Comparative Studies of Rural Women Employment

  • Razia Begum
  • Bahaudin G. MujtabaEmail author
Living reference work entry



  • Rural women are those females who are living outside of the cities and often work in family-owned lands alongside other family members to grow their crops for family consumption.

  • Rural women employment refers to the percentage of females who are living outside of industrialized cities and working in agricultural sector to support their families.


Rural women make up a large percentage of the population in many developing countries. Rural women are those individuals who are living away from large industrialized cities and often serve as homemakers, mothers, farmers, caregivers, consumers, investors, entrepreneurs, and supporters of their family members.

As one example, we can see that the development of opportunities for women in South Asia’s rural areas needs more attention, effort, and resources from both local and global leaders. Providing more opportunities for the nearly 50% of the population can lead to an overall growth and development of the nation. Lack of sufficient opportunities for women in rural areas is a serious threat because it manifests itself in a complex web that is interwoven with the issues of illiteracy, income distribution disparities, lack of access to facilities, defective polices, etc. Public leaders need to devote more time and resources for the strategic development of education and employment opportunities for all women and especially in rural areas. Accordingly, this chapter provides a review of the current status of women across the globe, analyzes some of the main challenges facing females, and proposes areas for employment development.

As stated by the former US President, Bill Clinton (September 2009), while addressing the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, women perform about 66% of the world’s work and produce around 50% of the food, yet earn only around 10% of the income, while owning 1% of the property. Whether the issue is improving education in the developing world, or fighting global climate change that is impacting everyone, or addressing nearly any other challenge we face in this twenty-first-century environment, empowering women is a critical part of the equation.

Development of any nation is based upon the contributing hands of its population. Regardless of gender, human resource is an immensely important asset as they are the ones who make better use of other productive resources in numerous activities to attain circular flow in various economic spheres. Active labor force ratio serves as a strong measure to access any country’s level of development as not only it represents the supply of labor available in a country at a specific point in time but it also helps in improving a country’s position on Human Development Index (HDI). The milieu of globalization drives countries to employ their population in a more productive and efficient way, yet safeguard their rights and well-being along with their socioeconomic uplift. The objectives of this writing are as follows:
  • To understand significance of women employment

  • To identify factors affecting women employment

  • To highlight women contribution ratio globally and regionally

  • To identify the problem areas hindering women employment

  • To suggest recommendations for better women employment

Women Employment

Women employment is currently in spotlight, but it does not mean that she was not economically active before; in fact, throughout the mankind history, women worked side by side with men to earn their livelihood. But due to the changing world economic, industrial, technological, and social trends, female contribution has been recently noticed with more emphasis.

Despite other changes, one of the obvious global changes is increase in female labor force participation after WWII, and the trend is still continuing, albeit with differences in speed between developed and developing nations. Advantage of women participation in economic activities gets reflected in social, familial, and educational fields. Not only the economy benefits from its aggregate citizens but also the household income distribution gets balanced.

By labor force participation, economists mean both men and women of the country. However, across the globe, labor force participation pattern is not in symmetry with population ratio. Women work is a complex phenomenon for which numerous sociocultural, economic, educational factors at global, local, and domestic levels need to be taken into consideration before arriving at the final picture. Impact of the changes (Table 1) could be seen on every area differently. As for rural women, these changes present a mix of outcomes, for some it brings more opportunities but for others more marginalization.
Table 1

Factors affecting women employment




Climate change, economic policies, trade policies, peace situationa, availability and level of utilization of natural resources, liberalization of trade, more use of information and communication resources, privatizationa, establishment of agro-based industries


Economic policiesa, trade policiesa, natural resource utilization, climate, law and order situation, openness to foreign investment programs, peace situationa, financial assistance services, skill-based trainings, type of government, bureaucratic structure, availability of up-to-date and accurate data, cultural norms, religious practices, openness to innovation, level of implementation of polices, literacy rate, acceptance of females in certain employmentsa, privatizationa


