Digital employment platforms can enhance women's economic empowerment and contribute to gender equality in the Indian labor market.

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Modi emphasized the economic empowerment of women and a few days later Vice President Naidu called for a national movement for women's empowerment, urging political parties to create a reach consensus early on to exercise restraint against women in parliament and the state legislature to ensure equal opportunities for them in all areas.

These statements come at an important time, as the nation continues to grapple with the low and declining female employment rates (FLFP) and the marked inequalities between men and women in the world of work.

In fact, India has one of the lowest FLFP rates among developing countries, and according to the latest available estimates it was 24.5 percent in 2018-19 for women aged 15 and over (after a sharp drop of 31.2 percent in 2011-12), well below the global average of 45 percent.

Although FLFP has remained historically low in India, the latest trends confirm that women are constantly dropping out of the labor force and increasingly performing household tasks, even as education levels have improved dramatically and the economy is growing at reasonable rates.

This has attracted much social and academic attention, and multiple explanations have been advanced to explain this puzzling deviation.

One of the main causes of the decline is the lack of suitable jobs for women in fast-growing sectors of the non-agricultural economy. In addition, women do a significant amount of unpaid work in the household, and it prevents them from participating in paid market activities.

Scholars have long argued that flexible working arrangements can benefit women through better opportunities to balance their household responsibilities, unpaid childcare and paid employment.

In this context, India's fast-growing gig / platform economy could be a viable alternative for millions of women as it can help reduce some of the obstacles they face by enabling and enabling flexi-work. giving women access to new forms of employment through online employment platforms.

Research by IWWAGE ( Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy ) examines gender dynamics in the & # 39; on-demand & # 39; gig economy of India and suggests that women are increasingly participating in the digital platforms; especially in rose-collar work, offering valuable insights into women's experiences on such platforms.

We find that women highly value flexi-timings and better financial returns, which in turn increase their autonomy and improve their overall status in the family.

However, women also face many challenges and various limitations, as odd jobs are largely considered non-traditional work and are beyond the boundaries of conventional, standard forms of employment relationships. Various problems; including issues such as security and safety, regular income, upward mobility, lack of effective bargaining power and freedom of association, and the lack of adequate labor and social protection mechanisms; that together contribute to their long-term vulnerabilities.

Another interesting observation is that gig economy has so far been largely an urban phenomenon, but has significant potential for expansion in rural areas.

To make it more inclusive, it is crucial to bridge the digital divide between men and women (of mobile ownership and internet user penetration rates) and improve women's digital literacy (through tailor-made training on basic digital skills) , to increase their equitable participation in the gig economy.

The results of the IWWAGE study suggest that the platform economy will continue to thrive and as we explore the future of work, there are many reasons to believe that the gig economy can build a gender-inclusive labor market through the to stimulate the participation of women in India.

Written. by Ruchika Chaudhary.

Ruchika Chaudhary is a Senior Research Fellow at the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE). She holds a PhD in Economics from the Center for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Prior to joining IWWAGE, Ruchika worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, and ILO's Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India, New Delhi. She has also worked for the University of Manchester research project on 'Using Blockchain to End Child Labor', taught undergraduate courses in economics at the University of Delhi and researched 'urban poverty' at the Institute of Economic Growth, and the National Institute of Urban Affairs.