Here is a compilation of essays on ‘Female Labour in India’ for class 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Female Labour in India’ especially written for school and college students.

Essay on Female Labour in India

Essay Contents:

  1. Essay on Female Labour in India
  2. Essay on Women Workers and Unionisation
  3. Essay on Women Workers and Capitalism
  4. Essay on Women in Rural Sector
  5. Essay on SEWA: The Awakening
  6. Essay on Female Industrial Workers and Globalisation
  7. Essay on Women’s Action: Approaches, Strategies and Tools

Essay # 1. Female Labour in India:


Different aspects of female labour, which form a significant part of the total labour force are yet to be analysed although women’s studies had long been identified as a major thrust area of research. It is very important to know the dynamics of female labour force in a restructuring agrarian economy, more so in the case of India having sharp regional differences.

We focus the neutrality of technology and gender. Female agricultural labour and female family labour are the two categories on which the impact of technology is explored under different agro-climatic conditions within Andhra Pradesh. The time allocation of women in agriculture, however, shows that the line between the waged and unwaged activities of a woman often becomes blurred.

Most of the unwaged activity is of expenditure saving type, such as collection of wood, fetching water, child care, and dairying and allied activities. Class, caste and gender in concrete situations have been analysed providing a potential for better under­standing of the problem.

The study spans almost the whole of Andhra Pradesh and, perhaps this breadth of analysis somewhat hinders the depth of analysis. Yet, the study gives several insights for further investigations. Researchers interested in gender studies will find the book helpful.


The main thrust of work has been to examine the effect of the seed-fertilizer package on various aspects of women’s labour, waged or unwaged. We have also examined the level of development of a region, its cropping pattern, labour absorption; labour organisation wage payments and other related aspects because she feels that the levels of development of the three regions of the State of Andhra Pradesh she chose for the study are not the same.

However while discussing the differential outcomes in different regions, in several cases, the probable source of difference has not been analysed adequately. A mere mention of a series of differential out­comes without an effort at linking them with the socio-economic development of the regions makes the argument analytically poor.

The common variable in the villages studied comprises availability of the green revolution technology. An attempt has been made to compare the villages grouped as irrigated (command area) with un-irrigated areas (non-command area).

A micro-level analysis of work pattern, employment and unemployment levels of female agricultural workers has been attempted. Rural households undertaken for the study have been classified as agricultural labour households and cultivating households. The total sample size was 182.


The village-wise split-up was done depending on the size of the village. Though almost in all the cases caste factors as well as class factors have been referred to with equal importance, the author mentions that the caste-wise collection of data has not been given im­portance while deciding the sample; only the class factor has been considered. This is alright as long as there is a high correlation between the two variables, class and caste.

However, in some cases her analysis leaves room to question the existence of this correlation. And in these cases at least the caste factor should have been considered at the time of sample selection. We did not consider the households as the units of analysis because different crucial economic variables affect the members of the households in a different manner. Therefore, we have taken female workers as the unit of analysis.

It is found that close associations exist among caste, literacy and work performed by female agricultural workers. Agricultural workers usually belong to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward castes. Looking at the literacy rates, it was again found to be the lowest among the above-mentioned castes. Among the forward castes, as educational status improves, women would not work as agricultural workers.

The author has identified three major variables common to all the three regions which affect the labour contribution of a female agricultural worker:

(a) Caste of the household,

(b) The biological state of the woman in the household life-cycle, and

(c) The form of the family—nuclear or joint.

It can be shown how the water-seed-fertilizer package increases the work opportunities of female agricultural labour and how it has loosened the hold of caste on the division of labour. A comparison of work generation between command areas and non-command areas due to the initiation of the Green Revolution technology, however, has not shown any marked difference.

In fact, it has been found that seasonal fluctuations in women’s work opportunity are greater in the command areas compared to the non-command areas. One probable reason is that, in the command area, though work availability is high, it is usually peaked so that its availability over a number of days is reduced.


Turning to the female family labour category, we have found in almost all the villages under study that work participation rates in agriculture are quite high and the incidence of female family labour is higher among the backward castes.

