Female Activity Participation Ratio in India much higher in all regions, in almost all activities

Unpaid-care-workA recent action research, “Invisible Work Invisible Workers: The Sub-Economies of Unpaid Work and Paid Work”, sponsored by UN Women, and anchored by Action Aid India Association, with the help of the Centre for Development Research and Action, seeks to investigate the tangled issue of women’s unpaid work on the basis of interviews with 2,861 respondents from 1560 households (HH), including 259 Female Headed Households (FHH).

In its draft form, the action research was carried out with the help of local organizations Association for Rural Planning & Action Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand; Dr Ambedkar Sheti Vikas Sanshodhan Sanstha, Solapur district, Maharashtra; Informal Workers’ Mobilization Initiative, Hyderabad district, Telengana; and Social Action for Literacy & Health, Thane district, Maharashtra.


The Gendered Activity Participation Ratio (GAPR) indicates the participation rate of males and females in each major activity, economic as well as extra-economic. This ratio is computed as follows – under any given major activity there are several sub-activities, and the sub-activity in which the participation is the highest in terms of numbers of respondents is defined as the maximum.

This maximum number has been divided by the total respondents for that region in the age- group 14-60 to arrive at the Activity Participation Ratios; this has been done separately for females and males in order to obtain the Gendered Activity Participation Ratios. For instance, in Solapur there are seven sub-activities under animal husbandry.

Of them, the maximum number of female respondents (235 respondents) is involved with safeguarding of animals. The Gendered Activity Participation Ratio of women who are involved in animal husbandry has been computed as 235 female respondents divided by the total number of female respondents (589) in the age-group 14-60, thus the GAPR working out to 39.9 percent. This has been done across all sub-activities for all major activities even if the number of respondents has been less than 20 as the purpose is to determine the activity rate. Such an approach is suggestive of the intensity of participation of females and males in economic as well as extra-economic activities, paid as well as unpaid.

The single most important result is that the Female Activity Participation Ratio (FAPR) is much higher in all regions and in almost all activities. The Male Activity Participation Ratio (MAPR) in several activities is less than half of the Female Activity Participation Ratio. These huge gendered differentials also apply to what are considered as ‘purely economic’ categories.

Under the classification of economic activity, the maximum intensity is in the main activity of cultivation and construction where FAPR is greater as compared to the MAPR across all regions. This would imply that the number of women working under cultivation and construction is higher than the number of men participating.

Consequently, there is a huge Gender Gap – which can also be perceived and termed as a Reverse Gender Gap in keeping with standard definitions of sex ratio – in the Activity Participation Ratio exceeding an average of 20 percentage points in Cultivation in both the rural areas as well as Construction in Thane, only Hyderabad showing a relatively smaller gap of 8 percentage points. The (Reverse) Gender Gap in APR is an astounding 50 percentage points for Pithoragarh, and only a little lower in Solapur at 30 percentage points.

The ostensibly intriguing results for Pithoragarh needs to be viewed in the context of both situation and location. Less than one-third of those interviewed reported themselves as working, and that too earning extremely low income. The reasons are several.

One, obviously, the fewer number of employed and self- employed women.

Two, that women in this richly forested area derive sustenance and subsistence for their households from Common Property Resources on which they are heavily dependent, and that the very fact of non-ownership veils the work they do under communal ownership and community rather than private property.

Three, that sale of labour power in the labour market is open and visible, with immediate and tangible rewards even though in the form of extremely low wages. Four, and this is an extremely fascinating form of subversion of exploitation in the open labour market, that of the community exchange of labour outside of the market sphere.

The Gender Gap in APR remains high even for associated economic activities in all areas without exception. For Household Processing and Repair it is almost identical at 47 percentage points for both rural areas, and even higher at 69 percentage points for Thane. Hyderabad remains an exception at 6 percentage points, probably due to quantitative data gaps.

