Less women working in populated India

Mumbai, India –

Sheela Singh cried the day she handed in her resignation.

She spent 16 years working as a social worker in Mumbai, India’s frenzied financial capital, and loved her job. However, her family kept telling her that she needed to stay at her home to take care of her two children. She’d resisted the pressure for years, but when she found out her daughter was skipping school while she was at work, she felt like she had no choice.

“Everybody was telling me that my children were being neglected and I felt really sick,” Shin, 39, said.

When she stepped down in 2020, Singh was earning more than her husband, a fluctuating auto-rickshaw driver. But no one told him to stop.

“His friends were teasing him that he lived on my salary,” Singh said. , what is it good for?”

India is about to overtake China to become the world’s most populous country and its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world. But the number of Indian women in the workforce, already among her 20 lowest in the world, has been declining in recent years.

Not only is this a problem for women like Singh, it poses a major challenge to India’s own economic ambitions if an estimated 670 million women are left behind as its population grows. The hope is that India’s rapidly growing working-age population will drive its growth in the coming years. But experts fear this could become a demographic problem if India fails to ensure employment for its growing population, especially women.

Without Singh’s income, her family could not afford to live in Mumbai, one of Asia’s most expensive cities, and she is now preparing to return to her village to save money. “But there are no jobs there,” she sighed.


AP Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series exploring what it means to live in India, the world’s most populous country for its 1.4 billion inhabitants.


The female employment rate peaked at 35% in 2004 and declined to about 25% by 2022, according to calculations based on official data, said Rosa Abraham, an economist at Azim Premji University. But the official figure counts as an employed person who reported that she worked only one hour outside the home in the previous week.

Experts say the national job crisis is one cause of the disparity, but so are cultural beliefs that see women as primary caregivers and condemn working outside the home, as in Singh’s case. There is another reason.

The Center for Economic Monitoring of India (CMIE) uses a more restrictive definition of employment, with only 10% of working-age Indian women in 2022 either employed or looking for work. I understand. This means that there are only 39 million of her women compared to her 361 million of men employed in the workforce.

Just a few decades ago, things seemed to be on a different track.

When Singh became a social worker in 2004, India was still unaffected by the historic reforms of the 1990s. New industries and new opportunities seemed to be born overnight, causing millions of people to leave their villages and move to cities like Mumbai in search of better jobs.

It felt life-changing. “I didn’t have a college degree, so I didn’t think someone like me could get a job in the office,” she said.

Still, leaving home and working has been an uphill battle for many women. She said she began a life revolving around her husband’s house. Her neighbors ridiculed her parents for investing in her education, saying it didn’t matter after marriage.

The star bucked the trend. In 2013, she became the first in a village of nearly 2,000 people to earn an engineering degree.

“I knew that if I studied, I could do something, otherwise I would have gotten married and stayed in the village like everyone else,” said Starr.

Today she lives in Mumbai and works as an auditor for the Indian Ministry of Defense. This government job is coveted by many Indians for its security, prestige and profit.

In a way, she was part of a trend.Women in India had better access to education from a young age and are now almost on par with men. not. Unemployment is rising even though more women are starting to finish school.

“The working-age population continues to grow, but employment has not kept up, meaning the percentage of people with jobs is only going down,” said CMIE director Mahesh Bias. He added that jobs have shown a serious slowdown in recent years. Ten years. “This also keeps women out of the labor force because they and their families can benefit more from taking care of their homes and children instead of struggling with low-paying jobs.”

And even when there is work, social pressure can keep women away.

In her home village in Uttar Pradesh, Chauhan rarely saw women working outside the home. But when she came to Mumbai in 2006, women flocked to public places, served food in cafes, cut hair and painted nails at salons, sold local train tickets, Chauhan said he saw them crammed into crammed compartments, boarding trains. They hurried to work. She said she was motivated to see what was possible.

“When I started working and left home, my family often said I must be working as a prostitute,” said social worker Rarmani Chauhan.

Chauhan said one of the reasons she was able to keep working was because it was a lifeline when her husband was bedridden in an accident and unable to work.

Abraham said there is growing recognition among policy makers that the withdrawal of women from the workforce is a major problem, but direct solutions, such as more childcare facilities and safer transport, have yet to be found. said no.

She added that more women entering the labor market would not only contribute to the economy and family income, but would also be empowered to make decisions. Children, especially girls, who grow up in homes where both parents work, are more likely to find employment later.

The number of working-age Indian women who are unemployed is staggering, nearly double the total population of the United States. Experts say the gap could be a huge opportunity if India can find a way to fill it. A 2018 McKinsey report estimated that India could increase its GDP by $552 billion by boosting female labor force participation by 10% of her.

Even as he leaves his one-bedroom home tucked away deep in a narrow alley in Mumbai’s slums, Singh is determined to return to the city soon. She wants to find her way to work again and she says she will take any job she can find.

“(Before) I didn’t have to ask anyone for 1 rupee,” Singh said, feeling embarrassed every time she was forced to ask her husband.

“I used to feel independent. See, I lost a part of myself when I quit my job,” she said. “I want to get that feeling back.”

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