A kind of ‘house wification’ is taking place through the withdrawal of women from paid agricultural labour to family agricultural labour as the male occupation changes firm agricultural attached labour to sharecropper or marginal farmer, following the easy availability of the HYV techniques.

The technology has made small and marginal farms increasingly viable, but at the cost of intensive exploitation of female fam­ily labour. The author elaborates on how the HYV package through its greater market orienta­tion essentially strengthens the structures of patriarchy.

It has been argued that a technology can affect there female workers differentially depending on the category they belong to. One example may suffice. Weeding is an activity that traditionally gives more employment to fe­male workers. Use of HYV techniques sometimes includes the use of weedicides and this has different imparts on the two categories of female workers considered by the study.


It reduces the work burden of female family labour inducing a positive impact on these categories of working women. On the contrary, because it reduces work opportunity for women in general it affects women agricultural labour in a negative way.

We find changing trend in the work organisation due to changes in technology, and the impact of these changes on women workers. HYV technology demands a change in the traditional forms of attached labour or casual labour. Due to the significant increase in multiple cropping and diversification of cropping, agricultural operations have to be performed very quickly and they have to be time-bound.

This feature leads to an employment system that can be called a contract system. Work is undertaken on contract by labour groups consisting of both males and females. The wage is paid in lump sum, which is divided among the members of the labour group. It was observed in the field study that because the intensity of work is very high and the work hours are longer, women labourers often find it difficult to enter into this kind of contract.

They find it impossible to manage other household chores along with such contractual work. Also the nature of the work demands only able-bodied persons. In their own words, if they work as contract labour for two days they have to rest for four days. Thus, it seems that even though in the contract system earning is much higher, women cannot take full advantage of it.


It has been claimed that the very existence of the discrimination against women in the labour market is as prevalent after the introduction of HYV technology as it was before. Though division of work by gender is not fixed for all regions and times, the historical division of labour precludes women from entering into high productivity work.

If we look at it from the other side, we find whatever work women are allowed to do, it quickly becomes a women- specific operation and therefore very lowly paid. All the productive activities that women are allowed in are relatively less capital-intensive. Even though in certain operations productivity of men and women is the same, women are paid lower wages. This argument seems to be a bit unconvincing.

If productivity does not differ, after some point of time, employers will naturally go for female labour because of the lower wage cost. This will increase the female labour demand and consequently will tighten the labour market for the female workers lowering the wage differential.

Another possibility is undercutting of wage rates by the male labourers to compete in the labour market. The social notion of women as inferior human beings deprives them of several opportunities of being equally productive, such as education, credit and sometimes even health care facilities and food. Discrimination against women in the social sphere leads to labour market segmentation by gender, the basis of which can be differentiation in productivity.

According to the framework of traditional economic analysis, the concept of work covers the so called productive sphere or gainful economic activity. But half of the women directly dependent on agriculture are engaged in either subsistence activity (thereby shouldering the entire responsibility of feeding their families) or working with men on their family land.

These women workers do not appear in the global or national statistics. Such a statistical neglect keeps them out of the reach of all the amelioration programmes. The basic methodologies and conceptual frameworks must be changed in order to understand and estimate the work partici­pation of these women. Hardly any attempt has yet been made to make a critical analysis of women’s role in production.


We thus explore the macro aspects of women’s work participation rates and other economic variables regarding work, keeping in mind the non-accounting of women’s patterns of work. Our point of view is that various complementary approaches for data collection would be better because women’s work has special characteristics like multiplicity, seasonality, part-time work, payment in kind, home-based work, etc.

Essay # 2. Women Workers and Unionisation:

The percentage of women members in trade unions that submit returns rose from 7.3 per cent in 1951-52 to 10.3 per cent in 1985; in 1992 it was 11.6 per cent. Detailed informa­tion on the extent of unionisation among women workers is not available, although there are rich case studies of specific sectors/industries where women workers form a substantial section of the workforce.

There is considerable controversy on whether there has been an increasing “feminisation” of the workforce over the last decade, especially since the liberalisation process began. Deshpande and Deshpande assessed the short-run impact of liberalisation on female em­ployment and participation.

