Even as the economy opened up post the COVID-19 pandemic induced nation-wide lockdown, there was a slower recovery for the female workforce by December 2020, while men recovered most of the lost jobs. The number of employed women was 20% lower on a year-on-year basis according to a report by J P Morgan Chase.

Moreover the impact The impact on female employment was relatively more severe in the urban region. The female labour participation rate-FLPR- in urban areas moderated by 25% over the February-December 2020 period, while rural FLPR moderated by 6%,the report said.

There is significant divergence in labor participation rates (LPR) for females in India, which is remarkably low at 19% when compared to 56% for men, and this gap has widened over the years as per the National Sample Survey office -NSSO -survey data.

Cultural and social norms, safety concerns, a lack of suitable jobs for women, rising educational enrollment of young women and inadequate childcare support systems have been cited as key reasons stifling female LPR, the J PMorgan analyses showed .

Rural FLPR has fallen lot more compared to urban FLPR since 2005 with more women moving to domestic duties in a rising income environment and limited opportunities in the non-farm sector (given low skill levels). “This dynamic will hopefully change as the country urbanizes and creates more women-friendly service jobs” it said. India’s female LPR and employment rate is also lower compared to many other emerging, as well as developed markets.

As economic activity slowed during the pandemic, the LPR saw a sharp decline in April 20, although it recovered faster for rural women-now marginally above pre-COVID-19 levels. But it is still meaningfully lower for urban women. Similar trends were noted for employment rates, with the urban female employment rate contracting more compared to rural employment. “While part of this could be attributed to a relatively lower impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the rural economy, we note lower variation for male labor participation and employment metrics in urban and rural regions. Some of the reasons for the higher adverse impact on urban female employment could be inadequate mobility and increased domestic work against the backdrop of a lack of child/elderly care options restricting women from seeking employment” the analyses showed.

In the corporate sector, boosted by the government mandate, female representation on boards in India ranks 2 per centage points higher than the broader MSCI EM. However, the percentage of women executives has been broadly constant at 5-6%, which is meaningfully below that of the MSCI EM average at 18%.

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