Shifting focus towards women’s work needs

working women

India’s dream of becoming world’s major economic power in the 21st century rests to a great extent on the opportunities created for its working women. Women’s contribution to the economy is a crucial factor in maximizing the productivity and the GDP of the nation. (A United Nations report released in March 2010 states that India’s GDP would increase by 2 to 4 percent if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent. As per the report, currently the number of women doing paid work in India is fewer than 35 percent.).(1) Therefore, a significant shift in focus towards women’s work needs is required in India in order to bring the maximum women in the mainstream of gainful employment.

The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in India states that women must be provided with comprehensive support in terms of labour legislation social security, and other support services in order to encourage their participation in various industrial sectors. The support services that are essential for a woman which enable to continue her employment after marriage include child care facilities, maternity benefits, and medical assistance, flexi-timing, job sharing among other things.(2)

Equal opportunities for employment and compensation, career and vocational guidance, occupational health and safety, and social security are some of the basic needs of working women that must be addressed comprehensively. The legal system needs to be strengthened in order to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women at the workplace. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2009 stipulates that men and women must be paid the same wages. Any discrimination between the wages of men and women is not allowed under this act.(3) These are the kind of the encouraging steps that can help to draw a much larger participation of women in the national economy.

Apart from the issues of legal, governmental and infrastructural support for women, there are also socio-cultural factors that hinder the women’s economic activity in India. Typically, an average Indian women finds it difficult to carry on with her job after marriage, or after she becomes a mother. Even in the prominent urban centres in India, the post-marriage dropout rates of working women are very high. Anu Sharma, the VP, HR of Quintant Corp. says, “A good work-life balance would be most critical for encouraging women in pursuing careers instead of abandoning them early”.(4)

Women with young children can work if the employers keep a provision of flexible work timings for them. Providing crèche facilities for the little children of women employees can reduce the dropout rates of women to a great extent. Technology can also play a useful role by facilitating women to participate in virtual meetings, attend conference calls, and work online from their homes whenever they are unable to visit office.

The organizations and employers need to become more sensitive towards the family and social pressures under which the majority of women have to work in India. Awareness needs to be created in the society to encourage a larger acceptance with regard to women’s work, particularly among men who are reluctant to let their wives work outside the home. Education can play a vital role in this regard, especially in the rural regions where literacy levels are abysmal. Public service advertising is another key way to improve the awareness levels among the men on this account.

A crucial but often ignored problem facing working women in India is the lack of affordable and efficient transportation. Especially, in the interior regions of India where millions of women are employed or self-employed in the informal sector, walking is the most common form of transport for most women. There has been little research and little effort till now to improve the transportation needs and options of women working in the informal sector in India. This issue also needs to come under the focus of the government and social agencies .(5)

Sexual harassment of women at the workplace, unsafe environment for women working in the night shifts, and unreliable and insecure transportation are the other key areas that need to be addressed for the sake of the working women. The laws need to be strengthened in this regard and a wholesome, unbiased environment must be created for women to achieve their full potential at the place of work.(6)

With a sincere will and commitment, it is possible to create a new and economically vibrant India where women are equal contributors to success of the country.


- Vikas Vij (views expressed in the article are that of the author)