts, with the control steadily increasing with age. While only 35% women in the age-cohort of 15-19 years can decide how to spend their own money, this share rises to 59% for women in the age-cohort of 45-49 years. As women transition from young adulthood to middle age, their growing social network often make them collectively empowered, help them challenge the restrictive social norms and exercise better agency. Moreover, financial distress has been a contributing factor to the prevalence of economic violence as 54% women in the ‘poorest quintile’ reported not having the control over their own financial resources. This percentage goes down among women belonging to upper expenditure quintiles.

The partner pay gap- the difference in earnings between the partners – turns out to be a significant influencer of economic violence as women’s relative earning position tends to determine the interpersonal power dynamics within the couple. Around 65% of women who earn equal to their husbands or more than their husbands, are found to have command on how they spend their own money, and the share is 59% for those earning less than their male spouses. The findings from NFHS 5 reveal a U-shaped relationship between women’s control over their own economic resources and their education level. This implies that women at very low levels of education have better command over their economic resources as compared to women in secondary/higher-secondary levels of education; the control increases for women with graduation/post-graduation levels of education. As NFHS 5 reveals, this too can be explained by the partner pay gap. According to the data, the share of women earning more or less similar to their male spouses is high among women with lower levels of education and thus on average they enjoy better command over their economic resources. Women at secondary/higher secondary levels of education, earn much lower than their spouses on average, leading to lower agency and less control on their own economic resources, and again the ‘partner pay gap’ declines for women with tertiary level of education, leading to better agency. Additionally, as the education levels of the male spouses increases, the females are found to enjoy more decision-making power over their own earnings as educated men are supposed to conform to more gender-equal norms. Approximately 50% of women whose male spouses received no education, don’t have any command over their own money. This share goes down to 36% for women with male partners educated above the secondary level.

Another commonly found example of financial abuse is the male spouse depleting the wife’s savings without her knowledge/consent. According to NFHS 5, around 44% of women stated that they have a bank savings account of their own, but they are not in control of the money in it. This share again varies by education levels, with the share being 44% for women without any education level and the share declining to 36% for those with education level above secondary level, reflecting higher agency among educated women.

Despite the pervasiveness of low agency of women when it comes to controlling their own incomes and financial resources, the recognition of it is lower. This lack of recognition is often due to not acknowledging the exclusion as another form of discrimination and assault on women. This points to the need for generating more evidence and awareness around the various forms of exclusion both in the legal and scholarly spheres. Criminalizing economic abuse would help to send a firm message about the unacceptability of this form of violence. Allocating significant budgetary resources for training legal professionals for increasing their capacity to recognize, investigate, and prosecute economic violence would be needed to address and prevent its occurrence. Along with this, the access to the services to combat familial violence must be provided to its victims too. Lastly, we need more sophisticated surveys capturing the various dimensions of economic violence to fully comprehend the subject.


This blog is written by Aneek Choudhury, Research Associate and Bidisha Mondal, Research Fellow at IWWAGE.


Picture credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment

Caring for the Caregivers: Strengthening Voices of Care in the Global South

Panel discussion titled, “Caring for the Caregivers: Strengthening Voices of Care in the Global South” at the NGO Committee on the Status of Women (NGO CSW/NY)

IWWAGE along with its partner ORF conducted a panel discussion titled, “Caring for the Caregivers: Strengthening Voices of Care in the Global South” at the NGO CSW68 event on March 15th.

Shamika Ravi, Member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) set the stage the context to the insight conversation by sharing her thoughts and experiences, she mentioned that care has been set as a policy priority and that for a long time now, it’s women that are coming under extraordinary pressure, due to the disproportionate burden of care being placed on their shoulders, especially as they explore work opportunities outside the household. There is a need to prioritize the evolution and healthy development of care economy in India to support the primary caregivers in our society, the majority of whom happen to be women. Referring to a white paper released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, she recommended reading it as it describes several components of the care economy that have emerged over the years and that are fundamental to the growth of the sector, and these include what we emphasize is different kinds of care, infrastructure, belief, policies, maternal and paternal, skill, training job creation and regulatory requirements for promoting these various segments of the market. She also shed light on the fact that through the ministry there has been serious effort made in the direction of care economy and it in some ways is a commitment and serves as a promise to make care a fundamental part of the economy.