Travel and Waiting Time for Economic Activities reports a Gender Gap of 33 and 45 percentage points for Solapur and Pithoragarh respectively, and Thane somewhat less at 27 percentage points. Travel and Waiting Time for Energy too records a wide gender gap especially for rural areas at 46.4 percentage points in Solapur and 39.3 in Pithoragarh; the gender differential is slightly lower in urban areas, 33.5 in Thane and 29 percentage points in Hyderabad. Travel and Waiting Time for Water too is heavily gendered towards women, the gap averaging 55 percentage points for the rural areas, and an amazing 75 percentage points for Thane.

The Gender Gap in APR is almost identical at about 49 percentage points for both rural areas for Care of Children, Ill, Elderly and Challenged; urban areas report a relative low at 31 percentage points and 20 percentage points respectively for Thane and Hyderabad. The FAPR is also higher than the MAPR for Household Maintenance and Management; the pattern here changes somewhat, with Hyderabad reporting the highest gap at 48 percentage points, followed by Solapur at 42.5, Pithoragarh at 36 and Thane at 31 percentage points. Travel and Time for Public Provisioning has the lowest Gender Gaps amongst all categories of activity, lowest for Solapur at less than 3 and highest for Thane at 17 percentage points.

Thus, gender-based division of labour emerges strongly in all sectors of all activities, except in Non-agricultural and Non- construction activities in both rural areas and in Hyderabad where differences exist between FAPR and MAPR. Also, in Pithoragarh, there are no major disparities in the Activity Participation Ratio of males and females in forestry and fishing.

Importantly, variations emerge in the Activity Participation Ratio of female workers in Female Headed Households and of women in General Households. In Solapur, the former ratio is lower for most economic activities. However, the APR of women workers from Female Headed Households is higher for Travel and Waiting Time for Economic Activity where a greater percentage are associated with grazing and take longer hours to reach the grazing lands. Their APR is much higher for Household Processing and Repair, Household Management and Maintenance, Travel & Waiting Time for Energy, Travel and Waiting Time for Water, crossing the 90 percent threshold in most of these activities in Solapur.

The Activity Participation Ratio of the female worker in Pithoragarh in Female House Holds (FHH) is either lower or comparable to their general household counterparts in most activities except in Non-Agricultural and Non-Construction earning activities where substantial number of women participate as casual workers. An evaluation of the APR in the urban areas reveals major differences between these two regions. In Hyderabad, the Activity Participation Ratio of female workers from FHH is much higher than their cohorts in general households.

On the other hand, in Thane considerable equivalence can be observed in the APR in all economic activities; it is lower for Household Processing and Repair, Travel and Waiting Time for Water and in Public Provisioning, while it is higher in Household Maintenance and Management and Energy. Among the most significant difference that has fundamental policy implications is the lower intensity rate of female workers from FHH in the Care activity in Solapur, Pithoragarh and Thane. The lowest is in Solapur at not even 21 percent, the other areas reporting more than double but still less than that in General Households.

On an average, male and female workers in a given region spend almost similar amounts of time on an activity. Yet, gender gaps in activity participation rates cut across all categories of activities. Further, men and women spend almost 60 percent or even more of their time on economic activity; and if the extended definition of economic activity is used to include household processing and repair in order to compare with activities specified as economic activities under the System of National Accounts (SNA), then the time spent on this category of work rises to 70 percent and above.

The above needs to be perceived in the context of the fact that multiplicity and simultaneity dominate the pattern of women’s work, unpaid, care, and even paid. Additionally, women are engaged in a wide range of sub-activities under every major category; men participate in fewer activities especially under care and household work but they spend longer hours on those activities: consequently, the average hours spent for men and women tend to be similar.

Also, the intensity of participation is not very high among males. For instance, although they do undertake some responsibility for the tasks that constitute the household management and maintenance, their numbers are much less as compared to female respondents. Differences also exist between the intensity of participation of the urban and the rural male, the former engaged in a wider range of activities and at times spending as much time as the urban female worker.

Download full study report HERE

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