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Wage employment for women: Forgotten priorities

Low and declining women’s labour force participation rates in India have been a longstanding concern. Government policies for addressing this challenge have mainly emphasised promoting entrepreneurship among women. Designing skill development programmes (DDU-GKY, PMKY and so on) which also aim at building women’s skills to access technology; facilitating access to digital platforms and promoting partnerships with start-ups aimed at providing women with fintech solutions; and facilitating access to credit through extending low-value MUDRA loans have been some of the main interventions. All these programmes primarily aim at making entrepreneurs out of women as a way to achieving greater workforce participation of women – with a lateral objective of enhancing ‘Make in India’ efforts through greater entrepreneurial ventures by women.

But data on entrepreneurship of women in India suggest that there is a long way to go. The economic census, last published in 2013-14, showed that women’s enterprises were only 13.8 percent of total enterprises and 84 percent of these were operating without any hired workers. The average employment per women’s establishment was 1.67 workers indicating low employment creation capacity.  Further, 27 percent of all non-agricultural establishments owned by women were operating from home – of which more than 50% were in manufacturing.

The periodic labour force survey (PLFS), 2017-18, shows that 52 percent of women’s workforce is in self-employment, which can be further disaggregated into three sub categories – own account enterprises (OAE), employers and unpaid/contributing family workers. The first two categories capture women’s entrepreneurial ventures best. Almost 32 percent of all women workers are engaged as unpaid helpers in household enterprises and only 19 percent run OAEs. These figures, coupled with micro-evidence from literature, show that the women OAEs remain trapped in low-scale, low-productive, low return ventures such as in rolling bidis and agarbattis, making pickles and papads, or mending clothes with a sewing machine.

But self-employment only captures one half of women’s work. According to the PLFS, 48 percent women are in wage employment. Of these, 21 percent are in regular employment and 27 percent work in casual labour. The impact of increasing wage employment on women’s empowerment is well-established. Still, there is no policy emphasis for this sector.

There are several mechanisms that can be employed to increase women’s wage employment opportunities. For example, the MGNREGA attracts a large number of women, with about 55 percent of total person-days of work created under this legislation accruing to women. There are a number of field reports to suggest that provision of equal wages for men and women, proximity of workplace, assumed safety at workplace and so on, makes MGNREGA a popular option for women. MGNREGA has the potential to attract even more women if all its provisions such as creche facilities, shade and water are also provided adequately. Unfortunately, the trend of provision of work under this scheme has been stagnant and there have been challenges of delayed wage payments.

Outside of agriculture, where the absorption of labour has been declining, women are attracted to jobs in providing public services. The PLFS data show that 29 percent of women working outside agriculture in rural areas are engaged in public employment. Large numbers work as frontline workers, particularly in public health and education. Some cadres such as anganwadi workers and helpers, mid-day meal cooks, ASHA workers, ANMs are exclusively women (estimated to be over 60 lakh). Nearly half of the total teaching workforce in elementary education in India are women.  In recent times there has also been an increase of women employed as police constables in many states.  But despite these opportunities, women remain concentrated at lower levels of the occupational hierarchy, mostly restricted to what are seen as ‘women’s roles’ (traditionally caregiving occupations). They receive low wages and work in poor conditions.

An agenda of universal provision of basic services such as health, education and social protection can not only contribute towards improving India’s human development indicators but also create millions of new jobs, more so for women. Some state governments have provisions such as reserving posts for women in government jobs. But such measures can have an impact only when there is an expansion in the total number of government jobs. Having said that, there is a need to hire more workers for public services, given the millions of vacancies that exist for these posts as per government norms.

Apart from casual wage work and regular public employment, women’s wage work includes work undertaken in factories, especially in garments, electronics and food-processing which have served as traditional sectors of women’s employment. While great emphasis has been on promoting ‘Make in India’, policies related to incentivising these sectors have been elusive. Recent subsidies announced for the textile sector aimed at generating employment are yet to show results.

Governments can push for multiple policies to create decent wage work opportunities for women, from expanding public works programmes such as the MGNREGA, to adding a cadre of public service para workers, for whom there is a crying need. Such interventions along with a focus on labour intensive manufacturing sectors can not only create employment and demand but also contribute to lifting the Indian economy out of its current economic slowdown.

This opinion piece is written by Dipa Sinha and Sona Mitra. Dipa Sinha teaches Economics at Ambedkar University, Delhi, and  Sona Mitra is the Principal Economist at Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), an initiative of LEAD at Krea University.

Can Covid-19 provide opportunities to strengthen the SHG movement?

The Self-Help Groups (SHG) movement was introduced in India in the 1980s[1] to alleviate poverty, establish a platform for collective action, ensure access to rights and entitlements, as well as improve the health and wellbeing of women. Initiated by Non-Governmental Organisations[2] (NGOs) the movement was adopted and scaled by the Government of India through the Deendayal Antayodaya Yojana – National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY –NRLM) which has so far mobilised approximately 60 million poor women into SHGs across India.

SHGs are voluntary groups of up to 20 women, that come together on a weekly basis to pool savings and discuss issues of mutual importance. The pooled fund, deposited in the SHG’s bank account is used to support women in the form of loans. SHGs are founded on weekly meetings and savings and their success or failure is partially based on the frequency of these activities. The SHG, however, serves a function that goes well beyond finance; it is a source of collective action, mutual support and comradery. It provides a platform to impart knowledge and wisdom in the form of group discussions and informal conversations that women regularly engage in, thereby strengthening bonding and social capital. SHGs also draw on formal trainings imparted to them by the state and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), to create awareness on various issues such as gender equality, livelihoods, health, gender based violence and so on.

Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) has been engaged with DAY-NRLM through its project SWAYAM [3] which supports gender trainings (undertaken by CSOs) and pilots to test the relevance and effectiveness of institutional platforms such as Gender Resource Centres (GRCs)/Gender Justice Centres (GJCs) in four states: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. The concept of the GRC draws from the experience of similar platforms in Delhi and Kerala [4] where GRCs have been used to help women access schemes and programmes, as well as record their grievances. SWAYAM builds on a critical element of NRLM’s success i.e. the mission’s commitment towards prioritising women’s perspectives and being responsive to their needs and aspirations. This approach has been embedded across all DAY-NRLM activities and reflects in its primary goal of strengthening women’s agency, identity, well-being, and solidarity through women’s collectivisation.