They found that:

(a) In urban areas, both male and female partici­pation rates increased after liberalisation,


(b) Gender-based wage differentials widened among regular wage/salaried rural and urban workers,

(c) Women workers were increasingly taking to self-employment and to the informal sectors as their proportion in manufacturing declined even though women’s share in the urban workforce rose slightly.

Although in several countries globalisation has led to feminisation of the manufacturing workforce Banerjee (1997) argues that in India the reverse has taken place: women’s opportu­nities in the secondary sectors have fallen drastically in all states. However, there has been a slight increase in work opportunities for rural women in agriculture and some gains were made in the tertiary sector.

According to Banerjee it would be unrealistic to expect a “mechanical reproduction of international trends in a country the size of India”. Women work­ers account for only 17 per cent of the manufacturing workforce that in turn is only 13 per cent of the total workforce. She goes on to suggest that even if the entire export sector (commodi­ties) were staffed by women, “it is doubtful that this would result in a feminisation of the Indian manufacturing workforce as a whole”.

Given that a substantial section of women workers in India today are engaged as “homeworkers” in several industries (such as bangle-makers, cobblers, dye-makers, flower- workers, kite-makers, lace-makers, leather-workers, etc.), it is encouraging that the Indian trade union movement, under the leadership of the Self-Employed Women’s Association SEWA) (Endnote 31) has taken a lead in drafting an ILO convention on homeworkers.

(Endnote 32) A bill was introduced in the upper house in 1988 that attempted to equalize treat­ment of homeworkers with other wage earners in terms of remuneration, health and safety, minimum wage and maternity protection, with tripartite boards as the enforcement mecha­nism. Although the bill was dropped, it did contribute to initiating a national debate, according to Ela Bhattm, General Secretary of the SEWA.


The SEWA model where poor working women in the informal sector are organised so as to improve their wages and working conditions, and also assisted with credit from banks and cooperatives, needs to be replicated elsewhere in India with considerable urgency. This is a ready happening in the Working Women’s Forum in Chennai and Annapurna in Mumbai.

Established trade union federations have to take a lead in fostering these organisational models and cooperating with local NGOs where the situation warrants, especially in states where gender equality is a serious problem. The CITU has made considerable progress in organising women workers in the informal sector.

Trade unions should lobby Central and State Governments to improve education for women and increase state intervention in favour of women’s employment. There is also considerable scope for increasing the number of women in leadership roles within the established trade union federations.

Essay # 3. Women Workers and Capitalism:

Modern capitalist society is the hiding place of numerous cases of poverty and oppression that are not immediately visible. The scattered families of middle class people, artisans, factory workers, clerks and the lower civil servants are indescribably poor and barely make ends meet in the best of times.

Millions and millions of women in such families live (or rather drag out an existence) as household slaves, striving with a desperate daily effort to feed and clothe their families on a few coppers, economizing in everything except their own labour.


It is from among these women that the capitalists are most eager to engage workers who work at home and who are prepared for a monstrously low wage to “earn” an extra crust of bread for themselves and their families. It is from among them that the capitalists of all countries (like the slave owners of antiquity and the feudal lords of the Middle Ages) choose any number of concubines at the most “favourable” price.

No “moral indignation” (hypocritical in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred) about prostitution can do anything to prevent this commerce in women’s bodies; as long as wage slavery exists, prostitution must inevitably continue. Throughout the history of society all the oppressed and exploited classes have always been compelled (their exploitation consists in this) to hand over to the oppressors, first, their unpaid labour and, secondly, their women to be the concubines of the “masters”.

Slavery, feudalism and capitalism are alike in this respect. Only the form of the exploi­tation changes, the exploitation remains. Every exhibit bears a ticket showing how much the woman working at home received for making it and how much she could earn per day and per hour. How does this work out? A woman working at home cannot earn more than one and a quarter francs i.e., 50 kopeks, on any article.

Most of the jobs pay wages that are immeasurably lower. Take lampshades, for instance—four kopeks a dozen. Or paper bag at 15 kopeks a thousand giving a wage of six kopeks an hour. And then there are little toys with ribbons, etc.—two and a half kopeks an hour; artificial flowers that bring in two or three kopeks an hour; and men’s and women’s underclothes—from two to six kopeks an hour. And so on ad infinitum.