Family income, no. of family members, family life cycle stage, skills, infrastructure, ease of mobility, access to markets, cultural normsa, religious practicesa, level of technology, tribal and caste system, health and safety awareness, dignity of labor, acceptance of females in certain employmentsa, job of husband, ownership and access to productive resources

aFactors existing on multiple levels with different impact on rural life

Comparative Global View

Progress can be seen in education in later half of the twentieth century which equips women with skills and knowledge coupled with progress in industry and technology which produce more job opportunities that are supposed to be reflected in female labor force participation progress. If we look at the aggregate sex-based employment ratio globally, we see a gender gap in the women employment participation. Most of them in Asia and Africa contribute in family work which is unpaid job, followed by a narrow span of own account workers which is a low paid option too. Resultantly, her economic status, health, family well-being, and empowerment remain in jeopardy. On the other hand, if she joins any wage/salaried jobs, even they pay her low and the job she performs is mostly manual.

A snapshot of female employment won’t be explanatory in all areas of progress and trends; thus, studying women workforce ratio in a time series (1995–2015) is helpful to trace out some visible changes not only in relation to male workforce but to her own participation ratio. It can be seen that developing and underdeveloped countries rely heavily on agriculture sector for their economic sustenance, where jobs are mainly labor intensive and poorly compensated. Agriculture remains prominent female occupation in these regions, where she dominates total workforce ratio, not only in 1995 but also in 2015. Although women participation in agriculture showed a slight decrease in 2015, but still she outnumbered the male population.

Merely women participation is not the complete picture, as the quality and productivity of it matters too. Overall jobs are unequally distributed, even in developed countries where their gender gap in labor force participation is very low. This gap widens more and more in developing countries and in its rural areas. With economic growth countries tend to shift from agriculture to industry and services sector. But for women this movement is very slow.

To understand why females remain behind in paid jobs even if she has the required skills and education, we need to study where she spends most of her time. Both in developing and developed countries, females spend most of their time performing household responsibilities which limit her capacity to dedicate more time to formal, paid jobs. This is the biggest unaccounted side in considering female labor force participation rate regionally and globally. Stakeholders need to shift their attention to this side of women participation where she provides dedicated services to household tasks and society at large. In reality, she works more hours than men if we consider her paid and unpaid time together.

Dimensions of Women Employment

As a whole, employment is a base point for a female’s personal, familial, and national development at large. Female employment is in a direct relationship with poverty alleviation, social well-being, and improving a family’s standard of living. However, female employment is fruitful if it provides the opportunities to learn, grow, and earn. If conversed, then the same employment becomes the source of her exploitation. To better grasp the idea of female employment, we will look into various dimensions (economic, geographical, and sectorial, as presented in Fig. 1) which help to make women employment more classy, its prospects, and unique challenges in the subsequent section.
Fig. 1

Economic, geographical, and sectorial dimensions of employment


The rationale for women employment is quite abstract, sometimes she has been driven to employment by poverty while at other times due to an opportunity for better life standards. Thus, we cannot make generalizations about why women work, choices of work, and what reasons propel her to join formal work.

However, if we look into the women employment trends from the perspective of the gross economic level of development, we see that the drivers of women employment in developed nations are far different than the women employment in developing and underdeveloped ones. Some of the possible reasons for these differences are that developed nations possess more opportunities, better mobility, access to economic resources, variety in employment choices, credit availability, better literacy, broad services sector, and established policies. On the other hand, developing and underdeveloped nations have characteristic features of poverty, illiteracy, limitations on female mobility, lack of policies, unstable bureaucratic structures, under- or no utilization of resources, low paid jobs, excessive manual labor, as well as lack of technology and infrastructure.

It will not be wrong to say that developing countries will benefit more from female employment than the developed ones. For these countries it means their overall human development rather than mere economic growth. This enables their nations to embark their efforts in more high developmental objectives.


