Research Activities
Women and Industrialization: The South Asian Case
2005 Afrasia International Seminar
■Speaker :Professor Tirthankar Roy (Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, India)
■Place :Shieikan 6F Meeting Room, Fukakusa Campus, Ryukoku University
■Date :3rd October 2005, 16:00-18:00
Discussant: Professor Tsuyoshi Kato (Faculty of Sociology, Ryukoku University)

1. Abstract of Presentation

Professor Roy is an internationally-acclaimed expert on Indian economic history. His article, published in Economic and Political Weekly has challenged the dominant paradigm in Indian economic history that had attributed principal causes of economic underdevelopment in India to British colonialism. While not disregarding the negative effects of colonial occupation in India completely, he has argued that major causes of underdevelopment in India should be found in constraints in resource-endowment and cultural aspects of the country. His argument has caused a controversy among researchers on Indian economic history and stimulated a new debate on the effects of British colonial rule in India. In this international seminar at the Afrasian Centre, he presented a paper examining the question of why Indian women workers left urban labor markets as the industrialization process progressed in the country since the late nineteenth century.

A historical pattern of women’s participation in labor markets in India did not follow the usual U-shaped or M-shaped graphs. The statistical data on women’s participation in urban labor markets from the 1880s when Indian industrialization began showed the continued decline of the number of women workers in the manufacturing sector. The exit of women from the work-force as the nature of the work-site changed in manufacturing itself was not an unusual phenomenon. What was unusual of India was the duration of the trend. For a long period of the twentieth century, women workers in India left industrial work to join agricultural labor. Moreover in contrast to Japan, where participation rates for women workers by age group showed a typical pattern of a M-shaped graph with two peaks of young unmarried women and married women in post-childrearing stage, in India the ‘M’ was largely absent with no second peak. Until recently, age-wise participation rate of women workers in India followed a smooth inverted U-shape, with neither a significant decline nor a significant upsurge in the 25-34 age-group. Several hypotheses were presented to explain the trend, which included barriers to entry, destruction of women-intensive industries, voluntary withdrawal, and barriers to exit. Professor Roy examined each of these hypotheses and argued that these hypotheses were insufficient by themselves. What was important was a particular barrier to exit related to the young marriage age in India which narrowed the window for women to participate in urban labor markets. The early marriage pattern weakened an incentive for parents to train girls in skills necessary to work in manufacturing industries. In addition, it put married women in a more vulnerable position within the family. Thus, he argued that the most important barrier for women workers in India lay in cultural and domestic spheres.

2. Summary of Discussion

Professor Kato first commented that in the industrialization process of both Japan and Malaysia, which he is most familiar with, the across-age rates of women’s participation in urban labor markets showed a typical M-shaped graph. In the case of Malaysia, women workers were particularly sought after during the industrialization process in the 1970s in order to fill a shortage of the labor force. Previous experience of working in the factories before marriage was highly valued and women with previous work experience were recruited to return to the factory after child-rearing. Regarding Professor Roy’s presentation, Professor Kato posed several specific questions, including how the women workers were counted in the statistical data, what is the proper time of comparison of industrialization between Japan and India, and whether there are significant differences in different regions as well as among different caste groups and social classes. Professor Roy admitted a problem of collecting data on women workers in occupational censuses in different years. However, he pointed out that demographic research projects supported the idea that Indian women left the job market and thus there is no doubt about this trend. Regarding comparison between Japan and India, he explained that his intention was to compare the stages of industrialization with the beginning of a U-shaped graph as a starting point rather than the same historical period in each country. Further research is needed to examine regional differences as well as differences among different social groups. Further questions and comments were made by many participants to Professor Roy, which included the contemporary situation of women’s participation in labor markets during the recent rapid economic growth in India; the difference between the middle class and the lower class and how the change in gender relations in the former affects the latter; why the age of marriage stayed low for a long time in India; whether there was a collaborative relationship between owners of factory and patriarchs. A comment was also made on Sri Lanka in South Asia, where early marriage was not a factor in preventing women’s participation in labor markets.