Women & Work - What caught our attention in August 2023
News, research, data, and recommendations about women and work - curated by our team
Hello, and welcome to CEDA’s newsletter ‘Women & Work’!
From a note of reassurance (albeit with a worrying caution), to some sobering data and some encouraging trends and initiatives, August has given us much food for thought. We bring you these updates and more in this edition with the hope that you will find it informative and insightful.
To everyone who is new here: At the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA), we are working on an ambitious project to understand and find ways to overcome the demand-side barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce.
We are curating ‘Women & Work’ with the hope that it can provoke, stimulate and amplify conversations about women’s participation in paid work in India. You can access previous editions of this newsletter here.
Please do share this edition on your social media, and with your friends, family and colleagues. Thank you!
🗞️In The News
In what may come as a reassurance for many, the International Labour Organisation has said that Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “more likely to augment than destroy jobs by automating some tasks rather than taking over a role entirely” in a new study published earlier this month. However, there is a but.
This is more likely true for men than women. More than double the share of female employment is likely to be potentially impacted by Generative AI vis-a-vis male employment, the ILO has cautioned.
“This is due to women’s over-representation in clerical work, especially in high-and middle-income countries. Since clerical jobs have traditionally been an important source of female employment as countries develop economically, one result of Generative AI could be that certain clerical jobs may never emerge in lower-income countries,” explained the study. Read more here.
Complaints of sexual harassment in India’s top publicly traded companies saw a significant jump in FY 2022-23, the publication Mint reported earlier this month. A total of 755 complaints of sexual harassment were reported in 23 of 30 Sensex companies, up 70 percent from FY 2021-22, when the 23 companies saw a total of 451 complaints. The analysis is based on the data reported by the companies in their annual reports. Read the full analysis here.
Karnataka will set up 4,000 “Koosina Mane’’ or creches for children of women working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the coming months. While MGNREGA workers will be the priority, they will also cater to families living in the vicinity. As an opinion piece in the publication The Hindu rightly noted, the “initiative exemplifies a demand-side solution to boost women’s labour force participation”.
A growing number of women who had quit the workforce for various reasons are looking to return for a “second innings”, The Economic Times reported based on data from HerKey (formerly called JobsForHer), a data portal catering to women. HerKey has seen a 58 percent year-on-year increase in the number of registrations for women looking to return to work in the first quarter of this financial year, the report said, adding that the registrations from women living in Tier II and III towns had jumped by 65 percent in this period. Read the full report here.
Did you know that men and women retire at different ages in China? The mandated age for retirement for “non-professional” women (including women working in blue-collar and clerical jobs) is 50 years, for “professional” women (those working as professors, government officials etc) is 55 years, and for men it is 60 years regardless of their occupational status. So, based on what work they do, working women in China retire 5 to 10 years before their male counterparts.
This is outright discriminatory, and has also contributed to China’s declining female labour force participation rates (FLFPR), argues new research by Kai Feng, published in the journal Demography earlier this month. China’s FLFPR was 61 percent in 2021 (for women aged 15+), data from the World Bank based on ILO’s modelled estimates show. In 1990, the corresponding FLFPR was 73 percent.
Feng argues that China’s “sexist retirement system” has had a significant role to play in the country’s shrinking female labour force.
Two major structural shifts in the Chinese economy have exacerbated the impact of this sexist retirement system, the research finds:
An ageing population means the share of women reaching the retirement has been increasing (and is likely to continue)
As the economy developed, the number of women who moved from agriculture to non-farming occupations (and by consequence, the gender-based retirement system) has grown. (The gendered-retirement system does not apply to agriculture).
These are in addition to the fact that several women quit the workforce much before the retirement age due to caregiving duties.
Using long-term data from the National Population Census of China (years 1990, 2000 and 2010) and the 1995 and 2005 intercensal surveys, along with household panel data from other national surveys, Feng finds the following:
The change in age composition from 1990 to 2010 explains 27.8 percent of the labour force decline for women but only 7.8 percent of the decline for men.
Controlling for the change in age composition, the retirement rate for women almost doubled from 1990 to 2010, accounting for 22.7 percent of the female labour force decline.
“This study’s findings highlight the need to incorporate a gender perspective into the ongoing discussions on retirement and pension reform…An equal if not greater effort should be made to alleviate the caring duties borne disproportionately by women”, Feng writes in conclusion.