Geography discusses female employment in terms of location, i.e., urban and rural. Almost half of the world population is female, which constitute one fourth of the population of rural women. This demarcation is very important in order to understand the unique challenges confronted to females belonging to different regions. Urban and rural female even within a single country, despite of having similarities, still have different lifestyles, thus faces unique challenges. Statistics show that rural women hold greater share of the household chores than urban women. And, she also faces more constrains than urban ones. Studies show that almost two thirds of developing countries employed rural women in vulnerable jobs, mostly agriculture based, which are either unpaid or very low paid.

There is no doubt that the world is becoming a global village in terms of trade, mobility, and communication. International trade has become a leading source of national income. To compete globally every country is striving to get maximum output with minimum input by mechanizing every sector of their economy. But these economic and trade reforms do not benefit all citizens alike. Particularly in rural areas where women are the major labor force, they are somewhat negatively affected in a way that when occupations like agriculture get mechanized in rural areas, they become taken over by males. Secondly, when more industries are established, it shrinks agricultural land. Resultantly, the female worker has a narrow job scope as she often has no prior education or skills training to use technology and more mechanized ways of production or to join industrial jobs.


Globally, economies could be classified as either production (agriculture and industry) or service oriented. Developed nations earn much of their GDP from services and industrial sector, while developing and underdeveloped nation’s major GDP is derived from agriculture sector followed by industry. In rural areas where industry is not developed to the fullest and other employment opportunities are limited too, the options for female employment are to either work in agriculture and its allied fields or join industry work as a laborer. Despite of endeavoring to create and develop opportunities for females in every field, there is still a “gendered pattern” in employment. This pattern becomes more visible if we look into the fields deeply, for instance, the concentration of rural female in agriculture field. Very minor ratio of rural females consider entrepreneurship, if backed by favorable atmosphere needed for entrepreneurial venture.

Agriculture and Allied Fields

Agriculture is believed to be the backbone of all developing and underdeveloped countries, and females in turn are the backbone of agriculture. Rural areas are predominantly agrarian, and whenever there is agriculture, women will be definitely seen there in the active labor force. Females dominate agriculture to the extent that in Asia and Africa almost 80–90% of agriculture labor force are women. Agriculture not only provides food and sustenance to the masses but also supplies raw products to the various industries. Rural females are employed not only in the fields but in a variety of pre- and postharvest, as well as other allied activities to supplement agriculture performance.

Most agricultural workers’ tasks are from dawn to dusk, manual, and an addition to her household responsibilities. Generally she could be seen contributing to the following fields:
  • Food conservation

  • Harvesting

  • Postharvest storage

  • Fisheries

  • Livestock

  • Poultry farming

  • Growing and collecting animal feed

  • Growing vegetables

Industry and Services Sectors

The motive behind rural female work is to supplement her husband’s income, overcome poverty and hunger, and if possible to educate her children. In industry, the female worker is usually engaged in such jobs which require minimum skills. Rural areas have immense talent which is reflected in many handicrafts the workers produce with so much artistic delicacy that it become the identity of that area. Most of the female workers produce handicrafts which they sell in nearby markets or to “middle men” for not a comparable worth of their time and effort. Some females work in cottage industries and small-scale industries located in their areas.

As far as services sector is concerned, she is serving mainly in elementary occupations. According to International Labor Organization (ILO), elementary occupation broadly includes the following:
  • Cleaners and helpers

  • Agricultural, forestry, and fishery laborers

  • Mining and construction labor

  • Manufacturing laborers

  • Transport and storage laborers

  • Food preparation assistants

  • Household caregivers

  • Street and related sales and service workers

As it is evident from the above list that her job is either unskilled or semi-skilled and of seasonal or part-time basis, thus could not pay well or equivalent to her tiresome efforts.