This approach and the ability of women to meet to discuss their needs and put forth their requirements, is likely to be put to test on account of COVID-19. SHG meetings have traditionally formed a space for women to gather mutual support and raise their grievances. They serve as an important platform for women to share their lives and aggregate for a common cause. They have been the fulcrum around which well-known movements such as the anti-arak (alcohol) movement in Andhra Pradesh have gathered force; and around which the Scheduled Caste women in states like Punjab are mobilising to collectively farm common lands.  Such mobilisation will suffer if women are not permitted to meet.

The lockdown announced in March 2020, to curb the spread of the Coronavirus in India has sent shockwaves across the Indian economy. Rural economies are in distress, with supply chains cut off, labour shortages and rising unemployment [5]. The lockdown has had immediate and devastating effects on women and girls [6]. Gender based violence is reportedly on the rise. Women’s unpaid labour has increased along with the anxiety to feed their families. Cash flow is limited and with prevailing social distancing norms, collectivisation has come to a total halt. All regular meetings and activities at the SHG, VO and CLF have stopped, for an indeterminate period of time [7]. Women not being able to move out of their homes (except for farm work), have lost spaces outside the home, such as SHG meetings, where they could come together and share intimate details of their private lives, including domestic abuse. With this space being closed, women have lost the space to share their experiences and have a community of support. This has and will continue to have large scale impact on the SHG movement.

IWWAGE has been in discussion with CSO partners [8], field level functionaries and SHG leaders in its four implementation states on the impact of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown on SHGs, their daily functioning and their economic and non-economic activities. How will women’s SHGs transform during and post the crisis? And what impact will the crisis have on women’s solidarity and collectivisation?

Presently, no SHG activities are taking place. There are no meetings, no savings, no loan disbursement [9] or recovery. In June, rural India will enter a new sowing cycle. Women will most likely, at this time, prioritise their livelihoods which will affect attendance and frequency of SHG activities. They will have no time to meet, to discuss their needs or grievances. This is an important aspect that is likely to get diluted, but can be avoided, perhaps through innovative forms of online communication, and more hand-holding and outreach to women through gender champions including senior SHG leaders, community resource persons, Samta Sakhis and the like. For certain activities, SHGs have started using digital modes of communication such as WhatsApp. Use of digital tools while changing the nature of SHG meetings will allow the flow of correct information. However, online communication cannot be a substitute for the weekly SHG meetings, which should continue, with social distancing norms in place, as they are not only a platform for savings but also for ensuring collective well-being, food security and support.

SHGs have emerged as frontline workers and the last mile connect between governments and the people during this crisis. SHG women are playing a pivotal role in responding to  COVID-19; they are making masks, hand sanitizers, PPE kits, distributing take home ration, disseminating COVID-19 related information and running community kitchens to feed the vulnerable[10]. The role of SHGs has never been more important than now and can prove to be a rare silver lining in the distress that SHGs are dealing with. Women can come forward and take leadership and development roles in their villages. It is an opportunity that the SHG movement must capitalize on.

Going forward, it will be important to strengthen the movement, to make sure it can absorb the economic, social and health shocks of the crisis. Post the lockdown governments should evaluate, the investment by SHG movement into COVID-19 response and its impact on the SHG economy.  It would also be beneficial to have clear guidelines from the authorities, about when and how SHGs can reconvene and what precautions they must take while doing so. SHGs should also leverage digital platforms, to ensure the flow of correct information, to keep in contact with each other and with the modification of training pedagogies, to deliver certain types of trainings. While the digital platforms cannot be a substitute for weekly meetings, it goes some way in offering a temporary solution to the immediate problem. In these times when communication through technology marks a new form of solidarity, we must leverage the existing means at our disposal and find new and creative ways to progress; so that we do not lose the momentum gained in the SHG movement over the last 30 years.

Kaliat Ammu Sanyal is a Research Manager with IWWAGE, working with SWAYAM the NRLM vertical at IWWAGE. This piece draws from SWAYAM’s current work with Women’s Empowerment Collectives on gender mainstreaming across four states in India.



[1] “Self Help Groups (SHGs) in India.” 2014. New Delhi: Ethiopian Delegation

[2] Ramesh, Jairam. “Self-Help Groups Revolution: What Next?” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 36 (2007): 3621-624. Accessed May 13, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/40276360

[3] Strengthening Women’s institutions for Agency and Empowerment (SWAYAM)

[4] “Kudumbashree | Gender Resource Center / Block Level Counselling Center”. 2020. Kudumbashree.Org. http://www.kudumbashree.org/pages/348. AND “Department Of Women & Child Development”. 2020 Revenue.Delhi.Gov.In http://revenue.delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/doit_wcd/wcd/Home/Gender+Resource+Centre+Project

[5] Mukherjee, Sanjeeb. 2020. “Rural Sector Stressed As Covid-19 Disrupts Supplies, Spikes Unemployment”. Business-Standard.Com. https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/rural-sector-stressed-as-covid-19-disrupts-supplies-spikes-unemployment-120032500780_1.html

[6] Deshpande, Ashwini. “Protecting Women Is Missing from Pandemic Management Measures in India.” Quartz India. Quartz, March 28, 2020. https://qz.com/india/1826683/indias-approach-to-fighting-coronavirus-lacks-a-gender-lens/

[7] SHGs are federated at the village level into Village Organisations (VOs) and consequently federated into a apex institution, a Cluster Level Federation (CLF). The VO and CLF meet regularly. The executive committee (EC) of the VO and CLF meet twice a month. EC1 meetings are to discuss social issues, convergence, rights and entitlements, while EC2 meetings are devoted to financial transactions

[8] ANANDI in Madhya Pradesh, PRADAN in Jharkhand, Chaitanya in Chhattisgarh and Project Concern International (PCI) in Odisha

[9] The only loan disbursement currently active is the distribution of the Vulnerability Reduction Fund (VRF)

[10] Kejriwal, Nita. “Covid-19: In Times of Crisis, Women Self-Help Groups Lead the Way.” Hindustan Times, May 3, 2020. https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/covid-19-in-times-of-crisis-women-self-help-groups-lead-the-way/story-SyXJVNPLUdVbSljkeaeszN.html

We Cannot Have a Lockdown Exit Strategy Which Ignores Women

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated a crisis in the country, there has been limited examination of its gender-differentiated impact.

To some extent governments have recognised and tried to address the heightened risk of gender-based violence during lockdown.

