First and foremost, as India’s population grows, the number of women in the workforce is declining.
Rosa Abraham, an economist at Azim Premji University, said her calculations based on official data showed that the female employment rate peaked at 35 percent in 2004 and fell to around 25 percent in 2022. However, the official figure is calculated from employed people who reported working outside the home for less than an hour in the past week.
Experts say the national jobs crisis is one reason for the gap, but another, as in Singh’s case, is entrenched cultural beliefs that see women as primary caregivers and stigmatize women who work outside the home.
The Center for Economic Monitoring of India (CMIE), which uses a more restrictive employment definition, found that only 10% of working-age Indian women were employed or looking for work in 2022.
That means there are only 39 million women compared to 361 million men.
Just a few decades ago everything seemed to be on a different trajectory.
When Singh became a social worker in 2004, India was still high on the historical reforms of the 1990s.
New industries and new opportunities sprang up overnight, and millions of people left their villages and moved to cities like Mumbai in search of better jobs.
It was a life changing feeling. “I didn’t have a college degree, so I never thought it would be possible for someone like me to work in an office,” she said.
Still, leaving home to work has been an uphill battle for many women.
In 2004, Sunita Suttar, who attended the school, said women from Sirsawady village in the state of Maharashtra usually married at the age of 18 and started their lives around their husbands’ homes.
Neighbors mocked her parents for investing in her education, saying it wouldn’t matter after marriage.
Sutar bucked the trend. In 2013, she became the first person in a town of about 2,000 to earn an engineering degree.
Sutar said, “I knew that I had to study to become something, otherwise I would get married and get stuck in the village like the rest.”
Currently, she lives and works in Mumbai as Comptroller for the Ministry of Defense of India, a government job coveted by many Indians because of its security, prestige and benefits.