Will women be a part of India’s future workforce? The quest for inclusive and sustainable growth in India

This study examines India’s low and declining rates of female participation in the labour force, in the context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 8. Undertake this analysis by looking at who has been left behind, synergies and trade-offs between SDGs, and global systemic concerns affecting the implementation of the SDGs. The study adapted the Rao-Kelleher Gender Framework to understand structure and agency issues that impact women. For a deeper understanding, a mixed-method research approach was employed. Specifically, primary data was analysed from three districts of India, with high, medium and low levels of female workforce participation respectively, to understand barriers and enablers to labour and skilling, with specific reference to the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), a national skilling scheme. The study found that while education is not linked to labour outcomes for women, factors such as marriage, safety during travel, and exposure to vulnerabilities from the informal/unorganised market were significant in female workforce participation. The prevalence of gender-biased beliefs and norms at the level of the household, in terms of menstruation and post-marital gender roles, has a significant influence on women and work. These barriers constrain women’s agency and choice, and decisions pertinent to them are instead determined by household dynamics, workplace and societal structures.