Beyond this, policies have barely recognised that women disproportionately bear the brunt of the lockdown situation, with reduced economic opportunities and increased burden of unpaid work.

As we move into the exit strategies and post-lockdown policies, we have an opportunity to reshape existing gender disparities.

While women constitute over 85% of all health workers in India (PLFS, 2017-18), they also crowd the low level services within the sector that exposes them to maximum risk with stretched supplies of PPE.

They are the ones working prolonged shifts to substitute for those colleagues falling sick; and many are spending days in a row in cramped and unhygienic temporary quarantine facilities. The ASHA workers, despite facing public anger in many places, are working at the frontlines of community surveillance, devoid of PPEs, masks and other protective gears.

Needless to say, the direct fight against COVID19 in India is largely being driven by women at the frontlines.

Also read: ASHA Workers Are Indispensable. So Why Are They the Least of Our Concerns?

The extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic have also created indirect impact on women by further burdening them with invisible yet challenging roles within the household. In India, evidence shows that women already perform ten times more unpaid work than men.

Given that rigid gender norms do not change overnight, women’s burden of domestic responsibilities has been aggravated with household members locked indoors, but reluctant to negotiate sharing of chores.

Closing down schools and Anganwadi or day-care centres as well as collapse of normal healthcare services have substantially increased women’s roles in looking after children, the sick or quarantined, elderly and disabled.

The responsibility of subsistence adds to their burdens especially with no school meals, desperately scarce food stocks, yet more mouths to feed.

Also read: India’s Lockdown Is Blind to the Woes of Its Women

For women in paid work, public messaging emphasises ‘work from home’ which may be possible for 4-5% of all women workers in urban white-collar jobs.

However, 94% of them are women farmers, vendors and petty retailers, micro-entrepreneurs, domestic workers, and construction workers; predominantly in the informal sector without identity cards, formal contracts or social protection: they are experiencing catastrophic loss of incomes. The lockdown will probably further deteriorate the already plummeting female workforce participation rate.

This calls for exit strategies that would focus on including women at the centre of the policies.

Some of the immediate interventions of the government would be to recognise women’s contributions in fighting COVID and extend special provisions to ensure women health workers are not excluded from government support.

Women walk past closed shops during nationwide lockdown to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, in Kolkata on May 8. Photo: PTI

The direct intervention in retaining women in the economy would be to increase the number of person-days in NREGA to at least 200 days per year to provide women informal workers with remunerative opportunities, recognising women as farmers for including them in the schemes like the PM-KISAN Yojana, providing one-year moratorium to the 37 million women MUDRA borrowers to boost small businesses of women and providing tax breaks and subsidies to sectors that employ more women such as garment factories, service delivery start-ups and so on.

Beyond this, women would be immensely supported by the re-institution and normalisation of regular public services in health, education, childcare and other basic amenities, creating support mechanisms for food security like universal PDS for the next six months at least, additional cash transfers for those losing their livelihoods due to the extended lockdown, and provision of respectable amounts to the 20 million women pensioners instead of the meagre Rs 333 under the COVID-19 relief package or the Gareeb Kalyan Yojana.

The Centre has also promised a Rs 500 cash transfer per woman for the next three months starting in April; however this needs immediate activation of all JDY accounts, more than 50% of which are still inactive (World Bank Findex database)

The issue of documentation for urban informal migrant workers is proving to be a significant barrier. So a proper implementation of the COVID-19 relief announcements needs to include massive drives for registration, followed by an expanded social security coverage for the excluded millions of unregistered workers with emphasis on inclusion of women.

It is obvious by now that the pandemic is no longer a mere health crisis but is leading to a deep humanitarian tragedy. Given that women are bearing significant costs of the COVID-19 fallout, the relief announcements by the government definitely need a second version that not only has a vision for the immediate six-month post lockdown period, but that duly acknowledges women’s contributions in fighting the crisis and ensures that women as economic agents do not fall through the cracks.

A special focus on women’s inclusion would be central to effective exit from the lockdown.

Jashodhara Dasgupta and Dr Sona Mitra are co-conveners of the Feminist Policy Collective, a collective of researchers and activists working to promote transformative financing for gender equality.

Disclaimer: This blog first appeared as an article in The Wire on May 8, 2020. Click to visit the article.

Increasing the participation of women in the workforce: Role of quality childcare

In India, a McKinsey report indicated that an equal participation of women can increase the GDP by 16-17 percent, and yet, female labour force participation rate (FLFP) has been stagnant at 24-25 percent, well below the global average of 47 percent. This has significant repercussion, not only for women’s socio-economic empowerment but also for India’s growth story. While several factors inhibit women’s ability to work, most insidious factor is unpaid care work – managing the house, elderly, sick and children.

At the household level, women’s role as unpaid caregiver, is reinforced by families and internalised by women themselves. However, evidence suggest that a child benefits from quality nurturing care by both father and mother. Often, women spend bulk of their time on household work and, care of children ends up being more custodial in nature. We often fail to recognise that returning to work after child birth is not even a choice, especially for those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Mothers often rely on non-family care or leave their children unsupervised, which not only endangers the development, health and safety of children, but also, adversely impacts their own physical and mental health.

Unintentionally, this dilemma is reinforced, even at the policy level, where a global review of major child development and social protection policies found, that only 15 percent of these policies recognise the breadwinning role of women and are care-sensitive. In absence such policies, and supportive social networks, women keep opting out of work force. But, is there a way out? In this context, let us examine some evidences from Latin American countries with similar social fabric, specifically, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. In the 1990s, Chile, Colombia and Mexico had FLFP rates similar to those seen in India. Yet, in the past 17 years, these countries have seen an increase of 19, 29 and 11 percentage points respectively, whereas, India has seen a decline of 8 percentage points. In the early 2000s, these countries established childcare models (home-based, home visitations, centre-based and a combination of these). However, research informing the scale up was an integral part of the process, and the findings highlighted the issue of unpaid care work. Based on extensive research, centre-based childcare was designed and evaluated, not only to benefit children but also for mother’s economic well-being. More long-term evidences come from high income countries, that introduced similar child-care provisions to correct the gender inequality in labour force back in the 1960s.

