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Empowering Rural Women: Unlocking India's Labor Force Potential

Context: The persistently low female labor force participation rate (LFPR) in India has long been a matter of concern. As the International Day of Rural Women approaches, it's disheartening to acknowledge that India not only records one of the world's lowest female LFPRs but also lags behind most South Asian nations, except Afghanistan and Pakistan. Understanding LFPR: LFPR signifies the percentage of individuals in the labor force, comprising those employed, actively seeking employment, or available for work. The female LFPR (FLFPR) specifically refers to the percentage of working-age women engaged in employment or actively seeking it. Insights from the Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS):

  • The PLFS data reveals a meager FLFPR of 35.6% in India for women in the 15-59 age group during 2021-22.

  • This rate stands at 39.3% in rural areas and 26.5% in urban regions.

  • However, there has been a notable increase in women's LFPR compared to men, particularly in rural settings, from 2017 to 2021.

Drivers of Increased LFPR for Rural Women:

  1. Agricultural Engagement: Approximately three-fourths of rural working women actively participate in agriculture and allied activities.

  2. Self-Employment Surge: The rise in rural women's LFPR is primarily attributed to the surge in self-employment, as per educational and age group classifications.

Challenges Faced by Rural Women Workforce:

  1. Gender Wage Gap: Rural women engaged as regular and casual wage laborers encounter a significant gender wage gap, surpassing their urban counterparts.

  2. Unacknowledged Domestic Work: A considerable number of women engage in unpaid domestic duties, often excluded from the labor force. In rural areas, a third of women are involved in such chores.

  3. Gender Disparity in Land Ownership: Despite their pivotal role in agriculture, a mere 14.7% of operational landholdings were reported to be owned by women in the agriculture census of 2015-16.

  4. Underrepresentation in Government Schemes: Schemes like PM-KISAN and PMFBY largely benefit male farmers, with a mere 15% of women farmers receiving support from PMFBY in 2023.

Suggestions for Enhancing Female LFPR in Rural Areas:

  1. Targeted Support and Incentives: India must establish a robust system that supports and incentivizes female workers to unlock the nation's immense workforce potential.

  2. Enhanced Mobility: Initiatives like Bihar's bicycle program, which incentivizes girls to continue their education, can significantly reduce the gender gap in school enrollment and boost female LFPR.

  3. Microfinance Accessibility: Increased access to microfinance loans, especially for self-employment, can drive a significant rise in female labor force participation.

Conclusion: Rural women's invaluable, yet often unacknowledged contributions to agriculture and the broader rural economy deserve recognition and support. To combat gender inequality in rural India, the inclusion of landless and marginal women farmers in government agricultural schemes is imperative. By empowering rural women, India can harness its untapped workforce potential for a brighter future.

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