Societal reform is vital for bridging the gender gap in labour market – The Hindu BusinessLine

Clipped from: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/societal-reform-is-vital-for-bridging-the-gender-gap-in-labour-market/article66370908.ece

There are some serious social and cultural hurdles for working women

Women workers: Major stumbling blocks | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Gender gap in labour force participation is the difference between the percentage of working age women participating in the labour force vis-a-vis that of men.

According to the World Bank, the gender gap in labour force participation has been narrowing globally, including in India. However, this is primarily because of falling labour force participation among males. Globally, the gender gap in favour of men is at 25 per cent, and 38 per cent for lower middle income countries, compared to 51 per cent for India. According to the OECD, women’s labour force participation leads to higher ownership and control of financial assets which in turn accelerates development by reducing poverty and inequalities.

Low female labour force participation can be due to: (i) lack of equal opportunities (demand-side), and (ii) fewer women seeking such employment opportunities (supply-side).

Educational attainment usually acts as a signal for productivity. Accordingly, if men and women are equally qualified or educated, they must enjoy equal employment opportunities and thus participate in the labour market equally, thereby reducing the gender gap.

Then why is there a persistent gap in favour of men despite men and women being equally educated? Kerala, a State with near equal male and female literacy and high educational indicators, provides some interesting insights. Using data from two rounds of the Kerala Migration Survey – 2013 and 2018, we find that female education does not materialise into labour force participation. In fact, the more educated women are, the less likely they are to participate in the labour force.

This points towards the gender roles that society confers on women bind them to the household.

These preassigned gender roles partly explain a lower labour force participation among females compared to males. But what explains the lower level of work participation among women with high levels of education? A plausible explanation is the fear of male backlash against women’s financial independence.

Cultural and religious factors also have a role to play. Muslim women in Kerala have the lowest labour force participation among women of all religious faiths, and the predominantly Muslim Malabar region has the lowest labour force participation compared to Cochin and Travancore regions.

The tightening of the labour market in the Gulf countries has led to a reverse migration, majority of whom are Muslim men. Despite this economic crisis, the negative effect on female labour force participation in the Malabar region has persisted.

To bridge the gender gap, we cannot rely on economic crises to change deeply entrenched societal norms. To boost female work participation, the state’s role is also limited to bringing in enabling regulations.

Deep-rooted reforms at the societal level in redefining the age-old gender roles are the only way to curb the persistent gender gap in the labour market.

Chinmayi is a Doctoral Student, Economics Area, and; Dey is Professor, Economics Area, Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode

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