why women in India do not work
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Why so many women do not work in India?


According to the Global Gender Gap report 2020 by the World Economic Forum, India has the one of the widest gap in women’s economic participation and opportunities. India ranks 145th out of 153 country in the economic participation index. Only around 25% of women, compared with 82% of men in India, work. Apparently Indian women choose to stay away from the workforce!

Furthermore, female estimated earned income in India is a mere one-fifth of male income, which is also among the world’s lowest (144th). Women only account for 14% of leadership roles (136th) and 30% of professional and technical workers.

Another report from McKinsey Global Institute suggests that, women’s contribution to GDP in India has the lowest among all regions in the world. 

Considering the recent economic development and improvement in women’s education rate in India, it’s quite surprising that such a huge number of women prefer not to work!


Why so many women are absent from the work force?  


It is very important to understand the root causes of Indian women’s persistently low participation in the workforce. There are underlying cultural and social barriers combined with poor access, lack of resources and poor policies behind Indian women’s absence in the work-force.


Working is prohibited

Many women in India are still not allowed to work! It’s not at all surprising, if women tell you that they don’t work because their husbands or in-laws don’t want them to.

Underlying social attitudes about the role of women are, arguably, some of the biggest barriers India’s women face. Men do not want their daughters or wives to go out to earn money. For them, working with other men is equivalent to compromising women’s purity and safety. Furthermore, families perceives  women’s absence at home alters the well being of the entire family, and upbringing of the children. Some families look down upon women’s earnings.

Traditionally Indians believe that women’s participation in the workforce will negatively affect the families, domestic work and child care.

McKinsey did a global survey where they asked two questions to both men and women- “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women” and “When a mother works for pay, the children suffer.” Half or more of the respondents in India agreed with both the statements.


Huge domestic responsibilities

Globally, women spend roughly three times the amount of time spent by men on unpaid work. And In India, the situation is more extreme. Women perform 9.8 times the amount of unpaid care work that men do. 

Over a period of years I’ve heard similar stories from several of my female friends and colleagues. They must call their husband’s parents everyday to report what they cooked that morning for her husband and children. Most often than not, these conversations would end with bitter comments from mother-in-laws either about her cooking skills, or about her choices of dishes. 

Indian men typically do not share household or child care responsibilities. Women living with their husband’s families sometimes have additional elder care responsibilities. Unable to cope up with such demanding schedules, many women drop out of the workforce after marriage or childbirth.


 It’s a matter of personal choice

Not only men, women themselves also think that their responsibilities primarily lie in taking care of the families Most of the time, these women do not recognize any benefits of economic independence. 

They often grow up in an environment which doesn’t encourage or equip women to thrive in the competitive world of the job market. As a result, they lack the confidence to hone necessary skills to be professionally successful. 

In some cases, women raised with orthodox values, often feel guilty of seeking career opportunities or higher education. For instance, in high school, a girl told me that she would never work as she thought by doing so she would  block the career opportunity of a guy! 

World Economic Forum suggested, if Government compensates the unpaid work done by Indian women in the same way as paid work, it would contribute $0.3 trillion to India’s economic output. Indian women do most this unpaid work willingly and it provide great satisfaction to them and their families.


Lack of opportunities

Sometimes women want to work but lack of opportunities becomes a significant barrier for them to get a job of their choice.

In the absence of a growing manufacturing industry, women in India have very limited opportunities to work. In a very orthodox patriarchal environment, small business sectors are monopolized by men.

The opportunities for educated women in small and medium sized towns are so limited that they prefer not to work. The situation is much better in big cities where the opportunities are more diverse. Though in rural areas women do participate in the agriculture work, and in large cities many women work in service industries. In absence of suitable opportunities, opting out of the work force seems like a natural choice for Indian women.


Gender Discrimination at work

So far, I’ve not attended any job interviews where my employers didn’t inquire about my children, their age and the childcare arrangements at home. Indian society think childcare is only mother’s responsibility. Thus women face severe discrimination in getting hired or getting promoted when they have young children, they are pregnant or planning pregnancies. 