Given the absence of care-sensitive policies in low-middle-income countries, relevant evidence on centre-based childcare and its impact on–early childhood development and maternal employment – has been scant. Yet, evaluations of large-scale, centre-based childcare programmes in Latin America have shown that such facilities can increase the probability of mothers being employed from 5 percent to 25 percent, while also increasing hours of work per month. It is also important to understand that that when women earn, they have higher decision-making power and improved diets for the household and children, thereby improving a family’s well-being.

The assumption that the provision of quality centre-based childcare can help mothers, avoid compromising an older child’s education (who usually ends up taking care of her young siblings), and young children to achieve better development potential, is a reasonable one. Caution needs to be exercised though when it comes to designing publicly provided childcare centres as impact on children is known to depend on quality and, promising impact has been seen for children older than 1 year.

Not many countries in the world have expansive social safety nets for food supplementation, care and health, but India has a strong foundation through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme. In the last few years, many schemes have been announced for children’s development, nutrition and health, such as the National Crèche Scheme, Early Childhood Care & Education, National Nutrition Policy, National Nutrition Mission, and Samagra Shiksha policy. Introduction of these new policies and the mission of convergence is a step in the right direction. However, there is a need to recognise the human resource shortage, and assess the deficiency -the extra number of sanctioned posts needed, to deliver quality services under the schemes.

The good news is we now have metrics to measure quality of these systems, and better understanding of the behavioural insights of human resource, especially in the context of non-monetary incentives, recruitments, provision of training. Moreover, we now recognise the growing value of care economy, and childcare, as an avenue of formal employment. Given there is still a lot to learn about building safety nets for the mother and child, India can not only improve these programmes with the aim to improve the future of its children, and mothers, but also serve as a global leader in creating a larger body of evidence.

Surabhi Chaturvedi is an independent researcher working on early childhood development. This opinion piece draws on a series of working papers she wrote for the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), an initiative of LEAD at Krea University. IWWAGE aims to build on existing research and generate new evidence to inform and facilitate the agenda of women’s economic empowerment.

Disclaimer: This blog first appeared as an article in Business World on March 31, 2020. Click to visit the article.

Labour force surveys and invisibilisation of women’s work in India

Declining women’s workforce participation in India since 2004-05 is a major policy concern. One of the explanations given for the low work participation rates (WPR) of women is the challenge of measurement which is to do with both how work is measured by enumerators, as well as with how work is defined. Official surveys usually follow the system of national accounts and exclude any activity that falls outside the boundary of production – i.e. work done for pay or profit and excludes production of goods and services for own consumption – from the definition of ‘employment’. This definition of employment however usually gets conflated with the definition of ‘work’, even though the two are different concepts.

In 2013, the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) adopted a resolution to expand the definition of ‘work’ to include “any activity performed by persons of any sex and age to produce goods or to provide services for use by others or for own use.” The vital difference was inclusion of the last phrase i.e. “for use by others or for own use”. This marked a welcome departure from the previous concept of ‘work’ as it now incorporated own use production work, volunteering activities, unpaid trainee work and other forms of work performed in producing goods and services at home. The resolution was ratified by the ILO in 2014.

This expanded definition becomes significant for women as it provides long overdue recognition to unpaid work performed by them within their households, communities and the economy. The updated definition of ‘work’ includes ‘all work’ except those that do not involve any form of production of goods or services (e.g. begging and stealing), self-care (e.g. personal grooming and hygiene) and activities that cannot be performed by another person on one’s own behalf (e.g.  sleeping, learning and activities for own recreation).  In this expanded definition, ‘employment’ becomes a subset of ‘work’. The ILO provides a detailed framework of ‘forms of work’ based on the above and an adoption and implementation of this framework is expected to have important implications for the production of labour force statistics, especially in countries where a large section of the population is still engaged in agriculture and allied activities.

Interestingly, while the ILO came up with these recommendations only recently, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) under the aegis of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), Government of India, already had quite a rational system of including two broad, albeit ‘non-worker’ categories within the usual status activities, that systematically captured the activities related to domestic duties and free collection of goods  (vegetables,  roots,  firewood,  cattle  feed,  etc.), and sewing,  tailoring,  weaving, etc. for household use. These activities captured household work, though not so much care work. This practice was followed by the employment-unemployment surveys from the 1990s till 2011-12 and provided a large amount of information on activities performed by women categorised as ‘non-workers’.

For instance, the data from 2011-12 showed that less than one percent of men in both urban and rural areas were involved in such activities in their usual principal status, but for women the proportion was in excess of 60 percent. The same data also showed that about 58 percent rural women were engaged in activities to obtain fuel and fodder, 45 percent were engaged in obtaining food for the household, including maintenance of kitchen gardens for own consumption, household animal resources and collecting free food, and almost 31 percent had to fetch water from outside their premises. For urban women, the most important economic activities were related to making/mending clothes for the household, followed by preparing food and tutoring children.

The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) released by MoSPI in 2017-18 also reveals similar trends. The female workforce participation rates show differences of approximately 60 percentage points for women when domestic work is included as compared to almost no difference in the values of male WPRs (Figure 1).  Unfortunately, the PLFS does not provide detailed information on the nature of domestic work undertaken. This leads to missing information on ‘women’s work’ and reflects a huge step backward for Indian Labour Force Statistics (LFS) in terms of recognising women’s contributions and reducing their ‘invisibilisation’ in the workforce.

The global discourse on reducing the invisibilisation of women’s unpaid contribution has moved forward to include an enlarged concept of work. At this juncture, and in light of the debate on low workforce participation rates for women in India, dropping related questions from the official LFS may be damaging for future policies focussed on improving labour market outcomes for women. It is imperative that the design of the future PLFS revisit such eliminations to adopt the expanded definition of work. This would not only improve the quality of LFS, but also throw light on women’s ‘invisible’ contribution to the Indian economy.


This opinion piece is written by Sona Mitra, Principal Economist at Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), which is an initiative of LEAD at Krea University.

Disclaimer: This blog first appeared as an article in Business Today on 11 March 2020, under the heading, ‘Why are there fewer women workers in India?’

Empowering Women in the Economy: Addressing Gaps and Rethinking the Discourse

More women joined the labour force globally in the last three decades. India, however, is an anomaly, with historically among the lowest and even declining rates of female labour force participation – share of women in total employment was 32.9 percent in 1993-94, which reduced to 23.3 percent in 2017-18. This is puzzling for an economy that has experienced a fertility transition, increases in women’s educational attainment and a steadily increasing rate of growth of GDP in the last one and half decades till about 2012. The concerns around low female labour force participation have generated a rich discourse in India on women’s work.

