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Women Employment in India

India's economy has undergone a substantial transformation since the country's independence in 1947. Agriculture now accounts for only one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP), down from 59 percent in 1950, and a wide range of modern industries and support services now exist. In spite of these changes, agriculture continues to dominate employment, employing two-thirds of all workers. India faced economic problems in the late 1980s and early 1990s that were exacerbated by the Persian Gulf Crisis. Starting in 1992, India began to implement trade liberalization measures. The economy has grown-the GDP growth rate ranged between 5 and 7 percent annually over the period and considerable progress has been made in loosening government regulations, particularly restrictions on private businesses. Different sectors of economy have different experiences about the impact of the reforms. In a country like India, productive employment is central to poverty reduction strategy and to bring about economic equality in the society. But the results of unfettered operation of market forces are not always equitable, especially in India, where some groups are likely to be subjected to disadvantage as a result of globalization. Women constitute one such vulnerable group.

Since the times immemorial, worth of the work done or services rendered by women has not been recognized. India is a multifaceted society where no generalization could apply to the entire nation's various regional, religious, social, and economic groups. Nevertheless, certain broad circumstances in which Indian women live affect the ways they participate in the economy. Indian society is extremely hierarchical with virtually everyone ranked relative to others according to their caste (or caste-like group), class, wealth, and power. This ranking even exists in areas where it is not openly acknowledged, such as certain business settings. Though specific customs vary from region to region within the country, there are different standards of behavior for men and women that carry over into the work environment. Women are expected to be chaste and especially modest in all actions that may constrain their ability to perform in the workplace on an equal basis with men.

Another related aspect of life in India is that women are generally confined to home thus restricting their mobility and face seclusion. The women face constraints beyond those already placed on them by other hierarchical practices. These cultural rules place some Indian women, particularly those of lower caste, in a paradoxical situation: when a family suffers economically, people often think that a woman should go out and work, yet at the same time the woman's participation in employment outside the home is viewed as "slightly inappropriate, subtly wrong, and definitely dangerous to their chastity and womanly virtue". When a family recovers from an economic crisis or attempts to improve its status, women may be kept at home as a demonstration of the family's morality and as a symbol of its financial security. As in many other countries, working women of all segments of Indian society faces various forms of discrimination including sexual harassment. Even professional women find discrimination to be prevalent: two-thirds of the women in one study felt that they had to work harder to receive the same benefits as comparably employed men.

A section of Indian women--the elite and the upper middle class-- have gained by the exposure to the global network. More women are engaged in business enterprises, in international platforms like the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and have greater career opportunities as a result of international network. Freer movement of goods and capital is helpful to this section. But most women continue to remain marginalized as they are generally employed in a chain of work and seldom allowed independent charge of her job. Sharing of responsibility at work place or taking independent decisions is still a remote possibility for them. Economic independence of women is important as it enhances their ability to take decisions and exercise freedom of choice, action.

Many of the workingwomen, who control their own income, do contribute towards the economic needs of family as and when required. They often participate in discussions at their work place and their views are given due weightage before any final decision. Workingwomen do use and spend their income at their own sweet will but sometimes permission of the husband becomes necessary for the purpose. However when it comes to making investments, they often leave it to their husband or other male member of the family to invest on their behalf. Many of them do not take decision even in case of important investments, like, life insurance, national saving schemes or other tax saving investments. Workingwomen do feel concerned about the economic needs of the family but when not consulted in such matters, they regret being ignored especially when they contribute monetarily towards economic well being of the family. After globalization women are able to get more jobs but the work they get is more casual in nature or is the one that men do not prefer to do or is left by them to move to higher or better jobs. Globalization has indeed raised hopes of women for a better and elevated status arising out of increased chances to work but, at the same time, it has put them in a highly contradictory situation where they have the label of economically independent paid workers but are not able to enjoy their economic liberty in real sense of the term.

India is the first among countries to give women equal franchise and has a highly credible record with regard to the enactment of laws to protect and promote the interests of women, but women continue to be denied economic, social and legal rights and privileges. Though they are considered to be equal partners in progress, yet they remain subjected to repression, marginalisation and exploitation. It has been advocated by many researchers (Amartya Sen, 1990) that independent earning opportunities reduce the economic dependence of woman on men and increase her bargaining power in the family. This bargaining power depends on the nature of work she is employed in. But the income earning activities increase the workload of a woman unless the man accepts an increased share in domestic work. Since globalization is introducing technological inputs, women are being marginalized in economic activities, men traditionally being offered new scopes of learning and training. Consequently, female workers are joining the informal sector or casual labor force more than ever before. For instance, while new rice technology has given rise to higher use of female labor, the increased work-load for women is in operations that are unrecorded, and often unpaid, since these fall within the category of home production activities. The weaker sections, especially the women, are denied the physical care they deserve. There is, thus, hardly any ability for the majority of Indian women to do valuable functioning; the "capability" to choose from alternatives is conspicuous by absence.

