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About the Conference

The Centre for Development Studies, Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU), Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh and Centre for Gender Studies, Institute for Human Development (IHD), Delhi are jointly organizing a national seminar on ‘Women Employment in India: Issues and Challenges’ during 19-20 March 2020 at Itanagar to comprehensively discuss the above issues and to provide an agenda for further research and policies for enhancing women’s work. These issues will be discussed both at the national and regional level. Issues pertaining to women’s employment in the North-east will be discussed in separate sessions. While the bulk of the papers will be invited from well-known experts, some papers will also be through competitive call. The selected and revised papers presented in the seminar will be published as a book by some reputed publisher.

Professor Vandana Upadhyay, Head, Department of Economics, Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar and Professor Aasha Kapur Mehta, Chairperson, Centre for Gender Studies at IHD are the Coordinators of the seminar.


Official statistics place India among countries wherein the female labour force participation rate (F- LFPR) is quite low. During 2017-2018, the participation rate (15+) was as low as 23.3 percent as against 75.7 percent for males at all-India level. Moreover, the female work participation rate reported by various NSSO household surveys has been declining during the last two decades. The decline is across various cohorts, both amongst student- and non-student populations; hence, increase in educational opportunities only partly explains the phenomenon. This phenomenon needs to be analysed in-depth.

Along with the reportedly lower participation, the quality of women’s jobs remains inferior to those of men, as reflected in the structure of employment and gender gap in wages/earnings by male and female workers. The underemployment rate is also higher among female workers compared to male workers. Further, women having relatively higher education levels face a much higher unemployment rate than men. In the case of women educated up to secondary level and above, the unemployment rates among rural and urban females were as high as 17.3 and 19.8 percent respectively in 2017-18 against 10.5 and 9.2 percent for the rural and urban males, respectively.

It is obvious that women face formidable employment challenges. An important challenge evidently is the lack of availability of appropriate jobs for women workers who will be joining the workforce in larger numbers, notwithstanding the decline in FLFPR in recent years. Also, it is important to note that the geographic mobility of female workers is low, since the cost of migration is far higher than the remuneration. E.g. if temporary jobs are created at say, Rs. 6,000-10,000/ per month salary in Chennai, to expect single women workers from Bihar or Himachal Pradesh to migrate to get these jobs is unrealistic.

Next, it has been estimated that by 2035, while male labour force participation rate will remain relatively unchanged from the current levels, female participation rate is likely to increase over 30 percent. A large part of women joining the labour force will be the educated ones. Apart from creating appropriate jobs, this involves imparting skills, providing care arrangements and creating suitable institutions. It also needs to be kept in mind that the structure and composition of the labour markets are changing as well. Changes in technology, work arrangements and sectors of employment along with emergence of Global Value Chains have profound implications for women workers.

Thus, it is obvious that women workers have been facing formidable challenges in accessing employment.

These challenges are becoming more complex in the context of changing and emerging labour markets. The proposed seminar will discuss the various issues relating to women’s work and will attempt to provide strategies and policies for enhancing access and improving employment conditions for women workers.

A Tentative Set of Questions

Some suggested themes for the seminar includes:

  1. What are the reasons for the extant low participation of women in the labour force reported by the official labour force surveys? What explains the declining labour force participation of working-age women? To what extent it is due to participation of more and more women in education, rising household income or lack of appropriate jobs for women?
  2. To what extent are the official labour force surveys unable to capture women’s work?
  3. What are the trends in gender (in) equality in employment in terms of wages/earnings, sectors of employment etc.? Are there new forms of gender discrimination emerging in the labour market?
  4. Why is the unemployment rate among educated women so high? Is it due to the discrimination in the labour market or lack of care/safety/housing arrangements or lack of other suitable institutions?
  5. As women’s participation in the labour force is likely to increase in the next two decades or so, what kind of policies, programmes and institutions should be envisaged or strengthened for enhancing and improving women employment?
  6. An interrelated issue is the possible increase in the magnitude of women migrants, both the semi- educated and educated ones. What kind of migration policies in terms of housing, transport and care arrangements will be needed?
  7. Given the patriarchal nature of the Indian society, how could social norms, which obstruct women’s access to employment, be changed?
  8. What should be the policies and strategies to tackle violence amongst women in the workplace?
  9. What are the new challenges faced by women in the emerging labour market characterised by radical changes in technologies, employment relations and work arrangements? What should be the policy regimes to meet these challenges?
  10. What are the impacts of Global Value Chains on women workers? Have they improved the employment conditions of women workers or new forms of gender exploitation have emerged?
  11. What has been the impact of various policies and programmes such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Ujawala’, financial inclusion, MUDRA, increase in maternity leave etc., in enhancing and improving women’s work? How these programmes and policies can be expanded and strengthened?