Twentieth-century witnessed increased participation of women in the labor force, post industrial revolution. However, the absence of access to higher education for women was a major hurdle for them to get access to well-paid respectable jobs. The observed increased participation of women in the labor force led to an industrial boom in the 20th century globally. Despite this remarkable contribution women were reduced to low paying jobs in comparison to men. Women were restricted to jobs of the same nature as the pre-set feminine qualities of women such as based on the quality of women being nurturers and care takes women were involved in jobs such as nursing, taking care of infants and elderly. This excluded women from the main task force of mainstream and prestigious jobs. This discrimination can be understood through the example that respectable positions of higher authority such as managerial positions, doctors etc. were reserved for men whereas women were belittled to as assistants and nurses. The absence of opportunities refrained women from acquiring and enhancing their educational qualifications and skills for work. The rise of women in the workforce in the Western countries was viewed as a necessity as women were defined by their marriage as homemakers.

The evolution of women is divided into four phases-

Phase One: the phase of the independent female worker (late 19th century to 1930’s)

Beginning from 1890, in the first phase of women and labor the workforce included only unmarried and young women. Women falling in this category however did not poses and professional skills or experience and where thus restricted to clerical jobs only. Women in this phase greatly contributed to the labor force as domestic workers or workers in the textile industry. Women were observed to drop out of work as soon as they got married. The only married women who were seen to work were the ones with financial needs, therefore viewing the work of women as only a necessity and not a choice. Towards the end of the first phase, this exit of women from the labor force on the pretext of marriage was seen to reduce with the labor force productivity (married women i.e 35-44 years of age) was seen to increase to 15.5 % which was previously at 10%.

Phase two: the transition era (1930-1950)

1930’s witnessed an increase in the education of women opening the opportunities of respectable steady jobs for them with an increased demand for clerical positions in the market. The most distinct feature of this era is the elimination of marriage as an obstacle for women from entering the workforce. This boosted the participation of women- both single and married- into the workforce, remarkably boosting economies as well. The increase in demand for office staff also opened opportunities for women. The second phase however kept alive the notion that the man was the primary bread earner of the family and women-only worked out of necessity. This perception defined the work of women as an obligation than a means of social worth and financial independence.

Phase three: the roots of revolution (1950-1970)

The third phase is known as the revolutionary phase as women in the 1950’s displayed a change in employment expectations which led to a working women’s revolution. Women revolutionized the perception of women in the workforce by imagining their identities away from the spectrum of marriage solely and viewing themselves as individuals accessing education by attending college and working even after marriage for self-reliance and financial liberation. One drawback of this perception however was- that women still lacked the motivational view of building a career which resulted in women’s participation being restricted to scattered work. The third phase therefore still viewed women as secondary earners involved in ‘pink-collar jobs’ such as nurses, librarians, secretaries, and teachers. Women in pink-collar jobs also encountered a great deal of sexual harassment at the workplace which was not recognized.

Phase four: the quiet revolution (late 1970’s-present)

The beginning of the 197’s witnessed an increased participation of women in schools and colleges, which empowered them to enter into professions of law, medicine, and business. The phase of the quiet revolution witnessed a change in the choice of subjects taken by women from that of education and caregivers to subjects which were previously dominated only by men- business and management. This served as a tool of empowerment with women entering into mainstream professions and establishing an identity in the male-dominated areas of work. Today, in India 149.8 million women contribute to the workforce with 121.8 million rural female workers and 28 million urban female workers. Of the total female workers in India, 35.9 million work as cultivators, 61.5 million work as agricultural laborers, 8.5 million work in the household industry and 43.7 million are involved in other sectors.

The understanding of development from a gendered lens is crucial as the existing notion of development leaves women, especially from the third world or global South as the most vulnerable victims affected by the dual oppression of capitalism and patriarchy.  However, along the line, gender and development has become an issue of delusion leaving the current feminists with the struggle of interpreting gender development and social transformation. the progressive phases of development and gender but in today’s time it leaves the concepts as ‘gender myths’ making it difficult to theorize the concepts and to articulate a structured social transformation to ensure that women are not merely the beneficiaries of development but equal contributors too.

The Indian Context

Historically Indian women have greatly contributed to the labor force contributing to the rampant economic boost. Despite this, women in labor force have also been subjected to a great amount of discrimination. The Monster Salary Index (2017) stated that the gender pay gap in India was at 20%. It was observed that this pay gap increases with the seniority in position going up to 25%. According to the Periodic Labor Force Survey Annual Report (2019), in rural India 71.1% women were engaged in the agriculture sector, 6% women were involved in the construction sector, women were involved in the manufacturing sector. The report also stated that in urban India 45.6% women were engaged in the tertiary or other services sector,25.5% women were engaged in the manufacturing sector and 13.8% of women were engaged in the trade, hotel, and restraint industry.

