Still Missing: Women Who Left Workforce Because Of The Pandemic Yet To Return
Female labour force participation, already very low in India, declined further after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two years on, it is showing no signs of recovery.
The female labour force participation rate was at 9.4% for the period between September-December 2021, according to latest data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. This is the lowest female labour force participation rate since 2016, when the data was first compiled.
Labour force participation rate is the ratio of those who are either employed or are unemployed but willing to work and actively looking for a job as a percentage of the population of more than 15 years of age.
The pandemic, globally and in India, has led to a decline in labour force participation across men and women. A return of those who left the workforce has been slow.
In the case of men, the labour force declined to 67.4% in the period between September and December 2021, compared to 71.2% between September and December 2019, according to CMIE. It has, however, improved marginally to 67% in the previous round of the survey.
India’s biggest challenge on the employment front is getting its women folk into the labour force, Mahesh Vyas, managing director for CMIE wrote in a note on the company's portal dated Dec. 14, 2021. This gap between men and women in India’s workforce is the potential labour available to deploy productively in economic activities, he said.
Women who lost jobs in the pandemic or who left the workforce because of the pandemic, have still not found their way back, said Shiney Chakraborty, research analyst at the Institute of Social Studies Trust. Unpaid domestic chores, the lack of social support and absence of the care economy has continued to leave women demotivated to look for work, she said.
The Rural-Urban Divide
Women in urban areas have borne a larger brunt of the pandemic when compared to those in rural areas, the data suggests.
Urban female labour participation has declined to 7.2% in the period between September and December 2021, compared to 9.5% between September and December 2019, according to data by the CMIE. Rural female labour participation, marginally higher than in urban areas, has declined to 10.5% in the period between September and December 2021, compared to 11.6% between September and December 2019.
Along with a decline in labour participation rate, unemployment among women also continues to remain high. Although the labour participation rate for women is very low compared to men, they face a much higher unemployment rate of 17% compared to 6% for men, Vyas said. "The much fewer women who seek work find it much harder to find it compared to men." This is disconcerting as it suggests a bias against employing women, he said.
According to CMIE's data, about a fourth of all unemployed and about half of those passively unemployed are women, said Chakraborty. "As such, there are currently about 80 lakh women currently looking for work."
Research by Rosa Abraham, Amit Basole and Surbhi Kesar at Azim Premji University had found that, conditional on losing work, women were eleven times more likely to not return. The research paper, published in February 2021, found that marital status, education, caste, and religion were strongly related to the likelihood of recovery in women employment.