Striving for Better Future Women Employment

Global researchers have inquired enough into women contributions to world economies and their underprivileged status (Abdelali-Martini 2011; Adeniyi 2010; Aderinto, 2001; Agricultural Development Economics Division: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011; Asian Development Bank, 2015; Benefo and Pillai, 2003; Davis, 2011; FAO, 1998; Hyder, Behrman, and Kenan, 2014; ILO, 2016; Mujtaba, 2014; Romero-Paris, 2009; Sivanesan, 2014; Yasmeen, Begum, and Mujtaba, 2011; UN Women, 2015; UN Women, 2017; UN Commission on the Status of Women to Be Highlighted, 2012; United Nations, 2000; Women’s economic empowerment, 2012). This is the time when they should focus on finding and implementing solutions to get her out of her obstacles. Customary active labor force ratios only show a narrow picture of women employment; thus, females are those invisible hands whose efforts are not fully acknowledge yet. To overcome this underestimation, we need to focus on the shadowed areas, bring up more accurate and up-to-date data to base future policies on it. For this initiative, multi-sector efforts are needed at least in the following areas:
  1. (1)

    Investment in female education. Education is the key to multiple doors of progress and development. If we want to have a long term, sustainable development, we need to invest in education, particularly female education. She is not only contributing to the economy by working in different fields but she is also in charge of home and next generation too. Education has proven to be positively contributing in enhancing female decision-making power and increase better employment choices. If the government is in transition from production to services economy, then they need to make their labor force ready, and education is the only means to do it. Government needs to take rural female education as a priority and make at least primary education free and of great quality standards. New schools are needed so females who are unable to get enrolled due to nonavailability of schools in close areas will also be able to get an education. Scholarships and various incentives for talented students could be introduced to make education more rewarding and motivate the locals to enroll their children into schools.

  2. (2)

    Educating stakeholders. Stakeholders of the society also need to be educated as to make them realize the significance of women’s role, which goes unnoticed. Policy makers, economists, civil bureaucrats, legislators, researchers, donors, employers, etc. should have a clear vision of women’s share in labor force, unique field-related problems, and constrains they face. Only then they will be able to develop and implement polices of practical value which could truly transform women’s status. Policy makers should consider the gendered pattern while devising polices. Her special needs regarding her household responsibilities and child rearing should be taken into consideration. For researchers, while considering global statistics, unpaid family work and its significance for keeping families intact should be taken into consideration.

  3. (3)

    Skill-based trainings. If the world really wants to benefit from the latest technological explorations, then they need to deliver it into the hands that really work at the grass roots level. In such a scenario, skill-based training tailored to her work and timing profile is indispensable, as it will enable her to use modern technological tools, equipment, and process confidently to enhance productivity and efficiency. In this regard women could be taught through informal vocational, need-based trainings and even home-based extension services. Before devising any training programs, all those activities in which women are primarily engaged should be kept in view to organize a relevant program.

  4. (4)

    Finances on easy terms. In rural areas women have no access to national financial institutes for credit and other services support. In case if she has access but not the knowledge to avail the most suitable service of her benefit, financial advisory bodies are needed to be developed in rural areas to advise women on how to access any financial institutes for assistance and how to get services which better suits her needs and repayment ability. Countries need to develop short-term loans on easy terms, divide the installments in small, easy payable chunks, and diversify grants to support employment in other fields other than agriculture. In addition to direct finance, indirect investments are needed in the areas which could benefit rural women’s life such as develop better infrastructure, water facilities, sanitation, schools, and basic health units.

  5. (5)

    Small- and medium-scale industries. To diversify population occupation and to control overrepresentation of females in agriculture, countries need to set up industrial units in their rural areas. It does not need to be huge projects, as small-scale industries would be a viable idea. This will provide more employment opportunities, improve earnings, make better use of technological equipment for better productivity and most importantly will control migration to cities in search of better jobs. Thus, it would give a balance development to all citizens. Government and donor agencies could work on promoting and facilitating rural entrepreneurship, provide cottage industries where women could work by utilizing their skills, establish industrial zones, and make free trade areas available. This will provide a chance to rural population to nourish their small businesses.