With the aim of contributing to the existing debates around low female labour force participation, and findings possible solutions for reversing such trends, the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), organised two panels and a roundtable at the ISLE Annual Conference, held in Patiala, from 7-9 December, 2019. The panels organised in collaboration with Centre for Gender Studies at IHD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on the importance of childcare and engaging women in the non-farm sector, while the roundtable brought together eminent feminist and labor economists from around the country, to deliberate on the future discourse on women’s economic empowerment.

The first panel titled The Importance of Crèches for Women’s Economic Empowerment discussed the importance of childcare and its implications on women’s productive engagement in the economy. Childcare is often identified as one of the major constraints that keeps women from joining the labour force. The discussion in the panel focused on the significance of full-day crèches for providing childcare and freeing up women’s time to participate in the labour market. The panellists included Monika Banerjee (Institute of Social Studies Trust), Anoushaka Chandrashekar (LEAD at Krea University) and Sudeshna Sengupta (Independent Researcher). Kanika Kingra from IWWAGE moderated the session and Susan Thomas from SEWA put across her perspectives on the issue as a discussant.

The panellists noted that most women struggle to balance paid and unpaid work responsibilities, and as a result resort to strategies like taking up flexible work, part time jobs, and opting for work near or inside their homes. Further, patriarchal notions of “what women should do” limit women’s access to educational and skilling opportunities, job prospects, agency and mobility. As a result, most women end up working in the informal sector, without dignity, social security and without decent and timely wages. The panel was in consensus about the role of crèches in impacting women’s workforce participation and income positively and in contributing to empowering women. The positive impacts of crèches are not limited to just women but are also extended to children’s health and educational attainments. Therefore, providing quality crèches is an important right for both women workers and children. It was concluded that childcare must be a public good and its provision should be ensured by the state with the help of community participation and private provisioning.

The second panel titled Women in Rural Labour Force: Factors Influencing Non-Agricultural Engagement of Women Workers discussed several aspects of what might work to reverse the decline in women’s economic engagement. Labour force statistics in India clearly show that rural women’s work participation rates are declining and this decline is led by the agricultural sector – rural female labour force participation rate declined by 7 percentage points between 2011-12 and 2017-18 and there is a decline of 23 percentage points in the share of rural women workers in agriculture in the last ten years. Further, rural women remain outside the labour force due to the lack of adequate opportunities in the non-agricultural sector. The panellists highlighted that several factors such as importance of education, skill and training, role of social identities and the use of technology and macroeconomic factors influence economic opportunities for women in the non-farm sector. The panellists included Atul Sood (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Anjana Thampi (IWWAGE), Dipa Sinha (Ambedkar University Delhi), Nitya Nangalia (SEWA Bharat) and Ruchika Chaudhary (IWWAGE).

The panel began with the importance of having in place, a holistic strategy for labour market progress in tandem with the growth of the economy. It was noted that non-farm employment of women needs to be prioritised. One of the panellists revealed large number of women involved in the health and education sector. The preference for such sectoral jobs is mostly due to the availability of such jobs within the purview of public employment in rural areas. These jobs are preferred as they provide regularity of wages, but are too few in number. The panellists further discussed how belonging to a social group, either caste-based or religious, impacts women’s economic participation. It was noted that there has been a decline in female labour force participation in both rural and urban areas, across all social groups, but the gaps are more pronounced for the scheduled castes. One of the panellists presented the status of women working in emerging platform-based gig work in beauty and salon services. Women prefer gig work due to the flexibility of working hours that allows them to balance work better with their unpaid domestic responsibilities and exert an autonomy over the use of their time.  The SEWA presentation highlighted successful stories of SEWA initiatives on skilling women in non-traditional occupations and ensuring non-farm livelihood opportunities for women. It provided a series of learnings on initiatives for self-employment of women in rural areas. The session was moderated by Sona Mitra from IWWAGE and key perspectives were offered by two discussants, Uma Rani (ILO) and Amit Basole (Azim Premji University).

Finally, IWWAGE in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Centre for Gender Studies at the IHD organised a successful Roundtable on Rethinking the Discourse on Women’s Economic Empowerment, moderated by Yamini Atmavilas (BMGF) and Ritu Dewan (ISLE, IAWS). The roundtable was contextualised in the backdrop of the global discourse around women’s economic empowerment to include discussions on the future of work, expanding the definition of work to include women’s unpaid work responsibilities and the resolution on violence and work that goes beyond sexual harassment. More than 20 eminent feminist and labour economists deliberated the issue of declining female labour force participation in India and discussed what could be done to shape a research and policy agenda.

At the very onset, it was acknowledged that women’s economic empowerment is a dynamic concept and academia, advocacy and action are its three pillars. From the discussion that followed, it clearly emerged that women’s economic empowerment needs to be understood beyond conventional labour markets, employment and care variables. In terms of research, focus should be to discuss the low levels of empowerment in particular economic, political and social environments; to explore state-wise diversity; to examine links between violence, property rights and access to common property resources; and to understand structures of patriarchy with link between paid and unpaid work. Further, the consideration of intersectionalities – that of caste, class, age and others – is vital to sharpen understanding on which groups of women are more disempowered. Aspirations of women, too, differ among the younger and older generations and this differential needs to be accounted for. Short term solutions to advance women’s empowerment may include increased representation in decision making bodies such as Gram Sabhas that could affect decent work opportunities for women, ownership of property by women, creating safe spaces for women to empower them psychologically and emotionally, etc. But in the long term, efforts would be needed to shake up the system and change the balance of power – specially to overturn patriarchal, social and behavioural norms.


The blog has been written by Hiya Singh Rajput, Research Assistant at IWWAGE, and draws from the reports of the roundtable and panel discussions prepared by the rapporteurs at the ISLE conference.


Empowering women through digital innovations

Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are an important and effective tool to promote women’s empowerment, social mobilisation, and financial inclusion in rural India. More recently, an increasingly large number of digital tools have been emerging, holding the promise of accelerating women’s empowerment, enhancing the efficacy of existing initiatives, providing avenues to improve knowledge, and creating new opportunities for women to connect and share information.

Initiative to What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) is exploring whether and to what extent digital innovations can be used to support SHGs and their federations to connect with each other, layer and bundle services, and promote women’s social and economic empowerment.

In Chhattisgarh, IWWAGE is working with the State Rural Livelihood Mission, Bihan, to promote the implementation of digital innovations for women’s empowerment in the state, understand their effectiveness, and identify potential opportunities for improvement. Specifically, IWWAGE is supporting three distinct, but interrelated initiatives, which complement and reinforce each other.

The first one of them is Haqdarshak, a mobile application or tech-based platform that provides a ready reference of more than two hundred central and state government welfare schemes and programs, the benefits promised, related eligibility criteria including the documents required, and the application process. The app can be used by the SHG women to make door-to-door visits to help citizens discover and apply for schemes in return of a small fee. With this project, IWWAGE aims at training five thousand women (Haqdarshikas) across four districts in Chhattisgarh on the app usage, who can then enroll citizens in schemes. The objective of this initiative is two-fold: first, to increase the social and economic empowerment of SHG members who can take up work as Haqdarshikas, and second, to promote the uptake of government entitlements for the last mile. This intervention can present some important learning opportunities, which IWWAGE is capturing through a rigorous impact and process evaluation. Results from this evaluation will help shed light on the effectiveness of technology-enhanced agent-based models to promote the uptake of government schemes in rural areas, the sustainability of such models to generate livelihood opportunities, and their cost-effectiveness.

A critical success factor for the Haqdarshak model is that technology, when paired with the extensive field presence of SHGs, creates synergies that support the effective dissemination of information and awareness of government schemes and entitlements. This applies not only to the Haqdarshak model, but to other development interventions based on digital solutions. To unpack how information may be shared more effectively using the digital medium, IWWAGE is funding a study to understand information flows within SHGs and the role of technology for furthering such flows. IWWAGE is supporting a group of researchers from Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) to map how information flows among SHG members offline, during SHG meetings, and online, for example through social media interactions. Comparing offline and online interactions in the same group will throw light on the transformative role that technology can play in shaping interactions among women living in rural areas.

Preliminary scoping exercises for the two studies outlined above, indicate that while significant progress has been made on digital literacy, many rural women still struggle to use smartphones effectively. Time and time again practice and experience have proven to be the best way to learn. This is why IWWAGE is supporting a study, which is also being conducted by EPoD, to understand whether encouraging women to use smartphones through a digital use case will have an impact on digital literacy and the use of smartphones by women. The tool being employed for this purpose is Mor Awaaz, a service that communicates information to women about good health practices and government services via “push” and pull phone calls. Through the evaluation of this instrument, the study will also aim to understand the impact of women’s engagement with phones on the shape of their networks and their participation in collectives.

While there is reason to be optimistic about the potential of these solutions, there remain obstacles and challenges to ensure that the benefits from these tools are truly inclusive and sustainable. Besides obvious technical issues, such as the reach and reliability of phone networks, the penetration of mobile phones remains a concern. In rural areas, women often share smartphones with other family members, which might reduce the impact of interventions relying on technology. More importantly, as smartphone ownership and access are more concentrated among women who already have a higher social and economic status in their communities, these interventions might end up empowering the already, relatively, empowered, potentially widening inequalities and failing to be truly inclusive.  While being cognizant of these risks, one might hypothesize that benefits will spillover from the digital enabled women to other women in their social network. Over time and with smartphones becoming more and more prevalent, technology enabled solutions will fulfill their promise of democratising access to information and opportunities. IWWAGE is fully committed to work with its public, private, and civil society partners to build evidence to answer this question, which is of outmost importance to understand the real impact that technology can bring to increase the social and economic empowerment of women in India and beyond.

Fabrizio Valenti works as Head, Financial Inclusion, LEAD at Krea University. This piece draws from the ongoing work at IWWAGE to explore the transformative potential of digital solutions for women’s empowerment collectives in Chhattisgarh.

Stark reality of the self-employed

For all of independent India’s recorded history, a majority of the workforce in the country has been self-employed. However, it is only in the past few years that self-employment has been touted as an answer to India’s employment challenge.

India’s previous (interim) finance minister, Piyush Goyal, even claimed that job losses are a good sign, as today’s youth prefer to be job creators rather than job seekers.

Till the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of 2017-18, official employment data did not capture earnings of the self-employed. The PLFS for the first time has captured such earnings and the picture isn’t pretty. Most of India’s self-employed are not job creators, contrary to claims made by several ministers over the past few years, and have poor earnings.

As much as 70% of the self-employed were own account workers, an official categorization of self-employed workers who run their own establishment or enterprise (with or without partners) without hiring any worker, while 26% were unpaid helpers who assist household members in running their enterprise, but do not receive any regular wage or salary. Only 4% of the self-employed were employers (who run their enterprise by hiring workers).

The latest data has a silver lining though. Between 2011-12 and 2017-18, there was a rise in the share of own account workers (7.3 percentage points) and employers (1 percentage point) among the self-employed and a fall in the share of unpaid helpers, which can be considered a positive development. To ensure comparability with the earlier survey, only the data from the first visit of the PLFS has been used here.

A majority of the self-employed (60%) were engaged in agriculture. Most of those engaged in non-agricultural activities were in trade, manufacturing, transport and storage.

The data showed that motor vehicle drivers were among the better-paid workers within the self-employed with median reported earnings of 10,000. This includes Uber and Ola drivers, who are captured in official statistics, contrary to what some NITI Aayog officials believe.

The median reported earnings of astrologers and fortune-tellers ( 8,000) was lower than that of drivers but higher than that of food processing workers ( 2,500), textiles and garments workers ( 5,500), and street vendors ( 7,000). It is worth noting that these earnings are self-reported and hence may suffer from under-reporting.


The median reported earnings of own-account workers was 8,000 per month, while that of employers was almost double at 15,000.

However, as noted earlier, employers constitute a very small proportion of the self-employed. The median monthly earnings for all self-employed workers was 8,000. This is lower than the median earnings of regular workers in the country.

Only about 10% of the self-employed reported earnings more than 20,000 per month and only about 1% reported earnings more than 50,000 per month.

Median earnings from self-employment was 1.5 times higher in urban areas than in rural. More striking is the gender earnings gap in self-employment—the median earnings of men was 2.5 times higher than that of women.

The median monthly earnings of self-employed women was 3,000 in rural areas and 4,000 in urban areas. This was lower than the earnings of casual women workers in both these areas. A whopping 65% of women engaged in self-employment earned less than 5,000 per month, and 90% had monthly earnings of less than 10,000.

