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Chapter # 32. Gender


  • To create an enabling environment, sans institutional and structural barriers.
  • To enhance the female labour force participation rate to at least 30 per cent by 2022-23.

Current Situation 

As highlighted in the Economic Survey 2018, a number of indicators that reflect the position of women in Indian society have moved in the right direction. Out of 17 indicators pertaining to women’s agency, attitudes and outcomes, 14 have improved over time. On seven of them, the improvement is at least on par with countries at similar levels of development as India.

However, a declining female labour force participation rate (LFPR) despite increasing levels of education and declining fertility rates has emerged as a worrying trend. The current female LFPR is 23.7 per cent (26.7 per cent in rural areas and 16.2 per cent in urban areas).1 The declining trend is particularly strong in rural areas, where it has gone down from 49.7 per cent in 2004-05 to 26.7 per cent in 2015-162.

At the all India level, women are confined mainly to the large, informal sector. It is estimated that if women did as much formal work as men, India would experience an additional 1.4 per cent GDP growth.3 On average, 66 per cent of women’s work in India is unpaid, compared to 12 per cent of men’s.

The government has taken some important initiatives to promote gender equality and welfare. These include the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, POSHAN Abhiyaan and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. 


  • Constraints of workplace distance, inflexibility in working hours, lack of availability of crèches, safety etc., deter women from participating in economic activities.
  • The absence of opportunities for part-time work and challenges surrounding re-entry into the workforce further worsen the situation.
  • Women’s work comprises mostly of invisible/ unpaid work.

Way Forward

  1. Ensure gender-sensitive thinking for legislation and policies keeping in view the challenges faced by women including 
  • different life stages (single women, married women, young mothers and women re-entering the workforce after a break).
  • levels of education (illiterate, school educated, vocationally trained, college graduates, professionals).
  • geographic inequities (rural, urban, towns, peri-urban areas, remote locations) and marginalization (SC/ST, OBCs etc.).
  • special need groups such as single mothers, widows, homeless women and women with disabilities, among others.
  1. Strengthen legal frameworks to eliminate discrimination against women and promote gender equity
  • Craft legislations for women engaged in the unorganized sector to ensure at least a minimum set of gender-sensitive provisions such as access to privacy, minimum wages, maternity benefits, leave and grievance redressal.
  • Ensure mechanisms for implementation of mandatory laws like the Maternity Benefit Act and The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, including for workers in the informal sector.
  • Create liberal laws/guidelines that encourage women to re-enter the workforce after a break.
  • Develop and implement Equal Opportunity Policies:
  • Establish a set of norms (for job advertisements and selection guidelines, availability of crèche at workplace, grievance redressal, flexi hours, part-time work, maternity benefits etc.) for both the government and private sectors.
  • Persuade the private sector, autonomous organizations and others to voluntarily inscribe a statement in job advertisements to the effect: ‘We are an equal opportunity organization and are fully committed to women’s inclusion in our workforce’, pending a formal policy. This can be accomplished in partnership with organisations like the Confederation of Indian Industry that have developed equal opportunity guidelines.
  • Reward villages/districts with an equal child sex ratio through information, education, and communication (IEC) campaigns.
  1. Generate gender-disaggregated data and rank states on key indicators 
  • Establish a dedicated unit within the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  • The unit should focus on data gathering, conducting regular reviews with other ministries on explicitly defined gender targets (e.g. under the POSHAN Abhiyaan, reduce anaemia rates among adolescent girls and women in the 15-49 years age group by at least one-third by 2022-23), ensuring optimum budgetary resources for women’s welfare and evaluating the effectiveness of gender-based budgeting.
  • In setting up this unit, lessons could be leveraged from similar institutional arrangements in countries like Rwanda (Gender Monitoring Office) and Finland (Gender Equality Unit). State government should establish similar units at the state level.
  • Improve data systems to generate gender-disaggregated data through the use of technology, geo locating information and generating maps in real time.
  • Rank states on a set of reliable and comparable indicators that reflect changes in the status of women at the national and sub-national levels over time.
  1. Encourage women’s participation in industry and enterprise 
  • Develop sector/industry specific targets for women’s employment and incentivize their implementation by firms.
  • Create policies and guidelines, on priority, to enhance access to credit by women entrepreneurs; provide facilitated credit access pathways for single women, women’s self-help groups/guilds/co-operatives, handicapped women, and SC/ST women.
  • Consider incentivizing sectors/companies that have over 30 per cent women workers by providing tax benefits.
  1. Improve asset ownership and economic security
  • Prioritize groups of women farmers seeking to lease land, water bodies, etc., at the village panchayat
  • Encourage joint registration with spouses/ sole registration of land in the name of the woman through registration fee and stamp duty concessions through special drives/awareness campaigns.
  • Recognize and secure women’s rights over common property resources like irrigation systems, fishing grounds, forests and water.
  1. Create enabling conditions for women engaged in agriculture
  • Ensure 50 per cent membership of women farmers in Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs).
  • Consider creating a separate budget to bear the registration/processing fee for the registration of women FPOs.
  • Specially focus on skill development among women, particularly for activities such as soil conservation, social forestry, dairy development, horticulture, organic farming, and livestock rearing (including animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries).
  • Target agricultural extension services to women farmers as well, not just males.
  1. Enhance women’s skills and leveraging ability
  • Consider extending the Post Graduate Indira Gandhi Scholarship for Single Girl Child scheme to families with two girl children.
  • Provide relatively higher financial incentives for girls’ education until Class XII to curb the higher dropout rate among girls and raise the average age at marriage by keeping girls in schools.
  • Promote skill development among women in non-traditional work such as electronic technicians, electricians, plumbers, taxi drivers etc.
  • Organize women into professional groups/ guilds to improve their bargaining power.
  • Use platforms like Digital India (i) to create apps for the guilds (ii) for marketing and branding purposes and (iii) to establish linkages with corporates, markets and consumers.
  1. Ensure mobility, security and safety for all women
  • Provide affordable housing, residential hostels and gender friendly facilities in upcoming towns and big cities.
  • Improve rural connectivity and public transport systems.
  • Ensure gender-sensitive, rights-based and time-bound trials as well as disposal of cases pertaining to violence against women.
  • Strengthen the standard operating protocols for tackling crimes against women, including new forms of violence such as cybercrimes.
  • Introduce training (including refresher training) on women-specific issues and laws for all ranks and categories of police personnel, health practitioners, protection officers, legal service authorities, judicial authorities as well as other stakeholders who interact with survivors of violence, especially in remote areas.

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