Our workers’ associations and trade unions should organise a similar “exhibition”. It will not produce the tremendous profits obtained by bourgeois-organised exhibitions. An exhibition of proletarian women’s poverty and want mill bring benefits of another kind-it will help wage, slaves, both men and women, to ralise their condition to take a look at their own “lives” and think about how to deliver themselves from this eternal oppression of poverty, want, prostitution and other humiliations suffered by the poor.

Essay # 4. Women in Rural Sector:

Indian women, and rural women in particular, play many social and economic roles inside as well as outside the home, but their contribution does not receive due recognition. They have been excluded from the various trainings and rural development programmes which usually involve the menfolk, being offered only programmes related to child health, nutrition, etc. This can be attributed to the planners’ neglect of the contributions and potentials of women.

We examine the participation of rural women in home and farm activities in the State of Haryana, India. It indicates the invisibility of the majority of women, who act as unpaid workers on the family farm. Care of livestock is a female domain but as dairy work is becoming modernized, women are losing control of both management and economic returns. Training of women in animal husbandry is found to be totally neglected.

The level of improved household technol­ogy, too, is very unsatisfactory, especially in backward regions where the majority of women are still working with age-old tools. Over half the respondents had no leisure time. The paper suggests a number of measures to help rural women, whose working day is often considerably longer than that of men.

The participation of women in home dairy and farm activities was examined using data from three districts in Haryana, one highly developed (Karnal), one moderately developed (Hisar), and one least developed (Mohindergarh). From each district, one block and from each block, two villages were selected as representative of the level of rural development of that district.

Households were selected using stratified random sampling, selecting 10% house­holds of each caste. Wife of the functional head of the household was interviewed personally on a pre-tested structured interview schedule.

All the respondents (380) were found to be engaged in household chores, spending on average 8-10 hours, with most time devoted to cooking. Level of rural development, caste, per capita income, socioeconomic status and level of household technology were found to be positively and significantly related with the time spent in household chores.

Women were the major performers of tasks related to the dairy sector and the time spent in these activities was negatively and significantly related with level of development, age of the respondent and size of land holding.

About 60% of the respondents were involved in activities related to agriculture and maximum time was spent in harvesting. Paddy transplanting, winnowing and weeding emerged as female dominated activities, while women were equal partners in harvesting and threshing. Level of rural de­velopment, age, caste, size of land holding, per capita income, socioeconomic status and level of farm mechanisation were found to be related negatively and significantly with par­ticipation and time spent in agriculture.

Structured interview data obtained from women in 160 farm households in Haryana, India, districts are used to ascertain the contribution of women in farm production activities, and to examine the effects of social and institutional framework on the same.

The analysis shows that widespread participation of women in core as well as preparatory and supportive agricultural activities. In nearly 50% of the activities considered, particularly labour participation, most women play a monopolizing or dominating role; in others, particularly decision making, they assume supportive roles.

Social and institutional factors, particularly caste, landholding status, family education, and mechanisation, exert more adverse influence on labour participation than on their decision-making role. Interestingly, two modernising forces-farm mechanisation, and adoption of improved farm practices affect labour participation in the opposite direction. The findings point toward steps for promoting the dignity of manual work.

Essay # 5. SEWA: The Awakening:

The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) was born in 1972 as a trade union of self- employed women. It grew out of the Textile Labour Association, TLA, India’s oldest and larg­est union of textile workers founded in 1920 by a women, Anasuya Sarabhai.

The inspiration for the union came from Mahatma Gandhi, who led a successful strike of textile workers in 1917. He believed in creating positive organised strength by awakening the consciousness in workers. By developing unity as well as personality, a worker should be able to hold his or her own against tyranny from employers or the state.

To develop this strength he believed that a union should cover all aspects of worker’s lives both in the factory and at home. Against this background of active involvement in industrial relations social work and local, state and na­tional politics, the ideological base provided by Mahatma Gandhi and the feminist seeds planted by Anasuya Sarabhai led to the creation by the TLA of their Women’s Wing in 1954.

