The sharp drop in the female labour force participation is a matter of concern and has gained a lot of attention. Attempting to tackle it is like peeling the layers of an onion, where the more you unravel, the more emerges.
Why is unpaid work (eg: home care) not considered in the definition of work? Do women themselves support the idea of paid work outside (in a November 2018 ILO study, 26% did not)? Is education serving to bring an increase in job prospects or marriage prospects? Educated women are rejecting farm jobs, but how can they occupy themselves when faced with a dearth of non-farm jobs? To what extent does a woman even want to earn were she given the opportunity – what holds her back? Does she worry that her economic success may result in her husband relinquishing his own source of income entirely? How can a woman ensure financial control of her enterprise if she is dependent on a man to sell her goods at the market? How can she access markets herself if she has limited mobility due to care duties or other restrictions? These nuances can help us in understanding the tensions at play related to work in a woman’s life.
Socio-cultural pressures and the “child care penalty” have resulted in a significant proportion of young women being restricted to their homes, yet they are well positioned to spend a part of their day on a home-based nano-enterprise. These enterprises can flourish when women have recourse to the right interventions on family sensitization, skills, self-confidence, ability to converse with customers, financial access to well-structured products, sustained markets, the support of a peer and mentor network, etc. Digital literacy plays a key role in unlocking opportunities, access and information through social media, internet and digital payments.
While some SHGs have started micro-enterprises that hire employees, they are essentially communities at their core, and not all can make the transition easily. The opportunity for turning the tide on female labour force participation may well lie in moving focus from the collective to the individual entrepreneur, and specially in women with part-time work availability, who can grow their businesses as and when their home care duties ease over time.
This month, we are delighted to have a guest contribution from Lisa Heydlauff, Founder and CEO, Going To School, whose resources set a benchmark in designing in gender equality. Here’s a quote from their Children’s Skill Report:
“The girls came later. I was the first girl building with boys. They saw me, then they came. Girls can be so funny sometimes about building things. Then there was the boys and girls thing, that people would pass comments that boys would say something, but it’s all just silly. Build I said, use your super power, make something that was not there before, when we build and make together we’re not girls or boys, we’re just young people making something that was not there before. And that’s cool.”