Vikalp: An Exploratory Study on Non-Traditional Livelihoods in India

Project Funder

The Ford Foundation

Project Countries


Project issues/theme

Economic Opportunity & Security

Female labor force participation in India has been declining consistently over the last three decades. In light of this context, this exploratory study adopts a research lens to understand the lived experiences of working women in India. It focuses on women engaged in “non-traditional livelihoods” (NTLs) – sectors and jobs where participation of women is and has historically been conventionally low or absent. The study also seeks to better understand the motivations and challenges for women to enter into and stay in the work force.

This research was informed by ICRW’s earlier data on understanding and measuring women’s economic empowerment, which recommends interrogating underlying factors that shape norms and institutions in order to analyze the nature of women’s participation in an economy. It adds to the existing evidence base that seeks to understand and promote women’s economic participation in domains of work that have been typically dominated by men.

What did we set out to do?

  • Unpack the concept of traditional and non-traditional livelihoods for women
  • Understand the status of working women in India
  • Identify the enablers and barriers for women’s entry into and maintenance of employment
  • Document and analyze relevant policies, schemes and initiatives
  • Develop a framework to guide research, policy and practice on women’s work

What methods did we use?

Our conclusions

The study discusses the multiple threads of enablers and barriers that women encounter with respect to participation in the workforce across three key pillars of social organization — households, markets and the state. It finds that the world of work for women is complex and fluid, and highly determined by existing gender norms that are reflected across these three arenas. All of the barriers observed are enhanced when women try to move into the domains of non-traditional work. Thus, provisioning an enabling environment for women to work requires proactive investments across all three domains.

Based on the findings, the analysis proposes a new, gender-transformative framework to lay out the problem statement of gender segregation in the economy, and achieve a world of gender transformative work. It makes several recommendations related to the future of research, policy and practice.

Read the findings and recommendations in detail on the Vikalp publications page, or by downloading the reports below.

Key Publications

Vikalp Research Report: An Exploratory Study on Non-traditional Livelihoods

Download the research report

Vikalp Policy Report: Skilling and Non-traditional Livelihoods

Download the policy report

Research Brief: Women, Work and Livelihoods During COVID-19

Download the brief