This is partly driven by the skewed gender pattern of self-employment. The categories of own account workers and employers, who are largely responsible for decision making, were dominated by men whereas women were a majority among unpaid helpers.

The share of the self-employed in the workforce remained stagnant between 2011-12 and 2017-18 at 52.2%, the data showed. However, the workforce itself shrank over this period, and the share of the self-employed in the total population declined by 2 percentage points. Among major states, the shares of the self-employed in the workforce was high among some of India’s poorest states: Chhattisgarh (66%), Rajasthan (65%), Uttar Pradesh (64%), and Jharkhand (61%).

In contrast, the shares of the self-employed were relatively lower in some of India’s most prosperous states: Tamil Nadu (33%), Kerala (38%), Haryana (44%), and Andhra Pradesh (45%).

Most self-employed enterprises (89%) were small ones, with less than six workers (hired or family members). Only about 3% of enterprises had more than 10 workers.

On the whole, more than half of Indian workers are engaged in self-employment and most of these self-employed workers operate on a very small scale without hiring workers or as unpaid helpers in their family enterprises.

The average reported earnings of the self-employed, particularly the women among them, is extremely low. This large section of the workforce is also bereft of job security.

The data shows that India’s self-employed are a precarious and vulnerable lot. The job creators among the self-employed are few and far between.

Ishan Anand teaches at Ambedkar University Delhi, and Anjana Thampi was a researcher at IWWAGE, LEAD at Krea University.

Disclaimer: This blog first appeared as an article in The Mint on 01 October 2019.

Women’s work participation continues to decline: Evidence from the Periodic Labour Force Survey, 2017-18

The recently released Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) – a new series of employment-unemployment estimates for 2017-18 produced by the NSSO that substituted the erstwhile Employment-Unemployment surveys (EUS) – clearly reveals that the declining trends in work participation rates of women continue to persist. Some of the PLFS estimates were available through a data leak in the media before the report was officially released by the government, and were mired in controversies of reliability as well as comparability with the previous EUS series. However, the recent release of the report by the government and deliberations on it by experts (such as Dr. Pronab Sen, former and the first Chief Statistician of India) clearly tell us two important facts: a) the headline indicators provided by the PLFS are comparable with the previous rounds of the EUS not only at the all-India level but also at the level of the states; and b) it follows that women’s work participation rates continue to decline for both rural and urban areas.

The report provides important trends on some of the important labour market indicators. Among the employment indicators, the one that attracted attention even before the report was officially released[1] was the unemployment rate – at 6.1 percent, this rate was at its highest since at least 1972–73 (when the NSS EUS was first conducted). The overall labour force participation rate[2] (LFPR) was just below 50 per cent in 2017-18, declining by about 14 percentage points from 2004-05.

Much has been discussed about the low and declining female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India, and multiple explanations advanced towards explaining this trend, such as increased education levels among women, rising household income (income effect), measurement issues (substantially higher proportion of women attending to domestic duties) and a general decline in the employment opportunities for women (Mehrotra and Sinha, 2017; Klasen and Pieters, 2015; Chaudhary and Verick, 2014; Kapsos et al., 2014; Lahoti and Swaminathan, 2013; Mazumdar and Neetha, 2011). As stated in the latest PLFS report, the trend has in fact worsened for rural women since 2011-12, with the FLFPR coming down to  25 percent in 2017-18[3], whereas for urban women, the rate has remained the same at about 20 percent (though most of the decline occurred between 2004-05 to 2009-10). But unemployment rate for urban women has substantially increased from 5 percent in 2011-12 to 11 percent in 2017-18 (Figure 1). Also, the labour force participation rate came down significantly for the (15-29) age group, relative to the other age cohorts. As is reported in the PLFS report, the decline was greater for young men compared to young women, which points to the prevailing job crisis in the Indian labour market, more so for educated young people.

Figure 1: Key labour market indicators for men and women across rural and urban areas, 15+ years, usual status (ps+ss), (2004-05 to 2017-18)

1.Labour force participation rate (%)


2. Workforce participation rate (%)

3. Unemployment rate (%)

Source: PLFS Annual report, MoSPI, GoI, 2019

Note: ps: principal status; ss: subsidiary status

Additionally, rural women’s labour force participation rate declined by as much as 25 percentage points between 2004-05 and 2017-18. As a result, the rural FLFPR – which was double the urban FLFPR in 2004-05 – is now only a little higher than the urban FLFPR. What’s even more striking is that the FLFPR for young rural women aged (15 – 29) years has declined so sharply that it is now lower than the FLFPR for urban women in the same age group (Figure 2). The decline in FLFPR is mostly driven by rural areas, and therefore calls for a deeper analysis of the situation behind this trend.

Figure 2: Women’s labour force participation rate (%) by age cohorts

Source: PLFS Annual report, MoSPI, GoI, 2019

Apart from the disturbing trends outlined above, a positive development in women’s employment is seen in the case of regular salaried employment since 2011-12, as their proportion has increased significantly across both rural and urban areas, albeit more so in case of urban women (and very few women work as regular salaried workers in rural areas) (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Composition of the women workforce in rural and urban areas (%), all ages

Source: PLFS Annual report, MoSPI, GoI, 2019

However as can be seen from Table 1, self-employment is massive for rural women (58 percent), followed by casual labour (32 percent) and regular salaried (10.5 percent). It is important to analyse the characteristics of rural self-employed women workers, as a majority of them work as contributing family workers/unpaid helpers in family enterprises (39 percent), compared to only 10 percent of the men (there are significantly higher proportions of own-account workers and employers among men, across both rural and urban areas). These unpaid family workers contribute to the production economy without receiving any income/wages in return, and are more likely to lack decent working conditions, adequate social protection, and formal work arrangements. Therefore, this puts women in vulnerable situations, and has larger implications for reducing gender inequality.

Table 1: Percentage distribution of workers by status in employment, usual status, all ages, 2017-18

Category Rural Urban
Men Women Men Women
Own-account worker and employer 48.0 19.0 34.9 23.7
Helper in household enterprise 9.8 38.7 4.3 11.0
All self-employed 57.8 57.7 39.2 34.7
Regular wage salaried 14.0 10.5 45.7 52.1
Casual labour 28.2 31.8 15.1 13.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: PLFS Annual report, MoSPI, GoI, 2019

Besides, if we look at the industrial distribution of women workers across rural and urban areas, it would highlight the importance of manufacturing and other services sector (namely, financial, insurance and real estate activities, health and education, and other services) (Table 2). This latter category includes domestic workers (maids, cooks, babysitters, and so on), women in beauty and wellness service activities, and workers in call centres. But domestic work is one segment which grew relatively faster over the last two decades, due to increased demand from middle-income families in the urban areas. These domestic workers are mostly uneducated or less educated migrants from poor rural areas, and in most cases their working and living conditions are alarming.