Taking the discussion forward, Sona Mitra, Director- Research and Policy, IWWAGE shed light that shed light on the advocacy efforts aimed at centering care in policy discussions and stressed the importance of focusing on financing for care, exploring questions regarding investment strategies and other areas for intervention. She also wants that the focus of the discussion should also be on financing for care, and dwell upon questions such as how it is important to invest in care and what we really want to look at by understanding investments in care? What are the tools of investments, areas, or the various components of care?

The moderator, Sunaina Kumar, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation took forward points made by Shamika Ravi by shedding light on the increase of demand of care due to globally shifting demographic trends, increasing young and aging population, along with more nuclear families. She underscored the increasing demand for care due to shifting demographic trends and emphasized its intrinsic and instrumental value to society and economies worldwide. She also mentioned how care has both instrumental as well as intrinsic value to society, it is at the heart of societies and families, and the future of our economies increasingly.



Speaking of the Brazilian experience, Luciana S., President, I-AER Institute of Applied Economic Research discussed the need for advocacy around care in the country and the importance of bringing in the care workers as stakeholders in the process of policy making. She focused on the need for addressing lingering gender norms and advocating for policy innovation and international cooperation to address financing challenges. She also emphasised that is a need for policy innovation that can be brought from one’s own experience as well as shared knowledge between the global South. She also talked about how the challenges are bigger and the opportunities are smaller in terms of financing and that’s where the role of international cooperation and multilateralism is important. It was also heartening to hear that Brazil is thinking of bringing in the care workers as stakeholders in the process of policy making.



Gloria Lang’at, Research Scientist, African Population and Health Research Center emphasized the universal importance of care while highlighting its under-resourced nature, particularly in terms of investment and caregiver remuneration. She also spoke of the need for highlighting the role of the community in the care economy as well as greater inclusion of geriatric care and care for the disabled in these discussions. She also brought out an important point on the care for elderly people as well as the disabled and how it is often overlooked. She also expressed her concern over the lack of inclusion of the role of community in discussions around the care economy.

Brett Weisel, Global Policy and Advocacy Lead, Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) stressed on the interconnectedness of outcomes for women and children, advocating for purposeful linkage of agendas to form powerful political coalitions. He also emphasized the importance of gender-transformative and child-centered systems and grassroots advocacy to support caregivers effectively. He also pointed that there is a need to have systems that are both gender-transformative and child-cantered at the same time, should support the workforce.

For those interested, a recording of the session is available for viewing:

Promoting Women in Leadership for Improving Economic Outcomes, IWWAGE at Access Livelihoods Summit 2024
Promoting Women in Leadership for Improving Economic Outcomes, IWWAGE at Access Livelihoods Summit 2024



During the Livelihoods India Summit 2024, Institute for What Works to Advance Gender Equality (IWWAGE) organized a panel discussion session on Promoting Women in Leadership for Improving Economic Outcomes on January 18 in New Delhi. The session contributed to the current discourse on ‘women in leadership’, what it entails, highlighted measures that cover organizational strategies and best practices to accelerate women’s leadership.


The goal of ushering in women-led development requires concerted efforts on multiple fronts. Facilitating and enabling women in leadership positions can cause significant shifts in improving women’s economic outcomes using modern feminist methods.


The proportion of women in leadership roles is low in India. For example, a report by Dasra found that women’s workforce occupies only 18% of leadership roles in India’s healthcare sector, earning 34% less than their male counterparts. Another survey from Grant Thornton found that women hold 36% of senior management positions in mid-market companies in India. Creating an enabling ecosystem for women to transition into key decision making and leadership roles is critical not only from the point of view of diversity and inclusion but is also necessary for strengthening alternative forms of leadership that are starkly different from traditional approaches.

Enabling women leaders in politics, economics, finance, businesses, social sectors and so on, is crucial for institutionalizing gender-responsive mechanisms that cater to the needs of women in all sectors of the economy and facilitates in closing the rigid gender gaps. Women’s leadership has evidence of creating systems that operate to include and facilitate women not only in their productive spheres but adds to it by creating ‘caring’ spaces.

This panel aimed to contribute to the current discourse on ‘women in leadership’, what it entails, highlight measures that cover organizational strategies, market-based approaches and brings to the fore some of the existing knowledge and best practices from select sectors that accelerate women’s leadership.