Companies do not want to hire or promote women to leadership or management positions as they can’t stay late at work, are not flexible to travel etc. Most of the men in leadership roles work round the clock while their wives take care of the families. Unfortunately, Indian society is still not matured enough to imagine that the reverse could also be true. 

Families think if women are too busy at work, children and housework will suffer. And employers think if women are too dedicated to their families, they can not be dedicated to work! As a result, women face severe discrimination both at work and home. Even just to get to a point where they get a job is more than a dream for so many women!

Companies reserve the low paying and less responsible jobs for women. It’s usually hard for women to stick to these types of jobs for a long time or trying to make a career out of these jobs, if there are no absolute financial need. These positions have very less chances to convert into senior positions. 


why women do not work in India


Why women’s economic independence is important?

 India is home to about 25 percent of all women affected by gender inequality worldwide. It ranks 112 out of 153 countries in the world in gender gap. The gap is one of the worst in the world in economic participation and health and safety of women. Lack of women’s economic independence is related to the high prevalence of domestic violence, forced marriage, and murder of girls and women. Working improves women’s decision-making power, access to assets and reduces the rates of domestic violence.

According to a noteworthy Mckinsy report, India could add $700 billion of additional GDP in 2025, by achieving gender parity in economic participation.  It will also help bring 68 million more women into the economy over this period. 



How can we improve the current situation?

This is a complex issue and need the involvement of different stakeholders. Government, civil societies and nonprofits must educate people to promote awareness about –

  •  importance of women’s participation in the work-force.
  • the fact that women’s participation in workforce doesn’t negatively affect the children and families 
  •  and importance of sharing childcare and domestic work responsibilities between men and women

Different stakeholders should work together to create women friendly jobs, robust policies and safe work-environments. All workplaces should have strict no discrimination policies for women. Government must support women to set-up small businesses where they can hire or engage other women. 

Crating more opportunities, and addressing the underlying cultural factors should be the primary focus. Despite all the efforts, It might take several years to completely change the attitude of people towards women’s career and economic independence.

I feel, those of us who belong to the privileged 25% of working women, should leverage our privilege to uplift others. Men take their privileges for granted, and women are too scared and shy to talk about their problems. We need more and more voices just to be able to talk about gender disparity.


Additional Resources:

Global Gender Gap Report 2020

The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in India

Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment


Related posts:

Cost of Gender Inequality: Data and Reports

Mind The Gap!

Why women choose to live with abusive partners..

A Step by Step Guide for Men to Fight Against Gender Discrimination

How to Get a Job When You Have Never Worked Before


A Clinical Researcher by profession, I am originally from India; now live in California with my family. I am an advocate of gender equality and women empowerment. I am also a Certified Reiki Healer and a Certified Sexual Assault Counselor and Advocate. I write about women's rights, equality and gender based issues to create awareness and to include every body in my fight against gender discrimination.


  • Soma karak

    Swagata.. I know you are a very mature person, your thoughts are so meaningful and that reflects in your article. Very well written. I am aware of the gender discrimination part at workplace. We are so unfortunate to have this environment in the modern era. I am sure it will take more time to change this environment.i will share this post to my connects to have more awareness. Keep it up.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you so much for such thoughtful comments, Soma! It means a lot! Thanks so much for sharing the post!

      I feel, we are extremely privileged that we belong to the 25% of Indian women who are financially independent. We should leverage this privilege to uplift others who are less privileged than us. Creating awareness by talking about issues which every one knows, but don’t openly talk about is the first step to bring changes.

      Women face so severe discrimination at work as well as at home. Even to just to get to a point where they can just go out and get a job is more than a dream for so many women!

      We need more and more voices just to be able to talk about these issues, which everyone knows but prefers to ignore. Men take their privileges for granted, and women are too scared and shy to talk about their problem! If this continue, world will never change.

      Thanks for all the support!

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