Addressing Barriers to Female Laborforce Participation


Unlocking Female Labor


Rural Karnataka


4 villages, 1200 women


Shahi Exports, University of Michigan, Bhaane







At 27%, the Female Labor Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) in India is among the lowest in South/ East Asia and declining, despite findings of the National Sample Survey (NSS) that women, especially in rural settings, desire to work. Why then do so few Indian women work outside the home?


Can we increase the labor force participation of women if we offer flexible work from home opportunities?


The objective of the Female Labor Supply (FLS) study is to understand the barriers to labor force participation of women in rural India. We aim to rigorously evaluate, via a randomized controlled trial, the effectiveness of home-based work and provide a framework for its potential implementation at a larger scale. We shed light on the extent of women’s mobility restrictions:

  1. by comparing participation in home-based paid work and participation in equivalent work in a village workshop
  2. by estimating the effect of peer participation
  3. by estimating the effect of wage on labor supply.

To this effect, we conducted a pilot study (Jan 2019 - Feb 2019) in the village of Munnahalli, in the Kalaburagi district of Karnataka, India. The pilot program was a small scale randomized control trial spanning three weeks in one village. 50 women were hired for 15 days to make woven bracelets. Every 5 days, they were assigned either to work from home or from the village workshop and were assigned a price (varying from INR 5 to INR 50 per bracelet).


The pilot yielded the following results:

  1. Average production rate of bracelets: During their last assignment, women made an average of 10.2 bracelets per day.
  2. Comparing work uptake rate between women working in the workshop setting and women working at home: Women working from home made, on average, 4.7 more bracelets per day than women working in the village workshop, a difference of about 40%.
  3. Investigating the price threshold at which women take up more paid work: the data reveals that women make, on average, 3.3 more bracelets per day for an increase in price of INR 10.

Scale up

One of the main goals of this study is to integrate women from rural India into the labor force, and to bring their products to the national and international markets, following a fairtrade and sustainable business scheme.

The findings from our pilot allow us to design a novel supply chain characterized by fair wages, female empowerment and worker welfare; one that is sustainable enough to improve the livelihood of low-income women in rural India.

The larger experiment will span across four villages and 1200 women, in Kalaburagi District, Karnataka. Write to us to find out about the “sustainable” product we have designed, which helps close the loop on cloth-waste generation.

Image credits: Mansi Kabra / Nayantara Parikh