Moderated by Sona Mitra, Principal Economist, IWWAGE


The Speakers were:

  1. Yamini Atmavilas – Udaiti Foundation
  2. Shagun Sabharwal, Co-impact
  3. Nayana Chowdhury, Breakthrough


Panel on “Advancing Women’s Work in Global South: Towards Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality” at the IHD Global Conclave 2024
Panel on “Advancing Women’s Work in Global
South: Towards Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality” at the IHD Global
Conclave 2024

IWWAGE along with Niti Aayog organized a Panel on “Advancing Women’s Work in Global South: Towards Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality” at the Global Conclave organized by the Institute of Human Development on 12th January, 2024 at the India International Centre.

Chair and Moderator

Sonalde Desai, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, US, and Professor, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi


  • Wei-Jun Jean Yeung, Professor and Provost’s Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
  • National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • Marina Durano, Adviser on Care Economy and Partnership, Engagement, UNI Global Union, Geneva
  • Sakshi Khurana, Senior Specialist, Skill Development, Labour & Employment, NITI Aayog, Government of India
  • Sona Mitra, Principal Economist, IWWAGE – An initiative of LEAD, Krea University
  • Kyoko Kusakabe, Professor, Gender and Development Studies, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand
  • Grace Wamue-Ngare, Professor, Gender and Development Studies, Department of Sociology, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya


The panel was Chaired by Dr. Sonalde Desai, and included presentations by a diverse group of speakers offer a comprehensive panorama of the intricate landscape surrounding women’s work on a global scale. Sakshi Khurana, Senior Specialist at NITI Aayog, illuminated the gender disparities prevalent in labor force participation, wage pay, and managerial roles, drawing attention to the transformative impact of digital technologies on women. Wei-Jun Jean Yeung provided an insightful analysis of the Asia-Pacific region, detailing economic dynamics, gender parity trends, and the varied challenges confronting women in the region. Marina Durano delved into the constitutional recognition of care work, shedding light on the evolving discourse around the right to work within the framework of a care economy. Sona Mitra’s focus on the declining Female Labor Force Participation Rate in India highlighted the qualitative distinctions in women’s work, with an emphasis on care and unpaid activities. Kyoko Kusakabe’s case study on Thailand explored the nuanced effects of automation and digitization on women’s roles in the workforce. Grace Wamue-Ngare offered a lens into the persistent gender disparities in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly through the lens of initiatives by the KU-WEE Hub in Kenya aimed at dismantling barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment. Together, these presentations weaved a rich tapestry that underscore the imperative for nuanced, context-specific strategies to bolster women’s economic participation, acknowledging regional nuances and the intersectional challenges that women face globally.

Capturing Quality of Women’s Work: Going beyond FLFPR

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, was awarded to Claudia Goldin, professor of economics at Harvard University, on October 9th 2023 for ‘having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes’. The recognition of Claudia Goldin’s work is expected to strengthen the discourse around gender inequalities in the Indian labour market too. Although Goldin’s work majorly focuses on high income economies, it holds important insights for the gender differences in labour market returns in India. Her work underscores the need for data collection and evidence generation on identity-based differences in labour market outcomes and critiques identity-insensitive policy-making. Using PLFS 2021-22 data, this blog explores the nature and quality of work that women in India are engaged in and how it is influenced by demographic and socio-economic factors.

In India, along with the low female workforce participation rate at 25% (PLFS 2021-22), another major concern is women’s engagement in job opportunities of poor quality in terms of wages and other benefits. A striking feature of the Indian labour market is the overwhelming presence of women engaged as unpaid family workers. According to Periodic Labour Force Survey 2021-22, 37% (all India) of total employed women are working as unpaid family workers and this percentage rises up to 43% in case of rural women. Unpaid family workers are those who are working without any pay or profit in a family operated farm or a business owned by any household member with whom the person is related by kinship/marriage/adoption etc. The unpaid family workers are considered to be part of the labour force and their contribution gets counted in national income, but their work doesn’t get remunerated and the profit belongs to the owner of the family business. The worker engages and contributes to the business considering it a part of household responsibility/obligation. Thus, in spite of being a part of the workforce, this form of engagement isn’t expected to lead to financial empowerment due to the absence of remuneration unlike the mainstream labour market activities. This non-monetized nature of the activities of unpaid family workers leads to lack of recognition of women’s work and women’s agency and often leads to underreporting of women’s work. Thus, understanding the factors influencing women’s decision to work as unpaid workers in family businesses and hindering them from entering paid work opportunities is imperative to enable informed policy-making for ensuring remunerative engagement of these women.