Read the full paper here.
💊 Inspiration Dose
“Current affair: Women all charged up as they become electricians”: Gaon Connection
“A low-cost, scalable way to get more women into tech”: Forbes India
“Unicef's drive in rural Maharashtra is changing gendered takes on childcare”: The Times of India
Among the 1.77+ crore Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in India (MSMEs) registered with the government as of July 25, 2023, only 19 percent (or 34.46 lakh) were owned by women, data shared by the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament shows.
The share of women-owned MSMEs varies greatly by state. Mizoram is the only Indian state where 50 percent of registered MSMEs are owned by women. It is followed by other states from the north-eastern region - Manipur, where 42 percent of such enterprises are owned by women, and Nagaland where the share is 39 percent. On the other end of the spectrum is Rajasthan where only 12.9 percent of MSMEs are owned by women. The state is followed by Madhya Pradesh (13.9 percent) and Lakshadweep (14.2 percent). Note: This data is based on the number of MSMEs registered with the Government of India through the Udyam Portal.
👍 CEDA Recommends
This edition’s recommendations have been curated especially for our readers by Bipasha Maity, Assistant Professor of Economics at Ashoka University.
What’s an essential academic work that you would recommend to someone who is just getting started with working on the subject of female labour force participation?
Bipasha Maity: I found a recent review paper by Siwan Anderson called "Unbundling Female Empowerment" particularly interesting as it sheds light on the fact that women's empowerment has many elements (social, economic, political) and each of the components of empowerment interact with each other and with society in a variety of ways. Without a nuanced understanding of these complex interactions, policy making that aims to empower women may not yield the intended effect.
Additionally, Marianne Bertrand's article "Coase Lecture - The Glass Ceiling" provides a comprehensive overview of why women continue to be underrepresented among top earners in society by examining the role of norms surrounding care work responsibilities and insights from behavioural/experimental economics.
Lastly, I would recommend Mukesh Eswaran's excellent book "Why Gender Matters in Economics" to anyone interested in understanding issues influencing women, including that of labour force participation, using an economist's lens.
Anything published in the news media recently that shed light on an important aspect about women’s work in India?
I’d recommend a Slate report based on a recent economics working paper that shows that schools choose to call mothers to discuss matters related to students even though they had contact details of both parents. These actions outside the household continue to exacerbate the existing inequalities in the gender division of labour within households and have important implications for women's work. While this news report is not based in India, it remains relevant for Indian women nevertheless.
Is there a film that you can recommend which, in your opinion, does a good job of portraying the world of work?
I have enjoyed watching the Danish political drama, Borgen/ Borgen-Power & Glory as it depicts the challenges and compromises that women leaders are uniquely likely to encounter in their professional and personal spheres as they navigate through the highest levels of government and diplomacy, which are still largely dominated by men across the world. Similarly, Rituparno Ghosh's film Unishe April (in Bengali) captures the resentment that women often face from their family when they are found to be very involved in their careers, bringing into light how women are constantly expected to balance career and family.
And a book that did the same?
The Bengali novel, Satkahan by Samaresh Majumdar beautifully depicts the desire of women to access education and participate in the workforce (including in occupations which are traditionally male dominated) in Kolkata during the 1950s and be equal as men in the quest for contributing to a society that has recently gained independence from colonial rule.
The poster is from the collection of See Red Women’s Workshop, a collective that operated in London, UK between 1974 and 1990. In 1974, an advertisement in Red Rag, a radical feminist magazine, called upon women to come together and fight the prevalent imagery of women in the media and ads at the time. Three art students — Pru Stevenson, Julia Franco, and Suzy Mackie — responded to the call and came together and See Red was formed. The above is a poster from their collection - showing a woman, worker at home, worker in the factory, overworked in both places.
The posters of the collective were inspired by the personal experiences of the members, and often captured and articulated the oppression of housework, childcare and the negative images of women in a bold and in-your-face aesthetic.
Explore all their posters and read more about the collective on their website here.
That’s all from us for this edition. Thank you for reading! We will see you next month. In the meantime, if you have feedback, questions, tips, or just want to say hello, feel free to do so by replying to this email, or drop in a word at email@example.com.
Curated by: Akshi Chawla for the Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA), Ashoka University. Cover illustration: Nithya Subramanian