Beyond Boundaries: Promoting Non-Traditional Livelihoods for Women

By Aarti Dayal and Sneha Pathak

March 22, 2024

Recognizing the pivotal role of women in the workforce and their access to quality job opportunities for fostering equitable and sustainable economic development is now widely acknowledged. India has recently seen a positive shift in the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR), rising to 37% in 2023 (PLFS), marking a reversal of the declining trend observed over the past three decades. From its low of 17.5 percent in 2018 (PLFS), this increase signifies a significant step forward.

However, despite this progress, India's FLFPR still lags behind the global average of 53.8% for ages 15 and above, which has remained steady over the last thirty years. With approximately 670 million women in India, out of which around 450 million are within the working age of 15–64 years, there is a substantial potential workforce waiting to be tapped. According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), about 166 million women are currently engaged, actively seeking, or available for employment. 

Unfortunately, a majority of these women are confined to traditional informal sector, predominantly in roles such as agriculture or construction workers, domestic help, beauticians, and tailors, especially in urban areas.

Non-traditional livelihoods to bridge the labour force participation

Non-traditional livelihoods (NTL) present a unique opportunity to augment the female labour force participation rate by expanding the range of career options available to women. This shift not only breaks down gender stereotypes and biases prevalent within households and communities but also empowers women economically. 


Encouraging women to venture into often male-dominated and non-traditional sectors, ranging from logistics to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) roles, holds the promise of unlocking significant employment opportunities. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could soar by 27% if women's participation in the labour force matches that of men, while Bloomberg suggests that closing the gender employment gap could boost India's GDP by nearly a third by 2050. Thus, diversifying viable livelihood options for women emerges as a crucial strategy for achieving robust economic growth.

Closing the gender gap in the economy would entail better targeting of funding for women and integration of gender-inclusive strategies in all sectors. Women entering non-traditional fields bring diverse perspectives and experiences that can drive innovation and creativity, leading to advancements across various industries. Moreover, their presence challenges societal norms, fostering a shift towards more inclusive and equitable attitudes.

However, systemic barriers such as societal gender norms often confine women to work closer to home, leading to limited mobility and exposure to instances of violence. These norms also perpetuate the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on women, hindering their access to higher education and vocational training and restricting their entry into formal, high-skilled employment. According to 2023 NSSO data, over 50% of Indian women in the 15-29 age group are neither employed nor studying (NEET), with unpaid care work cited as the primary reason by over 90% of NEET women. Additionally, 65% of girls (15-18 years) drop out of school due to household chores responsibilities.


Breaking the stereotypes to promote NTL

To address these challenges, there is an urgent need to cultivate an enabling ecosystem that offers diversified, aspirational, and accessible livelihood options for women, specifically in domains traditionally considered "non-traditional." The government of India through several initiatives has been promoting non-traditional livelihoods for women for example the National Skill Development Policy launched in 2015 focuses on increasing women’s participation in skilling by creating additional infrastructure for training and apprenticeships tailored to women's needs. Moreover, several measures have been taken to this effect – flexible training delivery mechanisms such as mobile training units, flexible afternoon batches along with on local need-based training to accommodate women; and ensuring safe and gender sensitive training environment, employment of women trainers, equity in remuneration, and complaint redressal mechanism. 

Also, the recent expansion of the 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' scheme to include skilling of girls in non-traditional livelihood options underscores the government's commitment to promoting gender-inclusive education and employment opportunities. Emphasizing secondary education enrolment, particularly in STEM subjects, for girls is a crucial step in this direction.

Making women ready for NTL

To increase women's participation in traditionally less accessible sectors, it is critical to equip women with the necessary skills to thrive in non-traditional roles. Programmes like UNDP India’s 21st-century skills have proven beneficial in building capacity among more than 250,000 women, preparing them for emerging sectors like technology, automobiles, renewable energy, etc.

Our collaboration with the Skill Council for Green Jobs has resulted in the creation of new job roles aligned with the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF), providing women with opportunities for growth and advancement. As a part of the programme, course curriculum and training modules have been developed for 4 emerging roles in the renewable energy sector, with a focus on electric vehicle charging infrastructure, solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal industries. The modules were then used to train 1,000 individuals across 5 states in India.


Concerted efforts are also needed to break gender norms and create a supportive environment for women in non-traditional sectors. Breaking the cycle of gender roles starts at home, where stereotypes are challenged, and aspirations are nurtured from a young age. Moreover, fostering a safe and encouraging environment and providing role models and mentors are essential for sustaining women's participation in non-traditional fields. Initiatives like UNDP's women@work , in partnership with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) celebrate MSMEs promoting women in non-traditional roles and offer valuable examples of inclusive and empowering workplaces. 

Non-traditional livelihoods thus not only offer a promising avenue to bolster women's participation in the labour force but also for fostering gender equality and inclusive economic development. By breaking down barriers and creating supportive environments, societies can harness the full potential of women in driving forward progress and prosperity.

UNDP India is committed to work towards widening the employment landscape for women, bringing about gender transformative change.

Partner's Speak:
“Promotion of non-traditional livelihoods for women is critical to provide an impetus to our female labour force participation rate. In 2023, in partnership with UNDP, we introduced 4 new job roles in emerging renewable energy sectors and focussed on capacitating women in them.”
Deepak Rai, Vice President - Standards and Research, Skill Council for Green Jobs

Sneha Pathak, Gender Analyst, UNDP India

Aarti Dayal, National Programme Manager, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, UNDP India