Women’s engagement as unpaid family workers is concentrated in agriculture and related activities, as 89% of them are in these farm-related activities. However, women’s participation as unpaid family workers differs by demographic variables like age-group, education level, skill training, care responsibilities and also characteristics of the households. The share of working women engaged as unpaid family helpers is much higher at 47% among those aged between 15-25 years, as compared to 34-38% among the older age-cohorts. This reflects that social norms are more restrictive for younger women when it comes to working outside the family. The education level also influences women’s working status. The share of working women engaged in unpaid family business is highest at 42% among those who are illiterate. Although, the share goes down with rise in education level, a share as high as 37% of working women with middle to higher-secondary level of education and 13% of working women with as highly qualified as graduates, post-graduates and above, are engaged as unpaid helpers in family businesses. This fact points towards the lack of paid job opportunities for those with mid to high-levels of education, along with constraining social norms. The PLFS data however indicates that those who received formal vocational training are less likely to work as unpaid family workers and tend to engage in remunerative engagements. This is indicated by the share of working women with formal vocational training engaged as unpaid family workers which is 10%,  much lower than others.

Along with these characteristics, women’s care responsibilities also influence their decision to work inside or outside their homes. The PLFS 2021-22 shows that the share of working women engaged in family businesses as unpaid helpers is 45% for those with children aged below 5 years, whereas the share is much lower at 34% for others. Additionally, as the household’s income rises, the likelihood of women being engaged as unpaid helpers in family businesses declines. According to the PLFS 2021-22, the share of working women engaged as unpaid family workers is 44% in the lowest income class and the share declines to 26% for those women belonging to the uppermost income class. This is evidently due to the inability of poorer households to hire paid workers from outside and instead have to engage household members in their family businesses.

As the factors leading to women’s engagement in these non-remunerative activities are many, including restrictive social norms, lack of job opportunities, lack of skills, care responsibilities etc, a multifaceted approach is needed to shift these women to remunerative opportunities. As the data indicate that vocational training is effective to ensure women’s remunerative engagements, raising awareness among women about these programmes, strengthening the existing programmes for higher outreach, skill training of women for the emerging non-traditional sectors, would be impactful policy measures. The availability of job opportunities for highly skilled and qualified women in the non-farm sector would also encourage women to take up these remunerative opportunities instead of working as unpaid family workers. Thus, creation of good quality job opportunities in the secondary and tertiary sectors and women-friendly work environment would be needed to address these concerns. As childcare responsibilities often act as a constraint for women to work outside their homes, state provisioning of childcare facilities would free up women’s time for commitments beyond the domestic sphere. Above all, making women aware of the implications of economic empowerment for their agency is of utmost importance for encouraging them to taking up remunerative engagements.


The blog is authored  by Dr. Bidisha Mondal, Research Fellow, IWWAGE

Radha Executive Director

Executive Director, IWWAGE

Radha is a qualified senior level professional having more than three decades of expertise in the development and humanitarian sector—in operations, management and programmes. She has worked in South Asia, particularly in India and Nepal, with multiple stakeholders including governments, UN agencies, INGOs and civil society organizations. Prior to joining IWWAGE, she has held diverse senior level positions including representative positions in the United Nations.

Her thematic excellence lies on gender equality and inclusion, women empowerment, gender based violence, emergencies, social protection, livelihood and skill building, environment and climate, and migration.

