My column in The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle on declining numbers of working women in India discussed at the South Asian Womens’ Entrepreneurship Symposium organised by The Asia Foundation. Was happy to make a presentation before the disntinguished gathering.

The plummeting number of working women in India is cause for concern. A country which fails to allow women full access to the labour market is under-utilising its human resources.

A woman shattering the glass ceiling always makes for an inspiring story. So in the coming days we will surely learn more about Arundhati Bhattacharya, the first woman chief of the State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender, and the latest to join the super league of formidable Indian women who have broken through seemingly insurmountable barriers, and got to the top.
Sadly, the big picture in India tells a contrary tale. Let alone breaking the glass ceiling, Indian women are increasingly dropping out of the paid workforce. According to the International Labour Organisation’s Global Employment Trends 2013 report, released in India last February, out of 131 countries with available data, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation.
Women’s education has expanded. Economic growth has thrown up more opportunities. Logically, more women should have joined the work force. But the overall female labour force participation remains not only startlingly low but is also declining in both urban and rural areas. One of the interesting trends flagged by researchers, both from India and abroad, suggest that as household incomes rise and there is upward mobility, women may be finding it tougher rather than easier to be engaged in paid work. Writing in the Ideas for India portal in September this year, Stephan Klasen of the University of Gottingen, Germany, and Janneke Pieters of the Institute for the Study of Labour, also from Germany, note that rising household incomes lead women to quit jobs as the need for them to work in order for the family to survive reduces. The poorest and the least educated women work because they have no choice.

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