Why India’s Growing Population Means Fewer Jobs for Women

by Ethan Kim
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Sheela Singh was really sad when she had to give her notice at work. She had been a social worker in Mumbai, India for 16 years and enjoyed it very much. Her family kept pressuring her to quit and stay at home with her two children instead, but she refused until one day when she found out that her daughter was skipping school while she was gone working. Knowing that, Sheela thought she didn’t have a choice anymore in the matter and resigned from her job.

“People said my kids were not taken care of enough and that made me feel bad,” Singh, 39, said.

Before 2020, Singh was earning more money than her husband, who drove an auto-rickshaw and whose salary changed everyday. However, no one asked him to stop working.

“His friends kept joking that he was living on my salary,” Singh mentioned. “So I thought there wasn’t much reason for me to keep my job.”

India is almost the most populated country in the world and its economy is growing really quickly. But there are very few women in India working compared to many other countries, and it’s been going down over time.

It’s not just an issue for women like Singh but a challenge that India is facing. India (which has around 670 million women) must make sure those people, particularly its women, are employed if it wants to benefit from the growing population and keep its economy growing in the future. Experts are concerned that this expanding group will become more of a burden than a help if nothing is done about it.

Mrs. Singh used to be able to afford living in Mumbai, one of the priciest cities in Asia. But since she is no longer getting an income, her family has to leave and move back to their old village because it’s much cheaper. Unfortunately, there are no jobs available there. This story is part of a series that looks deeper into what India’s 1.4 billion people have to go through living in the world’s most populated country.

A lady economist called Rosa Abraham at Azim Premji University said that the number of women in jobs was highest in 2004 with 35% and had dropped to 25% by 2022. They only count those women who worked outside their house for at least an hour during the week before this data was collected.

Experts say there’s a problem in the country that makes it harder for women to find jobs, but some people think this is because women should be the ones taking care of families instead of working. Just like Singh’s experience.

A recent study by the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) found that only 10% of working age women in India were either employed or looking for jobs. That means there are much fewer women in the workforce than men – 39 million compared to 361 million.

Just a few years ago, it seemed like things were turning around.

In 2004, India was going through some amazing changes. New businesses and possibilities opened up quickly, making lots of people from villages move to cities like Mumbai in order to find better jobs.

That felt like a huge change for someone like Singh who didn’t even have a college degree. She said “I never thought I would be able to get a job in an office!”.

For many women, it was all uphill when it came to leaving home for work. Sunita Sutar was a school student in 2004, and she noticed that other girls in her village of Shirsawadi in Maharashtra state got married at 18 and then mostly focused on their husbands’ households. The neighbors would even poke fun at Sunita’s parents when they invested in her education saying it wouldn’t help anyways once she gets married.

But Sunita did the unthinkable – she went against the norm! In 2013, she became the first person from her village with over 2,000 people to have an engineering degree.

Sutar believed that if she studied hard, instead of getting married early and living in her village forever, she could become something. Today Sutar works as an auditor for the Indian Defense Department in Mumbai – a really good job that is appreciated by many people because of its stability, honor, and benefits.

Education for Indian women has improved a lot since the past, so much that it’s nearly equal to men. However, even though more women are graduating from school, a lot of them still can’t find jobs. There are now lots of jobless women in India.

Mahesh Vyas, director at CMIE said that even though the population is still growing, there aren’t enough jobs. This means that fewer people have jobs and keeps women out of work since they may think taking care of their family could be more beneficial than having a low-paid job. Even when the jobs are available, sometimes social expectations stop women from going out to get them.

When Chauhan came to Mumbai in 2006, she was amazed at how many women were working outside the house. She saw them everywhere! They were serving food in cafes, cutting hair and doing nails in salons, selling tickets for the train, or even taking packed trains to work themselves. This made her feel motivated as it showed her what possibilities she had.

Lalmani Chauhan, a social worker, said that her family used to tease her and say she was working as a prostitute when she left home for work. She managed to keep her job because it became an essential source of income after an accident made her husband unable to work anymore.

Abraham said that more and more people in charge of making decisions understand that it’s a huge problem when girls quit their jobs, but no one is doing anything to help (like giving families daycare or making sure transportation is safe).

When women have jobs, it helps the economy because they make money. It also helps their family because both parents bring money in. Girls who grow up with two working parents are more likely to get jobs later on.

In India, there are a lot of women who are old enough to work but don’t have jobs. This number is even higher than the total population of the United States! Experts think that if India finds a way to change this, it could be a great chance to add money to their GDP (Gross Domestic Product). A report in 2018 said that if India increases its female workforce by 10%, then India could make an extra $552 billion!

As she gets ready to leave her small house located in a slum, Singh is determined to come back and work in the city. She will do any kind of job she can find.

A few days ago, Singh used to be able to take care of herself without needing money from anyone else. But now she has to ask for it from her husband, which makes her feel embarrassed.

She said, “I used to feel free and self-reliant, but when I quit my job it felt like I had lost something and I want that feeling back.”

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