Achieving Gender Equality in STEM: Towards an Inclusive and Diverse Ecosystem

The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, referred together as STEM, are crucial to a nation’s economic prosperity and global competitiveness. Prioritizing STEM education can lead to creation of new technologies and industries, sustainable solutions to climate challenges and greater participation in the global economy. As STEM fields have been historically dominated by men, promoting gender diversity holds the key to creativity, innovation, and harnessing the full potential of the human capital of an economy. This blog delves into the present trends of women’s participation in the STEM sector and how it can be improved.
According to a report by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), the number of STEM jobs in India is expected to reach 100 million by 2025. This represents an increase of over 50% from the current 63 million jobs in the STEM sector. Research also suggests that women in India who take up science are more likely to be employed and earn about 28% more than women who study non-technical subjects. This makes it imperative that India focuses on achieving gender parity within STEM and creates an enabling ecosystem for more women to join STEM.
The AISHE 2020-21 reports that though the overall enrolment of women in education has increased, over the past few years, women’s enrolment rates across STEM courses at the undergraduate level has increased only marginally. Overall trends in STEM specifically, including undergraduate, postgraduate, M.Phil and PhD courses, indicate that women form about only 43.2% of the sample. B.Tech and B.E programmes have only 28.7% and 28.5% women respectively.
The promising figures of women obtaining STEM education does not get translated into the workforce. India sees the lowest participation of women in STEM globally at 26% of the STEM workforce. Indian women make up for only 13.9% of the researchers globally. Less than 5% of academic department chairs are women, who make up only 9% of fellows in the three Indian science academies (INSA, IASc, and NASI). This trend shows a huge drop off from education to joining the workforce, indicating that women face constant barriers while navigating employment in STEM.
The pipeline for women in STEM leadership roles starts wide at the time of education but narrows considerably as one moves upwards, resembling a leaky funnel that drains their talent and expertise from the system. Many factors contribute to women dropping out of the leaky pipeline of STEM. One major factor is the gendering of science and technology, which makes these fields deem suitable only for men. Boys and girls are socialised into traditional gender roles from a young age, which influences their career choices. Starting in school, children are exposed to traditionalist views on gender through curriculum design, classroom behaviour, and other interactions.
Even within STEM, the proportion of women students is not evenly distributed. Women’s enrolment in some prestigious science subjects, such as chemistry (42%), physics (38%), and engineering (32%), remains relatively low. AISHE 2020-21 shows that in the UG level there are only 6.68% women students in mechanical engineering and 23% in civil engineering. However, other fields, like life sciences (56%), microbiology (67%), and information technology/computer sciences (54%), witness higher enrolment of women, as per data from the Ministry of Education (in 2020).
These trends result in women finding themselves devoid of networking opportunities within the STEM workforce. It has often been reported that STEM workplaces and schools are often dominated by “boys’ clubs,” which are groups of men that systematically exclude women. This makes it difficult for women to feel supported within STEM fields, and many women choose not to pursue STEM careers as a result. This further leads to the persistence of a ‘glass ceiling’ perpetuated by social biases, traditionalist views of gender roles and prejudiced behaviour that exclude and discriminate against women. Encouragingly, issues like salary gaps and overt gender discrimination in India are improving, but deep-rooted social norms and biases continue to hinder progress for women especially in leadership roles.
Such an ecosystem deters women’s entry and growth in STEM fields. Overrepresentation of men prevents growth of women into leadership positions, denying early-career professionals of leaders to mentor and sponsor them. As decision-makers are mostly men, workplaces are structured to disfavour women with inflexible working hours, infrastructure, lack of childcare support, etc. Additionally, women are required to balance household responsibilities along with work responsibilities.
To address these gaps the Government of India has implemented a number of initiatives to promote women in STEM. Initiatives like the supernumerary scheme have added more seats for women in IITs. Such a scheme for private institutions can go a long way in bringing more women into STEM and creating gender parity across STEM streams. Further, the Department of Science and Technology’s Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions charter (GATI) aims to establish gender equality practices at the institutional level through sensitisation and awareness generation in STEM institutions. The KIRAN initiative is aimed at inducting more women talent in the research & development domain through various programmes. Furthermore, the mobility Scheme of the Department of Science and Technology supports women scientists in relocation due to spouse transfers, caregiving, or children’s education in different cities.
These initiatives have been successful in increasing women’s participation in STEM, but they fall short on tackling existing biases. We need school curriculums that do not conform to traditional gender roles in labour. Additionally, schools can make an active effort to introduce gender-equity within the curriculum so that young girls are better equipped to navigate gendered ecosystems. Such early-stage initiatives should be complemented with mentoring and sponsorship initiatives at the workplace that will support women’s growth.
Another challenge for India is the lack of gender-disaggregated data on women’s participation in the sector. While the data for educational institutions and public employment in STEM is available, the private sector lags behind in reporting gender disaggregated data. Availability of such data can be beneficial in promoting women’s participation in the private sector and also enable state and union governments to promote women’s participation and education in a transparent and efficient manner.
Considering the significant impact of science and technology on economic growth, it is essential to implement more strategies that promote and retain women in STEM fields. Gender diversity in STEM has a profound impact on developing nations by driving economic growth, technological advancement, and societal well-being. Through an emphasis on investing in promoting women’s participation in STEM education, countries can capitalise on their human capital, foster innovation, and address global challenges.

The blog is authored by Sayak Sinha, Policy Manager, IWWAGE