By Manasi Nene
Using data from census reports and the National Sample Survey Organisation, researchers from the World Bank estimate that nearly 20 million Indian women quit the workforce between 2005 and 2012. In villages, there was a drop of 53 percent, which means that less than half the original workforce is still working.
Hein? The BBC tries to figure it out in their article, but they’re not having better luck than the rest of us. Shaadi? Bacche? Monday morning blues? Kya hua?
Thoda sa overlooking hua, looks like.
The NSSO data that the report draws does not consider self-employed women to be part of the workforce, nor does it acknowledge domestic work like sewing, cleaning, and cooking. Since they do not provide measurable financial and economic outcomes, they fall outside the purview of the “workforce”. Oddly enough, India reported an 8.6 percent annual growth in GDP while this is happening, which means we clearly need to take another look at how we measure workforce participation, and what that means for women’s financial security.
One of the main points brought up by the report is the U-shaped curve correlating women’s workforce participation and level of education. Women who haven’t completed secondary schooling and women who have advanced degrees are taking up a majority of the women’s workforce – but women who are completing post-secondary studies tend not to work. The further inference of the report is that once they achieve a slightly better standard of living, women tend to pull out of the workforce. It also points to the possibility of “casual” workers – mainly women – pulling out of the workforce once the “regular” workers achieve some stability.
The researchers from the World Bank were taken aback not only by the drop in the workforce, but also in its magnitude, and they point to India’s complex social makeup – gender norms, the “marriage market”, and income inequality especially, as possible factors. When there are such complex forces determining every move, how much can we really infer from economic data? And why is only work-with-measurable-economic-output being considered work?
If the reason is that more and more women are choosing to complete that education, that’s a great thing. But if it’s at the cost of so many women not being able to support themselves financially, we need to obviously look at this more closely.