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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-3

Women and work

hair - Scientific Committee on Rural Health, International Commission on Occupational Health, Rome, Italy; Occupational Health Consultant, Medical and OH Department, Private Sector Industries, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission29-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance30-Mar-2021
Date of Web Publication26-Apr-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sashikala Chandrasekar
47 A, 9th Main, HAL 3rd Stage, Bangalore - 560 075, Karnataka

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijoem.ijoem_110_21

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How to cite this article:
Chandrasekar S. Women and work. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2021;25:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Chandrasekar S. Women and work. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Aug 8];25:1-3. Available from:

Women in the workforce are an asset to the nation. Education and employment of women will lead to their independence and welfare. Gender diversity in the workplace should be a national priority in India. It will pave the way for “Womenomics”, leading to women's economic advancement which will improve the economy of the country as a whole.

Women workforce is a force to reckon with, for sustainable development and economy of the country. The potential for a country to grow rapidly depends on the female workforce participation rate. The percentage of working women globally has increased from 34% in 1950 to about 57% today (McKinsey Global Institute report 2016). ILO resolution on equal opportunities treatment (ILC, 1985) emphasizes on the protection of all workers whether women or men from the inherent risks of their work. This is important in the light of technological changes that are taking place in the world of work and the accompanying risks.

Gender equality is the fifth sustainable development goal adopted by the United Nations in 2015. 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the adoption of UN Beijing Declaration 1995 for the welfare of women – To advance the goals of equality, development, health and safety for all women in all aspects everywhere in the interest of all humanity. The 75th UN General Assembly held in September 2020 had a special session to discuss the progress made in the various areas in the welfare of women globally.

According to WHO 2013 report and International Centre for Reproductive Health – with reference to global maternal mortality, about 3 lakh women die annually due to pregnancy complications and 99% of them are in the developing countries. About 222 million women are not covered under contraceptive services. Pregnancy in adolescence is a huge problem and above 15 million adolescents give birth annually which is mostly in developing countries. Domestic violence is also alarming and 1 in 3 women are physically and sexually abused. About 2 lakh still births occur annually due to untreated sexually transmitted diseases. About 4.7 million women died in 2012 due to non-communicable diseases and half a million died due to cervical and breast cancer. Depression and suicide are common problems affecting mental health in women.

World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report 2015 shows – 100% parity is reached in university students, 75% in skilled workers but leadership roles are only 28%. WEF report 2020, ranked India 112th in the global gender gap index among the 153 countries in the study. The 4 main indicators were economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health, wellness and survival and political empowerment. A study by Brookings Institute shows, in USA women earn 57% of all college degrees, but only 37% of them graduate in science, technology, engineering and math fields, thus representing only 22% of the workforce in these sectors (Ref. Hamilton Project, 2018). Therefore, more focus and encouragement of women on this aspect of education will help considerably in closing the gender gap in STEM careers. Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index 2019 shows there is a positive trend seen in corporate sector in the employment of women.

According to ILO and the salary index report of 2016, India workforce comprises of 79% men and 27% women. In G20 summit 2014, commitment to reduce 25% Gender Gap by 2025 was taken. If 25% Gender Gap is reduced in India, there will be one trillion dollars addition to GDP. Gender pay gap in India is 28% (western countries -18%). If female LFPR (labour force participation rate) is increased and gender gap and gender pay gap is reduced, India's GDP will increase by 27%. Women's contribution to GDP in India is at present 18% compared to global 37%.

India's female workforce participation rate is among the lowest in the world. According to the World Bank 2015 report on female labor force participation rate, the share of women in India's workforce has fallen dramatically from about 35% to about 27%, since 2004. The economic survey 2017-18 revealed that women comprise only 24% of the Indian workforce even though the enrolment of girls in higher education courses has grown steadily to about 46% in 2014 from 39% in 2007. But the increase of women in leadership positions in boards in India from 5.5% to 11.2% is a positive development. The reasons for the decline of women in labor force is referred to as 4 M Syndrome - Marriage, Maternity and Mobility and More household income from spouse. The increasing salary and better opportunities nowadays may lead to less necessity for women to work. It was noted in a HR survey in 2017, about 50% of the women workforce leave their career for maternity and only about 27% join back and among them 48% leave again in the next four months. Empirical research shows socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a society considers appropriate for men and women are mandating genotype behavior and stereotype norm. When it comes to the recruitment for jobs, whether the recruiter is a man or a woman, the odds are that credence is given to men more than women (Howard and Heidi study by Harvard Business School).

