The annual Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2018-19, indicates that only 19.7 percent of women in rural areas are part of the labor force.
This is confirmed by the PLFS report that states 71 percent of women in rural areas were engaged in the agriculture sector while nine percent were in the manufacturing sector and six percent were in the construction sector.
On an average, over the years, there has been a significant increase in the share of non-farm workers in rural areas in sectors like services, industry, and construction.
Among the rural female workers, almost 60 percent were self-employed, and 23 percent were casual labourers and only 11 percent earned regular wages or were salaried employees.
Lower literacy rate among women in the rural areas is another reason why their job opportunities are mostly limited to the agriculture sector.
Over the years, the Government has taken active steps towards improving the literacy rates among women in the rural India.
As per the PLFS report, compared tothe India's average literacyrate of 78.1 percent,only 65.7 percent women in rural areas abovethe age of seven were literate as of 2019.
This is a tri-ministerial scheme by theMinistry of Women andChildDevelopment, Ministry of Human Resource
Development andMinistry of Health andfamily welfare launched in 2015 to create awareness about the importance of protecting girl child and focuson their education and rights.
This scheme aims to improve this skewed Child Sex Ratio (CSR) and reduce inequalities and discrimination against girls that typically have limited access to health,nutrition and education.
Mahilae-Haat is an initiative for women entrepreneurs and self-help groups for showcasing their products that are made or manufactured by online platform.
This is a very unique way to improve access to rural entrepreneurs to market, increasing digital financial inclusion and empower women.
Mahila Shakti Kendra
MahilaShakti Kendra is another initiative that was launched to improvethe technical capacity of governments in implementing women centric schemes and programmes.
The contribution of this scheme will be measured using defined outcomes like the share of women who were contacted through the outreach and awareness programmes; share of women demanding these services; etc.
A quick review of the issues challenging the success of all these programmes indicates that the biggest stymie is social stigma that is associated with women who want to work outside their homes.
In addition, majority of burden of family care falls on women's shoulders. Several studies have indicated that single women are more likely to work outside their homes than married women.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an unequal work environment where women worked from home while taking care of their children's education as schools went online, took care of the elderly; and did most of the household chores as well.
This has left a lasting impact on work cultures which have come to terms with the demands of work-from-home options in urban areas.
Care economy has traditionally hired women to work as nurses, teachers, child caregivers and palliative caregivers and this trend is expected to continue in future.
In this direction, it is imperative that we work towards creating policies that can train women in rural areas in health, elderly and child-care.
India already has a working model through the Anganwadi scheme that has been successful in engaging women in rural areas for similar services.
The Poshan Abhiyan, which uses technology to improve service delivery towards reducing malnutrition is a perfect example of how women can be trained to deliver in such areas.
Social norms that prevent women from working outside their homes and relocation must be addressed through a formal structure that protects the rights of these migrant workers and ensures their safety and security.
It is important to ensure that formal contracts cover benefits like paid leaves, access to health insurance, and access to formal financial systems that are digitally enabled to avoid leakages in salary transfers.
It might take our society some time to adjust to the growing demands of women to be financially independent, but in the interim, incremental policy changes along with private sector participation can be used to ensure that women in rural areas are not left behind.