Today, May 1st is celebrated in many countries across the world as International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day. Essentially, a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement, socialists, communists or anarchists, it occurs every year on May Day. In India, Labour Day is a public holiday and is celebrated as Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas. The holiday is tied to labour movements for communist and socialist political parties
With a population of 1.3 Billion, and a workforce of about 500 million, it is perhaps a reflection of Indian society, that at around 33 percent at the national level in 2012, India’s female labour force participation rate is well below the global average of around 50 percent and East Asia average of around 63 percent. Due to cultural and social barriers, coupled with the gender bias inherent in Indian society, the proportion of women in the labour force has always been less than the proportion of men. Some of the additional issues which women face is gender pay gap, no regard for unpaid work, lack of maternity and child care benefits, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and others.
Recently, Mohapatra (2015) says that women account for 32% of the workforce in the informal economy, including agriculture and 20% of the non agricultural workforce. 118 million women workers are engaged in the unorganized sector in India, constituting 97% of the total women workers in India. The informal sector in the non agriculture segment alone engaged 27 million women workers in India. Work participation rate is found to be higher among rural women (27%) than the urban women (10%). It has been observed that a significant percentage of the jobs in this sector are managed by women drawn from lower caste and lower class women. Ignorance, tradition bound attitudes, illiteracy, lack of skills, seasonal nature of employment, heavy physical work of different types, long hours of work with limited payment, discrimination in wage structures of men and women, lack of guarantee of minimum wage, lack of job security, lack of comprehensive legislation to cover these labourers in unorganized informal sector, lack of minimum facilities at the work-site, ill-treatment, migration and disintegration of families, bondage and alienation, etc. are the characteristics of the employment women in this sector.
While plenty of laws exist to safeguard women and provide for redressal mechanisms in the event of exploitation or harassment (The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act and the Maternity Benefits Act being the primary ones), what lacks is awareness among the workforce regarding these. Coupled with inadequate implementation on the part of employers, this discourages women from being active and strong participants in the workforce. That gender equality plays an important role in economic development has long been understood in the literature. Various studies have highlighted how lower female labour force participation or weak entrepreneurial activity drags down economic growth, and that empowering women has significant economic benefits in addition to promoting gender equality (Duflo 2005; World Bank 2012).