7 Reasons Why 68% Educated Urban Indian Women Are Unemployed Despite Better Education

Posted: March 4, 2019

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With better literacy and education for women in India, one would suppose that their employment rates also increase. The reality, however, is different. Let’s see why.

“Any society which fails to harness the energy and creativity of women, is a huge disadvantage in the modern world.” – Tian Wei, CCTV News

We often assume that education is directly proportional to employment but in the case of women it is not accurate.

Human Capital Theory views humans and individuals as economic units acting as their own economy. This means that with education, a human being will acquire the necessary skill to participate in the labour force and earning will increase, resulting in a direct contribution towards nation’s economy.

If we see the statistics there is a rise in literacy rate or higher education among women, but we have failed to convert it into an increased in women in the workforce. According to a study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) has mentioned the Labour Bureau’s employment figures to show that there is a rise in the percentage of women out of labour force between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016 across all levels of education. The percentage of women who work has declined over time, from 36% of women being employed in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16.

The logical link that education should lead to employment is shattered in India. Rural India has 67% of girls who are graduates but are not employed anywhere. In urban India this number is 68% as per a report by the United Nations Development Program in 2015.

Here I am making it clear that work which is unpaid and unrecognised like fetching water, firewood, cooking cleaning, child and elderly care which are prominently done by female member of family has not been taken into consideration, but are of equal importance to any paid job.

What are the socioeconomic reasons for this skew?

Educated women = better marriage prospects

A significant proportion of families get their daughters educated to get a ‘good marriage prospect’. But then soon they at a place where they quit their jobs.

Our 2nd largest population in the world is also due to the high ‘fertility rate’, and for every child a women has, it significantly decreases her likelihood of working for pay. In addition, and more importantly, educated women tend to marry educated men with higher incomes, so the higher family incomes would further discourage women’s participation in the labour market.

Homemakers revered

Combined with a cultural norm that confers higher status on women at home, other family income can act as a powerful deterrent to educated women’s labour force participation. If family income is high, naturally husbands and in laws want their wives to stay at home and take care of household affairs.

The ‘shame’ of a working wife

Social standards also ensure that a higher respect or social status is associated with families which keep their women out of the workforce and use their time and skills in household work. In our society the ‘indignity’ of a working wife is a complex reason, especially among lower income /middle income group.

Patriarchy, cultural and social attitudes exist all over India. But in many states in the north, there’s a feeling of ‘shame’ if a man’s wife works. Predictably, Bihar, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab report the lowest rates of female labour force contribution.

Needing ‘permission’ of a man

A man is expected to have a paid job. When he seeks one, he needs nobody’s permission. Women, on the other hand, almost without exception must have the permission of their fathers, brothers, husbands and most of the cases in laws, in order to work, or even learn skills that will make them employable in labor market.

How can my daughter/ wife/ sister work in these conditions?

Even if a woman is ‘allowed’ to work there will be conditions for taking up that, like limited working hours, distance from home, salary, proper transport to the workplace, and some arrangement for child care. Safety is also a greater concern when a woman works.

Need to quit for ‘personal reasons’

Even if a woman gets something which fulfils all the conditions, attrition rate is very high. The obvious reasons are marriage, family care, elderly care, and relocation of husband and in laws to another place.

Along with that an interesting fact is that many women seek employment when there is a financial crisis in the family for survival. Once the crisis has passed and basic needs are met for survival, her family forces her to be ‘decent enough’ and take care of the family.

Even though plenty of people admit to be up-to-date and ‘forward-thinking’, most of them are still stuck in an 18th century mentality. According to them, the best and picture-perfect place for a daughter in law, or a wife, is at home. Cooking, cleaning etc. are the only talents worth having.

And then there are of course women who prefer to become homemakers – the reasons might be varied, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Discrimination at the workplace

It is a cruel fact that women employees are paid much lesser than male employees. In case of highly educated women, when they see they have been paid 30% less than male counterpart, it creates dissatisfaction and they prefer to quit the job and stay at home. Because anyway working outside has its costs, which is paid by the woman at home in terms of rejection from family and on childcare.

A startling example of this gender pay gap can be seen in Bollywood where a lead female actor is paid much less then male actor.

Salary is not the only discrimination from an employer which counts. In India employers usually don’t give promotion or any kind of salary hike to a women who comes back after maternity leave. In many cases they fire such a woman employee or one who is pregnant.

Employer and male colleagues are also often not supportive to their female counterpart. It’s understandable that a woman with a child will try to finish her work early /on time and not be willing to stay late at night in office unnecessarily, but male colleague can stay late, and many do so that they can prove the female employee as less productive.

What’s the solution?

The solution lies in support from family, employer, society and the willingness from woman. Our patriarchal mind-set should change gradually to give a women the right to pursue her career out of her home. At the same time society and the employer should also not stereotype a working woman as an arrogant, less productive at workplace, less skilled to take care of family, etc.

It’s time that women should not be seen as beings who need taken care of from the “superior” men, who “should be taking responsibility” of women.

“When you feel like quitting, think about why you started.”  – Unknown

“People think that at the end of the day a man is the only answer. Actually, a fulfilling job is better for me.” – Princess Diana

Image source: a still from the movie Aamhi Doghi

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