Its original purpose was to assist women belonging to households of mill workers and its work was focused largely on training and welfare activities. By 1968, classes in sewing, knitting embroidery, spin­ning, press composition typing and stenography were established in centres throughout the city for the wives and daughters of mill-workers.

The scope of its activities expanded in the early 1970s when a survey was conducted to probe complaints by women tailors of exploitation by contractors. The survey brought out other instances of exploitation of women workers and revealed the large numbers untouched by unionisation government legislation and policies. Ahmedabad’s cloth market came to the TLA with their labour contractor. He had heard of a transport workers’ union organised by the TLA and thought they might be able to help the women find some housing.

At the time, the women were living in the streets without shelter. They were sent to see Ela Bhatt, the Head of In 1971, a small group of migrant women were working as cart-pullers in Women’s Wing. After talking with the women in her office, she went with them to the areas where they were living and to the market area where they were working.

While there, she met another group of women who were working as head-loaders, carrying loads of clothes between the wholesale and retail markets. As she sat with them on the steps of the warehouses where they waited for work, they discussed their jobs and their low and erratic wages.

Following the meeting, Ela Bhatt wrote an article for the local newspaper and detailed the problems of the head-loaders. The cloth merchants countered the charges against them with a news article of their own, denying the allegations and testifying to their fair treatment of the head-loaders.

The Women’s Wing turned the release of this story to their own advantage by reprinting the merchant’s claims on the cards and distributing them to use as leverage with the merchants. Soon words of this effective ploy spread and a group of used garment dealers ap­proached the Women’s Wing with their own grievances. A public meeting of used garment dealers was called and over hundred women attended.

During the meeting in a public park, a woman from the crowd suggested they form an association of their own. Thus, on an appeal from the women and at the initiative of the leader of the Women’s Wing, Ela Bhatt, and the president of the TLA, Arvind Buch, also the president of SEWA, SEWA was born in December 1971.

The women felt that as a workers’ association, SEWA should establish itself as a Trade Union. This was a fairly novel idea, because the self-employed have no real history of organis­ing. The first struggle SEWA undertook was obtaining official recognition as Trade Union.

The Labour Department refused to register SEWA because they felt that since there was no recog­nised employer, the workers would have no one to struggle against. We argued that a Union was not necessarily against an employer, but was for the unity of the workers. Finally, SEWA was registered as a Trade Union in April 1972.

SEWA grew continuously from 1972, increasing in its membership and including more and more different occupations within its fold. The beginning of the Women’s Decade in 1975 gave a boost to the growth of SEWA, placing it within the women’s movement. In 1977, SEWA’s General Secretary, Ela Bhatt, was awarded prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award and this brought international recognition to SEWA.

By 1981, relations between SEWA and TLA had deteriorated. TLA did not appreciate an assertive women’s group in its midst. Also, the interests of TLA, representing workers of the organised sector often came into conflict with the demands, of SEWA, representing unorgan­ised women workers.

The conflict came to a head in 1981 during the anti-reservation riots when members of higher castes attacked the Harijans, many of whom were members of both TLA and SEWA. SEWA spoke out in defense of the Harijans, whereas TLA remained silent.

Because of this outspokenness, TLA threw out SEWA from its fold. After the separation from TLA, SEWA grew even faster and started new initiatives. In particular, the growth of many new cooperatives, a more militant trade union and many supportive services has given SEWA a new shape and direction.

Essay # 6. Female Industrial Workers and Globalisation:

As Asian and Pacific governments intensify their institutionalisation of new economic policies and socio-political and legal infrastructures in support of industry-led rapid growth, economic issues have been projected as critical political issues of the day.

While the men continue to dominate policy debates and media pronouncements, women on the ground and in factories are left to attend to their daily problems of work and survival that directly result from their continu­ing integration into the global economy. Despite the fact that women workers are at the centre of the ‘eye of the economic storm’ rarely do women workers’ views get popularized.

We hope that this issue of WIP Flyer will help in projecting the voice of women workers in the ongoing political debates on the so-called Asian Miracle. An excerpt from a recent paper by Hameeda Hossein provides the reader with a southern feminist view of economic globalization’s impact on poor women in the South Asia.

