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7 Jan 2019

Nishtha Satyam and Francine Pickup, The Wire, India

India: To reverse decline of women in labour force, make working spaces safe

"To reverse decline of women in labour Force, India must make its working spaces safe", 2 December 2018

One in three women today...continue to experience violence and abuse...In the #MeToo era...we finally appear to be at a tipping point where women and girls around the world are calling out sexual harassment and other forms of violence...It is our responsibility to shift the narrative from the credibility of victims to the accountability of perpetrators...

...#MeToo is about women’s shrinking voice, choice and agency – and nowhere is this more evident than at the workplace, where concerns over personal safety and security have contributed to an alarmingly low – and declining – female labour force participation. At 27%, India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world...It would be reductive to attribute declining labour force participation to any single factor...Yet, given the reality of declining workforce participation by women, we can be certain that concerns about security and safety at the workplace, as well as experiences of harassment, weigh in the decision to seek or drop-off employment, once financial circumstances improve...

...Companies must take on the task of nurturing gender diversity in their ranks by providing infrastructure that would enable women’s participation in the workplace, such as hostels for working women and crèches for their children. They will need to ensure gender responsive human resource departments, procurement and marketing policies that provide flexible working arrangements, equal wages and targets for recruiting women at all levels...

A supportive and sensitive workplace with robust redressal mechanisms for sexual harassment can help complainants prevent cases of abuse in future – and perhaps even stop women from falling off the workforce. Safe working spaces are more than a social issue – they are a competitive advantage that could ensure India’s economic future.