Professor Anand Nandkumar and Ankita Sharma with inputs from Dr. Gayatri Nair, Dr. Vinoj Abraham, Dr. Sakshi Khurana and Dr. Janani Rao

The gig economy promises flexibility and opportunity for women, but gender biases and structural barriers limit their participation and success. To unlock the potential, platforms and policy need to change with an emphasis on safety, gender-inclusive design, and worker support.

The platform-driven gig economy has become a significant source of employment in India. The NITI Aayog estimates that about 7.7 million, or about 1.5 percent of India’s workforce, were engaged in the gig economy in 2020–21. Just as important is that the platform-based gig economy in India holds significant potential to empower women in ways traditional sectors have thus far failed to do. The platformdriven gig economy facilitates their entry into the workforce and allows them to work flexible hours that accommodate their household responsibilities.

Therefore, it enables them to overcome the social and economic barriers that stall their empowerment and embrace the virtues of an empowered household that will likely spill over to future generations as well.2

Some of these occupational hazards that are idiosyncratic to women in gig work show up in their rather low participation as well.

However, the reality of the gig economy for women in India is a bit more nuanced.
Due to economic restrictions that stem from men still being the key decision makers for household purchases, two factors determining women’s participation in the gig economy – access to the internet and smartphones – continue to favour men.3 Moreover, women gig workers often face challenges such as low wages, lack of security, limited bargaining power, and algorithmic discrimination.

“It’s been quite the ride,” says Janani Rao, a psychologist, about her experience with Swiggy. “For me, it was not just a job but a statement,” she says. “I started part-time, but the income was low, and I had many of safety concerns. However, I persevered and eventually went full-time for a more reliable income. But it was both physically and mentally draining. Even with a safety app and pepper spray, challenges were a constant. It’s particularly tough for us women in the field. The risk of accidents notwithstanding, given how unpredictable the traffic can be, the fear of harassment or feeling unsafe during deliveries was hard to deal with. Safety tools help, but they don’t entirely ease the worry of being vulnerable.”

Some of these occupational hazards that are idiosyncratic to women in gig work also show up in their rather low participation as well. In the 1990s, women’s participation rate in the labour force was higher in rural areas.

Taskmo, a task fulfilment platform that hires gig workers for various companies, reports that women’s participation in the gig economy is only about 28%. Even in Urban India, where platform-based gig companies primarily operate, the average female employment rate in 2021 was about 6.9% lower than in 2020. This decline is indicative of the fact that the gig model has failed in one of its promises to provide more opportunities for women.

More quantitative data is required to understand the reasons underlying low women’s participation in the platform-based gig economy.

However, from initial surveys, it appears that the gig economy absorbs more women each year4 , who also drop out more rapidly.5

Occupational segregation and structural barriers remain a considerable challenge. In the so-called “low to mid-skilled” work, men take up jobs in food delivery and ride-hailing, while women again tend to take on work considered “appropriate” patriarchally, such as beauty, care, domestic help, and cleaning.

Professor Vinoj Abraham, from the Centre for Development Studies, who has been studying this phenomenon, says in a conversation with SRITNE, “Traditionally, driving and delivery jobs were male-dominated. There are social norms attached to where women can and can’t be seen in public places, making it hard for women to enter these jobs. Technology has helped search for jobs more efficiently, but norms are not changing.”

Not surprisingly, empirical research also highlights that the commonly attributed reasons for the low participation of women in the labour force, in general, are structural barriers and the lack of gainful employment on account of conservative social norms.6

These differences persist in the platform-driven gig economy, too. For instance, many gig platforms, fearing women’s security, do not allow women to deliver food after six p.m., restricting the promised “flexibility.” Gig platforms also experience maximum demand during that time, which male delivery partners lapped up, ultimately contributing to earning disparities between men and women.

“Yes, gender bias is real in this line of work,” says Janani. “From the moment I got the call to join, throughout the training, it was obvious I was the odd one out. There were assumptions about my abilities just because I’m a woman. It’s a constant reminder of the stereotypes we’re fighting against,” she says.

Dr. Gayatri Nair, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, while agreeing that social norms and domestic responsibilities heavily influence women’s ability to engage in the gig economy, further points out that these problems are compounded by the gig economy’s reliance on workers to provide their assets, such as vehicles or tools, which can be a significant barrier for women due to their lower access to credit and resources to begin with.

Dr Nair also points out that algorithmic management in the gig model, which replaces traditional human oversight with automated systems that monitor and control worker performance, adds to the problem. Algorithmic management introduces new forms of authority and control, making it difficult for workers to negotiate their working conditions or address grievances.

For instance, irrespective of the delivery partner’s gender, algorithms mandate targets that are, for the most part, very stiff for women given their relatively limited working hours, failing which algorithms are programmed to provide fewer opportunities for such partners. Perhaps, due to these reasons, a survey by TeamLease showed an 8-10% wage difference between male and female delivery executives.7

Despite these challenges, if implemented well, the gig model has the potential to be a significant source of opportunities. A more holistic approach would be indispensable to absorbing and retaining more women in the platform-based gig economy if platforms were to fulfil their initial promise to women workers. These could take several forms. As Dr Nair suggests, concerted efforts from the state, including providing access to necessary resources and assets to women, ensuring fair pay and working hours, and developing regulations safeguarding women worker rights, can go a long way in evening the playing field. In addition, the state can also ensure better complex infrastructure that benefits gig workers at large, such as better roads, better traffic control, and access to public toilets, especially for women. Social narratives that systematically dismantle gender stereotypes will also go a long way in accelerating women’s participation in the gig economy. Platforms can also implement gender-inclusive communication plans along with 24x7 helplines and a better work design and infrastructure to facilitate accessibility for women. Training programmes to increase women’s digital literacy and employability can further empower them within the gig economy.

While the flexibility of gig work does offer opportunities for women, it is clear that without proper regulation and support, the potential benefits can be undermined by significant risks and inequalities.


Professor Anand Nandkumar

Professor Anand Nandkumar

Associate Professor, Strategy, ISB; Executive Director, SRITNE, Associate Dean Centre for Learning and Teaching Excellence, ISB

Dr. Vinoj Abraham

Dr. Vinoj Abraham

Professor, CDS, Thiruvananthapuram


Ankita Sharma

Ankita Sharma

Content Writer

Dr. Sakshi Khurana

Dr. Sakshi Khurana

Senior Specialist (Labour,Employment & Skill Development) NITI Ayog

Dr. Gayatri Nair

Dr. Gayatri Nair

Assistant Professor of Sociology,Indraprastha University


Dr. Janani Rao

Dr. Janani Rao

Founder, Unapologetically You Counselling; Psychologist