In the midst of their increased proletarianisation and its attendant poverty, Asian women workers have responded with a stronger demand for policy reforms. This issue of the WIP Flyer captures some of these small successes and ongoing struggles: women rural workers in Nepal claiming their right to equal pay; women workers in the Philippines lobbying for the passage of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law; and a regional network of women workers stead­fastly holding on to the vision of a regional women workers’ movement.

Just like their male counterparts in the trade union movement, women workers are advanc­ing the interests of and seeking protection for Asian workers. Unlike male workers, however, women workers are struggling at the same time for the recognition of their distinctive needs and rights as women.

Essay # 7. Women’s Action: Approaches, Strategies and Tools:

The problem without a name:

One problem that Filipino women have to face is sexual harassment in the workplace. Even though the problem is felt widely by the women, the same was not recognised as such by employers, unions, the legal system and the society in general. Not too long ago, it was a problem without a name. Sexual harassment was dismissed as a normal occurrence which women have to put up with, whether in the workplace, schools, and other places.

Prior to the enactment of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, there were already exist­ing Philippine laws that provided legal remedies to victims of sexual harassment. These exist­ing legal remedies, however, were problematic. For one, the criminal law provisions do not cover all acts of sexual harassment—they covered only the lewdest of acts.

Moreover, the quantum of evidence in criminal cases is harder to obtain as the complainant will have to provide beyond reasonable doubt all elements of the crime. The provisions in the Labour Code referred only to discrimination in terms of wages and other benefits that is suffered by a worker who refused the sexual advances.

And even then what was put across as issue is the retaliatory act of the perpetrator, not the act constituting the harassment itself. There was a strong basis then for the promulgation of a new law which defined and proscribed sexual harassment in the employment environment.

Lobby Work:

Lobbying for the passage of an anti-sexual harassment law was initiated by women’s groups, women workers organisations, and legal institutions in 1992. The women were supported in their lobbying efforts by legal institutions, notably the ALAC-SALIGAN.

However, they did not immediately gain the support of the male-dominated trade unions which were unreceptive to the idea of pushing for anti-sexual harassment in the workplaces. Given such state of affairs, it became necessary to advocate for anti-sexual harassment within the ranks of the workers and to link women workers and gender programmes of trade unions, with feminist/women’s groups that were more cognisant of sexual harassment.

Varied activities were conducted throughout the lobbying efforts. There were consultations held with women’s organisations regarding the features and the draft of the bill. Meetings between the women lobbyists and the legislators were also held in order to discuss the merits of the bill. Fora, round-table discussions, press conferences were jointly sponsored by ALAC- SALIGAN and women’s groups.

A paid advertisement in a major newspaper was utilised as a tool for public awareness raising. Finally, a women’s network launched a fax and telephone barrage aimed at legislators to urge them to pass the bill.

After three years of sustained campaigning and lobbying work, Republic Act 7877—other­wise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law—was finally signed on February 14, 1995. This law defines sexual harassment, penalises the same, and gives mandates to all workplaces and educational institutions to promulgate rule against sexual harassment and to create a Com­mittee on Decorum and Investigation for hearing complaints of sexual harassment within their particular offices, factories, and schools.

As all legal remedies are, however, the current law still reflects weaknesses and imperfec­tions. For instance, the law criminalizes sexual harassment only in two defined environments— workplace and schools. Moreover, its definition of sexual harassment covers only those which occur between a person with moral authority, ascendancy or influence and a subordinate, and not those which are committed between peers.

Some felt that its accompanying penalties were “light” and would not deter would-be perpetrators. What the new law does, however, is to accord recognition to still another hidden problem of Philippine-based women workers, and to address it through a stronger, albeit, imperfect, legal remedy.

“We are still at the level of understanding each other’s conditions; of expanding the network. But I am hopeful that in the very near future, we will be able to take up in a more concerted way the challenge of a regional women workers’ movement in Asia”, declared Agnes.

To achieve this, Agnes feels that there is a critical need both for the formation of autonomous women workers’ groups, and for women workers’ committees to empower themselves and assert their issues and demands within trade unions. “After all,” she said, “women workers” issues are workers’ issues in as much as they are women’s issues.