Although most women in India work and contribute to the economy in one form or another, much of their work is not documented or accounted for in official statistics. Women plow fields and harvest crops while working on farms, women weave and make handicrafts while working in household industries, women sell food and gather wood while working in the informal sector. Additionally, women are traditionally responsible for the daily household chores (e.g., cooking, fetching water, and looking after children). Although the cultural restrictions women face are changing, women are still not as free as men to participate in the formal economy. In the past, cultural restrictions were the primary impediments to female employment now however; the shortage of jobs throughout the country contributes to low female employment as well. The Indian census divides workers into two categories: "main" and "marginal" workers. Main workers include people who worked for 6 months or more during the year, while marginal workers include those who worked for a shorter period. Many of these workers are agricultural laborers. Unpaid farm and family enterprise workers are supposed to be included in either the main worker or marginal worker category, as appropriate. Women account for a small proportion of the formal Indian labor force, even though the number of female main workers has grown faster in recent years than that of their male counterparts.

Since Indian culture hinders women's access to jobs in stores, factories, and the public sector, the informal sector is particularly important for women. More women may be involved in undocumented or "disguised" wage work than in the formal labor force. There are estimates that over 90 percent of workingwomen are involved in the informal sector and not included in, official statistics. The informal sector includes jobs such as domestic servant, small trader, artisan, or field laborer on a family farm. Most of these jobs are unskilled and low paying and do not provide benefits to the worker. Although such jobs are supposed to be recorded in the census, undercounting is likely because the boundaries between these activities and other forms of household work done by women are often clouded thus, the actual labor force participation rate for women is likely to be higher than that which can be calculated from available data. Women working in the informal sector of India's economy are also susceptible to critical financial risks. Particularly vulnerable are the poorest of the poor. Should they become ill, lose their job, or be unable to continue working, they and their families may fall into debt and find themselves in the depths of poverty. At risk are millions of poor who depend on the income generated by one or more women in their household. These women do not have regular salaried employment with welfare benefits like workers in the organized sector of the labor market.

Female workers tend to be younger than males. According to the 2001 census, the average age of all female workers was 33.6 compared with the male average of 36.5.These data are reported by local employment offices that register the number of people looking for work. The accuracy of, these data is questionable because many unemployed people may not register at these offices if there are no perceived benefits to registering. In addition, the offices operate more extensively in urban areas, thus likely undercounting unemployment in rural areas. One would expect that as cultural impediments to work decrease, younger women would be the ones entering the workforce; older women who have never worked in the formal sector are not likely to start working later in life. Throughout the economy, women tend to hold lower-level positions than men even when they have sufficient skills to perform higher-level jobs. Researchers have estimated that female agricultural laborers were usually paid 40 to 60 percent of the male wage. Even when women occupy similar positions and have similar educational levels, they earn just 80 percent of what men do, though this is better than in most developing countries. The public sector hires a greater share of women than does the private sector, but wages in the public sector are less egalitarian despite laws requiring equal pay for equal work.There is evidence that suggests that technological progress sometimes has a negative impact on women's employment opportunities.

When a new technology is introduced to automate specific manual labor, women may lose their jobs because they are often responsible for the manual duties. For instance, one village irrigated its fields through a bucket system in which women were very active. When the village replaced the manual irrigation system with a tube well irrigation system, women lost their jobs. Many other examples exist where manual tasks such as wheat grinding and weeding are replaced by wheat grinding machines, herbicides, and other modern technologies. These examples are not meant to suggest that women would be better off with the menial jobs rather they illustrate how women have been pushed out of traditional occupations. Women may not benefit from jobs created by the introduction of new technology. New jobs (e.g., wheat grinding machine operator) usually go to men, and it is even rare for women to be employed in the factories producing such equipment. National Sample Survey data exemplify this trend. Since the 1970s, total female self-employment and regular employment have been decreasing as a proportion of total employment in rural areas, while casual labor has been increasing (NSSO, 1994). Other data reinforce the conclusion that employment options for female agricultural workers have declined, and that many women seek casual work in other sectors characterized by low wages and low productivity. Other agricultural work includes workers involved with livestock, forestry, fishing and hunting, plantations, orchards, and related activities.

Even if a woman is employed, she may not have control over the money she earns, though this money often plays an important role in the maintenance of the household. In Indian culture women are expected to devote virtually all of their time, energy, and earnings to their family. Men, on the other hand, are expected to spend time and at least some of their earnings on activities outside the household. Research has shown that women contribute a higher share of their earnings to the family and are less likely to spend it on themselves. Research has suggested that as the share of the family income contributed by woman increases, so does the likelihood that she will manage this income. However, the extent to which women retain control over their own income varies from household to household and region to region.

Many women still sought their husbands' permission when they wanted to purchase something for themselves. In northern India, where more stringent cultural restrictions are in place, it is likely that few women control family finances. Conditions of working women in India have improved considerably in the recent years. Ironically, despite the improvement in their status, they still find themselves dependent on men. It is because of the fact that man in patriarchal society has always wielded economic independence and power to take decision. Since the working woman earns an independent income in the same patriarchal set-up, where the basic infrastructure of society has hardly changed, though her own role within the same structure is passing through a transitional phase, it is but natural that she would remain vulnerable to exploitation even in her economically independent state. Society perhaps yet needs to accord due recognition to women to take the lead role and women, at the same time; need to be oriented vigorously towards assuming this role in the society.

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