Also Read| Gender Wage Gap in the 21st century


  • Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 administered by the Ministry of Labor and employment offered the provision for equal pay for men and women workers and to prevent any discrimination on the ground of sex in the incitement of employment. What this means is simply that every individual shall receive an equal amount of payment for their equal participation in the labor force, no matter what their sex- male or female. The accountability of this payment lies with the employer to ensure that employers are not discriminated against on the basis of their sex by receiving equal pay for equal work. The act offers the same provision of equality to individuals while recruitments stating that there must be no gender-based discrimination in the selection of candidates while recruiting labor.

  • Minimum Wages Act, 1948

In 1948, the Minimum Wages Act was introduced stating that each person must be paid a minimum wage decided by the government. The provision stated that women must be granted the same wage as a man for their equal participation in the labor force. The Act also dictates the daily wage to be paid to every individual without any gender discrimination for their work. The government thus fixes minimum wages for hourly labor, daily labor, and monthly labor. It is the responsibility of the employer to pay all its employees equal payment.

  • Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

The provision of safeguarding the conditions of maternity relief is envisaged in Article 42 of the Indian constitution. The Maternity Benefit Act (1961) grants pregnant women workers the average daily wage amount for the duration of her maternity leave which starts from the day of her delivery lasting up to a period of six weeks. After deliberation, the Act also extended its provision to the inclusion of liberal provisions during the infancy years of the child and greater maternity benefits. The Act put into effect greater protection against the dismissal of women during pregnancy. Provisions for breastfeeding, nursing breaks, and crèche facilities were also introduced later. The Act also extends its provisions to unmarried women as well.

  • The Factories Act, 1948

The Factories Act of 1948 safeguarded health measures and safety of workers which ensured that sanitary conditions were maintained at the workplace ensuring the safety of all workers. The Act prescribed executive provisions for the employment of women in industries. The Act mandated that if a workplace employed 30 women or more then the employer is required to build a crèche facility at the workplace. The Act also prescribed over-time wages for all employees. The Act also safeguarded the rights of women working in factories mandating the creation of separate washrooms (with doors) for female employees. The Act prescribes that women workers shall not be asked to lift more weight than prescribed, made to oil or clean machinery, not be made to work more than 48 hours in a week, shall be eligible for leave once a week, shall not be made to work for more than 5 hours at a stretch. The Act also mandated that working women shall be made to work only between 6am to 7pm. Under this provision, the State governments are granted the power to grant an exemption to factories but no woman is permitted to work between 10pm-5am.

  • Sexual Harassment and Workplace Act, 2012

In 2013 the Indian judiciary substantiated significant legislations and regulations contingent to sexual harassment- The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013); The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 and the Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was amended in April (2013) to incorporate a fresh section pertaining to sexual harassment at workplace. The Criminal Law Amendment Act introduced section 354(A) which enlists the acts which constitute the offense of sexual harassment and specifies penalty and punishments for such acts. Section 2(A) of the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 determines that no woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace which brought educational institutions, public, private and autonomous under the purview of the Act.

Also Read| Labour Laws in India

Discriminatory nature of the Code of Wages Bill for women workers

The Code of Wages Bill (2019) was drafted with the aim to transform the existing labor laws making them transparent and accountable. However, the proposed bill has six discriminatory provisions for women workers.

labor laws: Women Workers

First, the definition of worker and workplace as given in the bill is androcentric in nature as the pronouns used in drafting the bill is ‘his’. The wage slip excludes the option of transgender in the sex option.

Second, the definition of workplace eliminated the mention of private homes which excludes home-based workers, domestic workers, beedi workers, and workers in the textile industry- all of which witnesses great participation from female workers.

Third, women are left out of ‘skill worker’ i.e that the participation of women is not included in over 600 listed skills.

Fourth, the idea of the family presented in the bill is flawed. This is as the minimum wages granted are calculated bases on the calculation of four family members (spouse and two children) which leaves out the consideration of families with more than two children, elderly, disabled members and households with female heads.

Fifth, written contracts were made mandatory whereas currently, 70% of working women from urban India do not have any written contracts.

Sixth, there is observed invisibility of women’s labor with the absence of clarification for domestic workers and female workers in the agriculture sector and the exclusion of Anganwadi and Asha workers (under government schemes).

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