- Women at a paddy field in Gujarat
Last week, representatives of Indian companies spoke about the “missing” women of India’s workforce. The panel focused on college-educated women who could be working but aren’t.
According to a recent survey by the polling agency Gallup, traditional expectations may lead many college-educated women to leave the workforce after marriage, or after having children, to focus on family life instead. That may be one reason white-collar companies find it hard to recruit or keep female workers.
This is a concern, but it shouldn’t be the only concern for those looking at the Indian economy and employment. Women who have progressed beyond high school make up only about 6.5% of Indian women of working age (in India this is considered to be between the ages of 15 and 59).
As with men, the majority of the female workforce in India is unskilled and has only a basic education. They are working – just not in companies that require college degrees and English skills. They are often working in very poorly paid jobs with no security or benefits and in many cases below the minimum daily wage.
For example, an illiterate woman working in an occupation that doesn’t require skills averages earnings of 85 rupees ($1.50) a day; an illiterate man doing such a job averages 177 rupees ($3.20) a day.
So where are women workers most commonly found in India? The most recent information on that was published last year, and is based on data collected by the National Sample Survey Organization, India’s official agency for gathering key statistics. The NSSO collected information from over 100,000 households between July 2009 and June 2010.
According to the 1,081-page report, as of 2010, India had an estimated 112 million female workers. These figures included all workers who described themselves as doing a job for at least 30 of the 365 days being asked about in the survey. A little over one out of three women of working age is working, at least part-time. (The report can be downloaded for free from the website of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation after registering here.
India’s total female population is 586 million, according to Census 2011.
Here are the nine fields where you are most likely to see women working:
1. Farming: Agriculture is far and away the biggest employer for women. An estimated 68.5% of women work in farming, or around 77 million women. The majority of them are involved in crop farming, while the rest rear livestock. While male farmers may outnumber female, a far higher percentage of women work in farming than men. Only 46.6% of Indian male workers are employed in farming. Still, the number of women in farming seems to be coming down. When the NSSO gathered employment data five years earlier, 73.3% of women workers were in agriculture.
2. Tobacco products and clothes manufacturing: Roughly 10.8% of Indian working women are in manufacturing, but mostly in just a few industries: tobacco, textiles, and apparel. Tobacco is the leading manufacturing industry to employ women, with 2.6% of all working women saying this is what they do for a living, followed by 2.3% in textiles. The share of women in manufacturing is dropping – five years earlier manufacturing employed 11.8% of women.
- Construction is the third-largest employer of women, with 5.1% of working women, or 5.7 million, to be found on construction sites.
3. Construction: Indian residents used to seeing women carrying bricks or freshly-mixed cement on baskets on their heads will not be surprised to find that construction is the third-largest employer of women, with 5.1% of working women, or 5.7 million, to be found on construction sites. This is a big increase from five years earlier, when just 1.8% of women were in construction.
4. Schools: An estimated 3.8% of women work in education, most of them in primary education, which employs nearly 2.5 million women.
5. Grocery stores: Few women work in trade with the exception of food stores. The data showed that 2.1% of women work in grocery stores that sell flour, lentils, rice and other basic food items. Oh, and tobacco products.
6. Housework: An estimated 1.6% of women are employed by families for various sorts of domestic work, mostly as cleaners. This figure has come down from five years earlier, when 2.1% of all women workers were in domestic service.
7. Personal services: About 1.5% of women provide personal services that include beauty treatments, clothes washing, massages, arranging marriages, baby-sitting, dusting and washing dishes.
8. Healthcare: The health sector employs approximately 1.25 million women or about 1.1% of all working women.
9. The bureaucracy: Indian state and central governments, and the plethora of agencies affiliated with them, employ 1% of working women. Although the Indian government has shed jobs in recent years, the share of working women who have government jobs has gone up slightly from five years earlier, when just 0.7% of working women were in government.