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Gender Gap In The Labour Market Needs A Lookout In A Rearview Mirror – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Gender Gap in the Labour Market Needs a Lookout in a Rearview Mirror


Background of Gender Gap

Historically, women have been denied many opportunities due to deep-rooted biases in the social system (Kabeer 2000; Rani 2008). These eventually led to labour market inequality as such discrimination was not only limited to the domestic arena but extended beyond the household. The underlying factors that cause such discrimination are sex ratio at birth, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, nutritional deprivation, inequality in literacy rates, and the gender gap at the highest level of political decision-making. These inequalities have direct implications for labour market outcomes in terms of women’s participation in economic activities. 


Gender gaps are one of the most pressing challenges that the entire globe is facing in the workplace. According to Oxfam Report, discrimination in the labour market is when people with identical capabilities are treated differently because of their identity or social backgrounds. Whereas gender discrimination refers to the unequal treatment or opportunities of individuals based on their gender.

Due to prevailing gender discrimination in the workplace India’s SDG target 5 of Gender Inequality is in a bleak light because of poverty as poverty pushed women into the vicious cycle of exploitation.

Climate Change is also a serious threat to gender discrimination as women are more prone to its consequences. Adding to these due to lack of employment opportunities women are on the verge of witnessing food shortage that results in several health impacts and indirectly effects SDG 8 of Decent Work and Economic Growth as well as SDG 3 of Good Health and Well Being.

Shift in working trend

According to recent studies conducted by Goldin, Noble Peace Prize Winner in Economics 2023, She concluded that there had been a shift in the trends of working women in society. Concisely she classified them into U-shaped growth as earlier during 16th-century women were engaged in agricultural activities along with their male counterparts and were contributing in the production of food products. Women also worked in cottage industries or production in the home, such as with textiles or dairy goods, but their work was not always registered correctly.

Later during the Industrial Revolution many women shifted to industries but due to heavy work, exploiation, and unhygienic activities women moved out of the labour force women participation witnessed a continuous decline but later with the Enlightenment period more women became educated. So they started taking their life decisions and again started moving into industries. However, due to societal norms, they were pushed into childcare activities because of this there was continuous in and out of women from the working segment.

As a result “marriage bars” became a decisive factor for many women whether they wanted to continue working or not as according to  Goldin’s research more unmarried women were employed in manufacturing than married women.Later education and contraceptive pills showed their magic power as women were able to do family planning and maintain a work-life balance.

Societal Trends

Not only women, historically oppressed communities such as Dalits and Adivasis along with religious minorities such as Muslims also continue to face discrimination in accessing jobs, livelihoods, and agricultural credit. Gender roles and the pressures to conform to these roles for women vary across regions, religions, and households.

Despite this women facing severe poverty were more likely to participate in the workforce irrespective of gender norms. Studies also showed that single and unmarried women are more eager to be financially independent as compared to married women and are engaged in the labour force. Moreover, according to OXFAM Report due to discrimination 67% of women get lower wages whereas due to lack of education and work experience, 33% of women get lower wages. According to data released by MoSPI ( Periodic Labour Force Participation), discrimination is greater in regular employment as compared to casual employment and is higher in urban areas as compared to rural regions.


  • India comprises 50% of women in only 18% of women are engaged in employment activities as compared to 82% of men according to MoSPI data which results in huge economic loss to the country that reduces the GDP of the developing country.
  • Despite the introduction of the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 and The Equal Remuneration Act, of 1976 there is still a challenge for the gender pay gap, and many women are exploited in unorganized sectors.
  • According to Frontline though women’s education is increasing their contribution to the labour force market remains drastically low which is a serious cause of concern.
  • In the World Economic Forum, India’s rank in gender parity in 2022, was 135 among 146 countries, which is worse than neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, China, and Sri Lanka. 


  • The Government of India should incentivize the participation of women in the workforce by incorporating enhancements in pay, upskilling, job reservations, and easy return-to-work options after maternity. 
  • Several measures and a committee should be formed to look into the enforcement measures and implementation of the right to equal wages and work for all women.  
  • It is often said that work is the best way to empower women economically so it is  necessary to increase women’s labor market participation by introducing flexible working hours and women-friendly organizational policies.
  • There should be an initiative taken by the government to promote care responsibilities and care strategy equally among both men and women that can indirectly increase women’s labor force participation.
  • There should be avoidance of gender segregation in the labor market that causes a feeling of alienation among women and lowers their morale and incentive to work 
  • Social media influencers can act as a catalyst in creating awareness for equal pay and equal work that can increase women force participation.


Without tackling biased gender social norms the essence of the Sustainable Development Goals can’t be achieved. Several biased gender social norms and several societal boundaries of what women are expected to do and the undervaluation of women’s capabilities and rights in society result in the absence of women from the labor force.

Several initiatives have already been taken by the government at various world forums such as G20 and Parliamentary meetings that focus on inclusive development and equal workforce participation but the need is to properly channel those initiatives.
Governments can provide support through gender-sensitive job-creation plans to expand women’s employment in the public and micro, small, and medium enterprise sectors and incentivize women’s entrepreneurship.
Moreover, limited access to safe transportation is the greatest challenge to participation that women face in developing countries, keeping in mind this challenge several states have introduced free bus schemes for women that need to be implemented at the central level.


Gender gap in labour market stagnant since 1995, flags UN report.


Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2023. (2019, June 17)


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Women in workforce: Low participation majorly due to gender discrimination, says new Oxfam report


Women This Week: Gender Disparities Rise in India’s Workforce. (2023, April 14). https://www.cfr.org/blog/women-week-gender-disparities-rise-indias-workforce

P. (2022, September 15). Gender discrimination reason for 98% of employment gap between men and women: Oxfam report.


M. (2022, November 22). Why India can’t afford women staying out of labour market | Mint. https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/dont-let-a-gender-imbalance-drag-our-economy-down-11669048053059.html

A. D., & A. D. (2023, October 9). Gender pay gap: It’s real. Retrieved from https://www.deccanherald.com/education/gender-pay-gap-its-real-2719145

Sharma, A. (2023, March 7). Why women get fewer jobs and earn lower wages than men in India.


The gender gap in employment: What’s holding women back?


The gender gap in employment: What’s holding women back?


What are the gender differences and the labour market outcomes across the different fields of study? (2017, November 1). 


Ivandić, R., & Lassen, A. S. (2023, May 1). Gender Gaps From Labor Market Shocks. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2023.102394

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Aishwarya Dutt for their kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.

This article was posted by Tanu Paliwal , a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more by the author: Bharat Mandapam: Bridging Cultural Ties to G20’s Progress

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