India's GDP could increase by $1 trillion if it narrowed the gap between male and female participation in the labour force by 25 percent, a new International Labour Organisation report has said. India has one of the world's highest gender gaps in workforce participation, a gap that has widened instead of narrowing over the last decade.
In India, 79 percent of adult men are in the workforce (either employed or looking for work), as opposed to just 27 percent of women, making it one of the largest workforce gender gaps among the world's nations. The gap has widened more in south Asia in the last decade than anywhere else in the world.
Across the globe, gender gap is one of the most pressing challenges facing the workforce. The 'World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO): Trends for Women 2017' report states, "Women are significantly less likely than men to participate in the labour market, and those who do look for work are less likely than men to find it. What's more, women in the [south Asia] region work in jobs that tend to be both of lower quality and lower pay than their male counterparts." Lack of affordable childcare, the need to contribute to family work and social expectations of women strongly contribute to this gap; in India, for instance, women tend to be segregated into sectors of the economy that are not growing, resulting in 20.7 million fewer women employed over the period from 1994 to 2010, ILO research has found.
In 2014, G-20 leaders made a commitment to reduce the gap in work participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2025. The WESO report estimates that if this goal were to be realised, it would add $1 trillion to India's GDP and $5.8 trillion to the global economy.
Besides unlocking large potential tax revenues, engaging more women in the workforce would have a major beneficial impact on society. The report finds that over 50 percent of the women polled in south Asia would rather be working in a paid job than staying solely at home. The need for work-life and family-life balance, disapproval of family members, and abuse and discrimination ranked as the top reasons holding them back.
Challenging these social norms — including issues related to discrimination, education, unpaid care work, work-family balance and marital status — will be the key to engaging more women in the workforce, the WESO report says.