In India though the working women are less now, women's participation is bound to increase in the near future. Hence workplace adjustments or adaptation of work and workplace for women workers becomes a necessity. Issues faced by women at different workplaces are almost the same except in a few specific industries and this has to be addressed positively. Misogyny, gender discrimination and sexual harassment or sexual exploitation in the workplace can affect a woman's physical and mental health. Workplace stress is common to both men and women. But working women are more prone to stress related illnesses due to the multitasking at home and workplace and the resultant conflict between work and family. So, “Work Life Balance” is more important to women.

Precautions, protection and preventive measures are a must in the workplace. Practice of best workplace safety measures are the keys in preventing the hazards in the workplace. Exposure to industrial toxins, chemicals, pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals leads to endocrinal/hormonal disorders in women. This in turn will have an effect on the fertility and reproductive health of women and the health of their offspring. Musculo-skeletal disorders are common in women workers. Workplace furniture and equipment and PPE may not suit women due to the mismatch in size and this safety issue should be addressed. Safety of women during night shifts and while commuting for work has to be taken care of by the management.

Changing lifestyle in the modern times is also affecting the health of women professionals. Giving more importance to career, many women are postponing marriage and pregnancy. Delaying pregnancy leads to reduced fertility and increased dependency on assisted reproductive technology. Late pregnancy leads to pregnancy complications affecting their health and there is more chance for foetal abnormalities.

Postnatal period in a women's life is important for her health and also for the health of the child. Amendment to Maternity Benefit Act in 2017 providing 26 weeks of maternity leave is a boon to the women workforce. The attrition rate will become less as percentage of women joining back after maternity leave will improve. Women employees with experience will join back and the necessity for training new recruits will be less. Hence the hesitancy in recruiting women in reproductive age group with regard to absence during maternity should not be an issue in the organizations. Restarting professional life after career break should be made easy with good support like flexible timings, assistance for breast feeding and day care facilities for children.

In the changing world of work, resilience and adaptation is needed in all age groups. Generational differences in the workforce are a challenge for aging workforce due to the impact of technology. Openness to learning new skills and to adapt to the change in the nature of work is very much required. Management's support with less taxing environment, flexibility and recognition for work experience is imperative.

Working women's health status depends on important workplace measures like conducive and less coercive environment without any intimidation, positive women friendly culture, inclusiveness and recognition. Motivation and chance for leadership roles and responsibilities, working time autonomy and flexibility, welfare initiatives, fairness, transparency, trust and encouragement will bring out a positive picture. More gender specific policies have to be drafted and implemented. Corrective and preventive action plan for women as SOPs without dereliction is a must. Mandatory gender specific safety and health awareness programs and essential facilities for women at workplace should be in place. Prevention of accidents, pollution and exposure to chemicals at work should be the aim. Progressive environment without gender discrimination and sexual harassment, equal opportunity and pay structure for women is very much necessary.

In developing countries, 42% of all employment is in agriculture, which employs about 60% of all women workers (McKinsey Global institute report 2019). In rural India, one third of the workers are women and the percentage of working women in rural areas is more than the urban women workforce. Exposure to fertilizers and pesticides produces toxicity in rural women workers and it affects their reproductive and hormonal functions. Congenital anomalies can occur in children of the exposed pregnant women. Musculo-skeletal disorders are also common in agricultural workers. Exploitation of female labourers in the rural areas is common. Problems faced by these women are lack of continuity in work, insecurity, wage discrimination, absence of medical and accident care. Rural women working at home using solid fuels for cooking are exposed to household air pollution and it affects their health to a large extent. Child labour in agriculture is common and the young girls have to be protected by stringent laws. Strict enforcement of pesticide regulations under a comprehensive legislation and the safe use of pesticides is mandatory. Policy reforms are required for the emancipation and empowerment of rural female labour force.

The status of health and safety of women in India should be improved in general. Importance should be given especially in the case of women contract workers and migrant workers, and women workers in unorganized sector and plantations. In India the working women's share of unpaid domestic work is nine times more than males. This additional work at home produces stress and affects the health of working women. Women who are at home managing the house, doing household work and caring for the children and elderly are working without any payment. Their huge service to the family has to be given due recognition for their unpaid work and they should not be neglected.

Health and safety of women workforce and women working at home should be given the utmost importance. Apart from reproductive health and maternal health, occupational health and family environment have a great bearing on the women's health and they should be addressed. The right to women's safety at workplace has to be considered as a social security measure.

”Vision Zero for Zero Harm in Working Women” should be upheld as sacrosanct and commitment to prevention of hazards in the workplace is imperative.


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