Table 2: Industrial distribution of women workers across location (%), usual status, all ages

Category EUS 68th (2011-12) PLFS (2017-18)
Rural Urban Rural Urban
Agriculture 74.9 10.9 73.2 9.1
Mining & quarrying 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2
Manufacturing 9.8 28.7 8.1 25.2
Electricity, water, etc. 0.1 1.0 0.0 0.6
Construction 6.6 4.0 5.3 4.1
Trade, hotel & restaurant 3.0 12.8 4.0 13.0
Transport, storage & communications 0.2 2.7 0.3 3.3
Other services 5.2 39.6 8.9 44.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: PLFS Annual report, MoSPI, GoI, 2019

Furthermore, since more than 90 per cent of workers in India are informally employed, and its critical to assess the different components which are indicative of this phenomenon. If we examine the different dimensions of informality, we notice that the proportions of regular wage/salaried women who did not have any written contract has increased since 2011-12 (67 percent in 2017-18, compared to 65 percent in 2011-12). And the situation is more alarming in case of urban women, of whom more than 70 percent did not have a written job contract in 2017-18. Moreover, half of the total non-agricultural regular salaried workforce did not have any social security benefits (55 percent of rural women and 50 percent of urban women) in 2017-18. This raises concerns over the quality of regular work that is being created and thus the increases mentioned previously, in this category needs to be viewed with caution.

The PLFS clearly shows that fewer women are participating in paid market activities, and even when they do join the labour market, they end up in informal jobs, working mostly as unpaid family workers, or as regular salaried workers without job security or social security. Policies should be framed based on the emerging trends and focusing on the overall employment crisis. They should be able to address the constraints faced by women, and enable women to participate in the labour market in large numbers, and particularly in formal productive employment which gets them decent livelihood opportunities.

[1] https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/unemployment-rate-at-five-decade-high-of-6-1-in-2017-18-nsso-survey-119013100053_1.html

[2] People who are recorded as either ‘working’ or ‘seeking or available for work’ comprise the labour force.

[3] It is surprising to note that the proportion of women attending to domestic duties and allied activities also came down in 2017-18, relative to previous NSS rounds. This requires detailed analysis as the increased proportion of women in this category was cited as one of the reasons for the earlier decline in their participation rates.

33% of India’s skilled youth jobless: official survey

Reiterating the government’s commitment to the ‘Skill India’ initiative in her maiden budget speech, India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that the government is enabling millions to take up industry-relevant skill training, boosting their job prospects.

An analysis of the unit-level data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 however suggests that the reality is far more grim. Only a small section of the youth reported receiving any vocational training, and a large share of them were either unemployed or out of the labour force, the data shows.

Nationally, only 1.8% of the population reported receiving formal vocational/technical training in 2017-18. 5.6% reported receiving informal vocational training (such as hereditary, self-learning, and on the job training). This means 93% of the population did not receive any vocational/technical training from either formal or informal sources.

The youth (15-29 years) comprised more than half of the people who received formal vocational/technical training.

One would imagine that the young population with ‘industry-relevant’ formal vocational training would have better job prospects. But about 42% of the youth (15-29 years) who received formal technical training were not part of the labour force at all (i.e., they were not working or seeking employment opportunities, they reported). Among youth who did not receive such training, 62.3% were out of the labour force. Across age groups, substantial shares of the women who received such training were out of the labour force.

One reason why such a large section of ‘skilled’ workers were out of the labour force could be the difficulty in finding a job. Around 33% of the formally trained youth was unemployed in 2017-18. Nearly a third of trained young men and more than a third of trained young women were unemployed.

The unemployment rate among freshly trained youth, who completed training during the previous year, was even higher at 40%. With these high unemployment rates, it is likely that many young men and women have moved out of the labour force altogether after a fruitless job search.

What kind of training is the young population receiving? The PLFS collected data on fields of training, which are categorised under 22 heads. The bulk of the trainees were in the fields of electronics, IT/ ITeS sector, apparels, and mechanical engineering.

Men and women received starkly different kinds of training, reinforcing the segregation of the labour market. More than 80% of the trainees in the fields of agriculture & food processing, telecom, media & mass communication were men. The fields of beauty & wellness, apparel, handicrafts, hospitality and healthcare were dominated by women.

A year after being elected Prime Minister for the first time, Narendra Modi launched the Skill India initiative with much fanfare in 2015. The key flagship scheme under the initiative, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) was supposed to impart skills free of cost to 10 million youth to help them secure better livelihoods.

That all was not well with the programme was apparent as early as 2017 when a government-appointed committee led by Sharda Prasad found that the targets under the programme were too ambitious, and funds spent on the programme were not subject to adequate monitoring. The PLFS data only confirms the warnings issued in that report, and indicates that the programme needs to be completely overhauled if ‘Skill India’ is to mean something more than a mere buzzword.

Although the PMKVY aims to provide training free of cost, most of the youth who have received formal training have had to bear the cost of training, the PLFS data shows. Only 16 percent of the youth who received formal training were funded by the government. Around 73% of the trainees underwent full-time training. The training period for more than half of the youth exceeded a year, and about 30% underwent training for more than two years.

On the whole, most youth remain outside the ambit of formal training, and many of those who undergo months of vocational training at their own cost remain jobless.

The decline in budgetary allocations for PMKVY suggests that the government itself is not convinced that the scheme is working well.

But does the government have an alternative plan? Sitharaman’s budget speech at least gave no indication that the government has a credible plan to address India’s unemployment challenge.

This is the concluding part of a two-part data journalism series on jobs in India. The first part (https://www.livemint.com/politics/policy/most-regular-jobs-in-india-don-t-pay-well-plfs-1565075309032.html) examined the earnings of regular workers in the country.

Ishan Anand teaches at Ambedkar University Delhi, and Anjana Thampi was a researcher at the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at IFMR LEAD, New Delhi.

Disclaimer: This blog first appeared as an article in The Mint on 07 August 2019.

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