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New Delhi: The labour participation rate among rural women fell by half over the past 15 years, from 49.4% in 2004-2005, to 24.6% in 2017-2018, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-2018 by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), reported The Indian Express.
The PLFS report is yet to be released by the government, and has created a lot controversy after parts of it were leaked in the media, showing unemployment at a four-decade high during the tenure of the Narendra Modi, and giving ammunition to the Opposition to question the government on its promise of job creation ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
According to the report by NSSO, which the government has withheld, the decline is more acute in the working age group of 15-59 years. Over five crore rural women have left the national job market since 2004-2005, says the report, adding that female participation has overall fallen by 7 percentage points since 2011-12, which means there are roughly 2.8 crore fewer women looking for jobs.
Experts interviewed by The Indian Express, who chose to remain anonymous, blamed “economic disruptions” for this decline, presumably demonetisation and goods and services tax (GST). One expert said, “When it comes to cost-cutting, unfortunately, the women workers are often considered more dispensable.
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Another expert said, “Higher participation in education is one answer to the puzzle but that cannot explain such a massive drop. One explanation is that fewer women are likely to remain in a shrinking job market where men have the upper hand. Part of it could also be the result of a cultural shift that makes the once-independent village woman a victim of growing social taboos against going out and working.”
Among urban female workers, the share of non-agricultural informal sector – unincorporated proprietary and partnership enterprises in areas such as manufacturing garments, paper, wood and straw products etc – dropped sharply by 13.6 percentage points. The share of rural female workers in non-agricultural informal sector also slipped by 13.4 percentage.
Another expert cited by the report on condition of anonymity said, “Many small enterprises could not recover from the effects of a series of induced economic disruptions. Many others had to downsize to survive. When it comes to cost cutting, unfortunately, the women workers are often considered more dispensable.”
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The downturn also affected the male workforce. According to an earlier report by The Indian Express, for the first time in 25 years, there has been a marked drop in male workforce in both rural and urban areas. “The yet-to-be-released PLFS report put the unemployment rate for male in urban and rural segments at 7.1 per cent and 5.8 per cent, respectively,” the report said.