Ride-hailing service Ola has opened an electric scooter factory operated entirely by women, seeking to promote female participation in the labor force in India.
The INR 24 billion (USD 325 million) “Futurefactory” in the southern state of Tamil Nadu will churn out 2 million units a year in an early stage.
The Ola Futurefactory will be “run entirely by women, 10,000+ at full scale! It’ll be the largest all-women factory in the world!” CEO Bhavish Aggarwal tweeted earlier this month.
The Bangalore-based startup is diversifying its operations beyond the competitive ride-hailing market to scooter manufacturing and sales. It acquired an electric scooter startup in 2020 and began selling them this month.
Aggarwal said Ola will “provide economic opportunities for women across the board. We have invested significantly to train and upskill them in core manufacturing skills and they will be responsible for the entire production of every vehicle manufactured at Ola Futurefactory.”
Some manufacturers in India have tapped female workers before, including household goods company Hindustan Unilever. But the plan to hire more than 10,000 women at a single factory is “a revolutionary effort,” said an official in the scooter industry.
India has an extremely low rate of women participation in the labor force. The global average was 47% in 2019, data from the World Bank shows. But the average for the eight countries in Southern Asia came to 24%, with India’s rate the lowest among them at 21%—even below Afghanistan’s 22%.
India’s social structure gives dominance to men, said professor Amit Kapoor at the Institute for Competitiveness. In farming villages in particular, women are forced to perform household chores from an early age and lack educational opportunities, so they are unlikely to become part of the labor force, he said.
There is severe wealth inequality between urbanites and farming villagers, and per capita gross domestic product in Bihar, one of the poorest states in the country, is just roughly one-tenth of that in greater Delhi.
Ola’s efforts are commendable, but the country must in the medium-to-long term expand the environment for allowing women to work without any concerns, Kapoor says.
That would require initiatives from the government. India may want to look at how society works in neighboring country Nepal, where 82% of women participate in the labor force. Nepal sets a proportion of female legislators by law, observed Ram Giri at Mitsui & Co. Global Strategic Studies Institute.