217 million women are missing in India’s workforce

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Union Government recently passed an order to increase maternity leave which is an important step towards ensuring greater participation of women in the workforce. Currently, it’s compulsory for private firms to give 12 weeks of paid maternity leave — this will go up to 26 weeks once the new rules come into force, thereby bringing the private sector at par with the Government sector.

This move is justified as  six months of breastfeeding is a globally recommended norm to combat malnutrition, diarrhoea, and other diseases in infants and to lower the infant mortality rate. Also, new mothers themselves did need adequate time to physically recoup from the stress of pregnancy before they can return to work.

217 million womens are missing in India’s workforce :

While women make up nearly half the population, they account for only a quarter of workers employed. The decision of the Union Government's  decision to make labour market more women-friendly matters alot because it comes at a time when India is one of the few countries in the world where the percentage of women in the workforce has actually fallen — from 37 per cent in 2004-05 to 29 per cent in 2009-10.

Women comprised 24.8 per cent of all rural workers in 2011-2012, down from 31.8 per cent in 1972-73. Similarly among urban workers, women made up for 13.4 per cent of the workforce in 1972-73, which has increased only marginally to 14.7 per cent in 2011-2012.

If the workforce participation rate for women in India was the same as for men, roughly 217 million women would join the labour force. The under-representation of women in India’s labour force has been a chronic problem which can boost India’s economic output by as much as 27%.

Under-utilisation of women-power is a big loss to society and the nation which needs little elucidation. As per 2015 McKinsey report, if by 2025, India can increase women's participation in the labour force by just 10 percentage points, it can add 68 million women in to the workforce thereby it can boost country's GDP substantially.

Is maternity leave a whole sole solution ?

Extended maternity leaves alone will not solve the problem because in ground reality such ‘pro-women' measures may further queer the pitch for women as employers will view women professionals as difficult hires with too much baggage.  It may also become legitimately unaffordable for many small and medium firms to pay ‘unproductive' employees for long periods, thereby further marginalising women in the workforce. so whats the solution ?

One of the viable solution here is to push men to take on more parenting responsibilities, so that babycare isn't seen just a ‘women-only’ issue but this isn't so easy it will need a mindset change, but perhaps we could start by looking at gender-neutral parental leaves for both parents, instead of just maternity leaves.

Beyond leaves infrastructural upgradation of work enviornment is also needed because we should accept the realities of the 21st century where it is increasingly common for both parents to be working. The changes demands  more flexi-timings and mandating crèches in every office and other things

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