  6. (6)

    Accurate data collection/applied research is needed. Providing support to the rural women is indispensable in getting her out of poverty and exploitation. Researchers and development planners need to understand and consider the true position of women not only in agriculture but in every field in terms of formal and informal contribution they make. They need to record weighted data regarding her unpaid household contributions which has been grossly neglected so far. Her major work has remained underreported statistically due to the narrow definitions of economic contribution.

    Secondly, researchers need to collect regional and local data before drawing any conclusions and make policy recommendations for a particular area. As every region within the same country has different employment scenarios, so generalization based on one sample data will not always bring promising results. We need more of applied researches today as to translate those research findings into practical implications. Not only the research at one point of time but its follow-up is equally important to track the improvements.

  7. (7)

    Encouraging adoption of new technologies. Female productivity could only be improved if she is assisted to use relevant and updated technology in her work. The benefit depends on the resource distribution and control pattern in rural areas. The developers and donors have to first fix the gendered pattern of work in rural areas before they introduce any technology. Women could benefit from any improvement in seed type, pesticides, storage methods, preservation techniques, and advance poultry farming techniques. This way, not only women will be more productive but her performance will also positively affect her socioeconomic status, children, and their overall living standard.

  8. (8)

    Develop sources of energy/water supplies. Government should ensure the supply of latest energy sources to the rural areas as to make their work easy and efficient. Most of the rural areas are deprived of water, electricity, gas, and other energy resources; resultantly, they survive on very basic sources like collecting wood for fuel and bringing water from far flung areas which have primarily been a female job and wastes a lot of her time. Also, having ample energy and water resources will improve their standard of living, save time, increase their work efficiency, and enhance productivity.

  9. (9)

    Ownership rights. Women holding any economic resources in ownership are often little to none, albeit she is working on it for her whole life, particularly land ownership, in which she has been denied to have ownership rights due to sociocultural norms and other caste and race constrains. Women resources and services ownership is the single major issue to be addressed by the policy makers. She could only benefit from any national or social reforms if she has ownership to it. Moreover, this will provide her socioeconomic security and uplift her status.

  10. (10)

    Dignity of labor/develop dignity of labor in the tasks she performs. Women’s contributory status needs to be recognized on every level. Nations have to realize that she is half of the global labor force; therefore, she needs recognition, benefits, and protection in her job. We need to acknowledge the role she performs whether paid or unpaid which has remained unappreciated till date. Jobs creation is not enough; it should be at the same time productive, profitable, and with safe working conditions with ample provisions for her well-being.

  11. (11)

    Culturally acceptable work styles/timings. Culture exhibits a general way of living of the population in any area. Culture is a prominent feature affecting the type and timings of profession and mobility options of females. Cultural norms manifest itself in many forms like caste, locality, tribe, and religious norms. Somehow, these norms can hinder a woman in entering the occupation of her choice, even though she is all ready and qualified, simply due to cultural boundaries imposed on her gender. The development strategists should consider these factors while designing, creating, and offering jobs for rural females; they have to work within the limits of that culture. Otherwise, their plans for female workforce will not bring fruitful results.

  12. (12)

    Mobility arrangements. In rural areas women have problems with having means of mobility, which limit their ability to go to work every day and back home on time. Therefore, not only creating job opportunities are important but equally important is to consider how they will move daily in culturally acceptable timings of the day. If she is working in any services field or industrial unit, then it should be the employer’s responsibility to make some provision for her mobility.



Females of any nation are likely to make up around half of the population, but sadly many of the women in rural areas still remain uneducated and lack proper opportunities for their personal development in many countries, especially in South Asia. Consequently, the active labor force of every country should include close to 50% of females. This paper has shed light on better understanding the significance of women employment for economic development, identifying factors that affect women employment, highlighted women contribution ratio globally and regionally so local leaders can assess their workforce opportunities, and provided recommendations for the development of employment and educational opportunities for females.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Home EconomicsUniversity of PeshawarPeshawarPakistan
  2. 2.H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and EntrepreneurshipNova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA