Boosting Female Labor Force Participation in Rural India

Boosting Female Labor Force Participation in Rural India
Posted on 07-10-2023

Recognizing the Labor of Rural Women: A Call to Increase Female Labor Force Participation

The issue of low female labor force participation rates (LFPR) has long been a matter of concern and extensive discussion. As we approach the International Day of Rural Women, it is disheartening to observe that India not only has one of the lowest female LFPRs globally but also lags behind other South Asian countries, except Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Understanding Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR)

LFPR is a measure that calculates the percentage of individuals in the labor force, which encompasses those who are working, actively seeking employment, or available for work within the population. Meanwhile, the female LFPR (FLFPR) is the percentage of working-age women currently employed or actively looking for employment.

Insights from the Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) Data for Women

Data from the PLFS indicates that in 2021-22, India's LFPR for women in the working-age group (15-59 years) is only 35.6 percent. This participation rate stands at 39.3 percent in rural areas and 26.5 percent in urban areas. However, it's worth noting that from 2017 to 2021, women's LFPR increased relative to men, particularly in rural areas.

Reasons Behind the Increased LFPR for Rural Women

  1. Greater Engagement in Agriculture and Allied Activities: Nearly three-fourths of rural working women are involved in agriculture and related sectors.

  2. Increase in Self-Employment: A closer examination by education and age groups reveals that the recent rise in rural women's LFPR is primarily attributed to increased self-employment.

Challenges Faced by Rural Women in the Workforce

  1. Higher Gender Wage Gap: Rural women working as regular and casual wage workers face a more substantial gender wage gap compared to their urban counterparts. Self-employed women earn less than half of what men earn, indicating a pronounced gender earning gap.

  2. Unacknowledged Domestic Unpaid Work: A significant proportion of women in rural areas are engaged in unpaid domestic chores, which are not considered part of the labor force in India. In 2021-22, one-third of rural women remained occupied with unpaid domestic responsibilities.

  3. Gender Disparity in Land Ownership: Despite their vital role in agriculture, the 2015-16 agriculture census revealed that only 14.7 percent of operational landholdings were owned by women. Moreover, most of these holdings (57 percent) fall into the marginal and small categories.

  4. Limited Benefits from Government Schemes: Government schemes such as PM Kisan Samman Nidhi and PM Fasal Bima Yojana have seen limited participation by women. In 2023, only 15 percent of women farmers received financial support from PMFBY, and 25 percent benefited from PM-KISAN. The major criterion for accessing these schemes is land ownership, often excluding women farmers.

Suggestions for the Government to Boost Female LFPR in Rural Areas

  1. Enhanced Support and Targeted Incentives for Women: India must establish a system that adequately supports and incentivizes female workers to harness the full potential of its vast workforce.

  2. Increased Women's Mobility: Encouraging greater mobility among women can help them continue their education and engage in the labor force. Initiatives like Bihar's bicycle program, which provides girls in grade 9 with funds to purchase bicycles, have demonstrated success in reducing gender gaps in education.

  3. Easy Access to Microfinance: Expanding access to microfinance loans has the potential to significantly increase female labor force participation, especially through self-employment opportunities.


The invaluable but often overlooked contributions of rural women, not only in agriculture but also in the broader rural economy, must be acknowledged and counted. To address gender inequality in rural India, it is crucial to ensure the inclusion of landless women and marginal women farmers in government agricultural schemes.

Thank You