Status of Women

Women, constituting 51.4% of the total population of Kerala, has the highest literacy rate 87.7% among the women of the country according to 2001 census. It also has the credit of the only state with the ratio of more women than thousand men i.e. 1058 females per 1000 males. Some of the women in Kerala occupy high positions in all fields of public activities like educational, judicial, medical and engineering professions. Recently a drastic developments in the IT and stock sectors attracted a lot to that.

Women of Kerala who caters in every field of life from the administrative section to the lower stratum of life. Somehow they enjoyed a lot of liberty since earlier days in Kerala than other states.


The growth and development of women have direct impact on the general well-being of a society. Sex-ratio is the most credible pointer towards the status of women in any society. Over the last one hundred years females have been outnumbering males consistently. According to the 2001 census, there are 1058 females per 1000 males. The major reason attributed to the increase in sex-ratio is the decline in the female infant mortality rate and the increase in life expectancy of women.

Ranking of districts by sex-ratio
Rank in 2001  District 

Sex-Ratio (Number of Females per 1000 Males)

Rank in 1991
2001 1991
1 Pathanamthitta 1094 1062 2
2 Thrissur 1092 1085 1
3 Kannur 1090 1049 6
4 Alappuzha 1079 1051 5
5 Kollam 1070 1035 8
6 Palakkad 1068 1061 3
7 Malappuram 1063 1053 4
8 Thiruvananthapuram 1058 1036 7
9 Kozhikkod 1058 1027 9
10 Kasaragod 1047 1026 10
11 Kottayam 1025 1003 11
12 Ernakulam 1017 1000 12
13 Wayanad 1000 966 14
14 Idukki 993 975 13


From the beginning of the century, female literacy rate in the state has shown a steep rise. The state ranks first in the country with a literacy rate of 90.92%. The breakup shows 94.2 for males and 87.86 for females. The gap between male-female literacy rate in the state is meager i.e.. 6.34%.

Literacy rate 1951 - 2001

Literacy rates by sex for state and districts
Sl.No.  State/District
Literacy Rate *
1991 2001 1991 2001 1991 2001
  Kerala 89.81 90.92 93.62 94.20 86.17 87.86
1 Kasaragod 82.51 85.17 88.97 90.84 76.29 79.80
2 Kannur 91.48 92.80 95.54 96.38 87.65 89.57
3 Wyanad 82.73 85.52 87.59 90.28 77.69 80.80
4 Kozhikkod 91.10 92.45 95.58 96.30 86.79 88.86
5 Malappuram 87.84 88.61 92.08 91.46 84.09 85.96
6 Palakkad 81.97 84.31 87.24 89.73 75.72 79.31
7 Thrissur 90.18 92.56 93.77 95.47 86.94 89.94
8 Ernakulam 92.30 93.42 95.40 95.95 89.22 90.96
9 Idukki 86.97 88.58 90.86 92.11 82.97 85.04
10 Kottayam 95.72 95.90 97.46 97.41 94.00 94.45
11 Alappuzha 93.87 93.66 96.79 96.42 91.12 91.14
12 Pathanamthitta 94.86 95.09 96.56 96.65 93.29 93.71
13 Kollam 90.47 91.49 94.09 94.63 87.00 88.60
14 Thiruvananthapuram 89.22 89.36 92.84 92.68 85.76 86.26
*Literacy rate is the percentage of literate to the population aged 7 years and above.


In Kerala, access and utilisation of health care particularly among women are quite high compared to the women in the rest of the country. Reason for the notable high health rate among women in the state has been that over 90 of the deliveries take place under institutional care whereas at the country level even 60% of the deliveries could not be institutionalised so far. The result is that maternal mortality in the state has comedown sharply. For every 3000 deliveries the reported maternal mortality is below one.

The total fertility rate per women is more than 50% for Kerala (1.70) compared to the whole country(2.90). The life expectancy at birth (76 years for women in Kerala while it is 61.8 years at the all India level), and infant mortality rate (14 per 1000 for Kerala while it is 58 at the all India level.

Female life expectancy in Kerala is 74 years which is 15 years higher than the Indian average and almost 6 years above the corresponding figure for men in Kerala which is 68. Girls and women have access to the health care system in Kerala and primary data based surveys show that in general the rates of immunization of girls are as high as those of boys. Female literacy and education are crucial determinants of child survival, general health and hygiene. These in turn determine progress in other demographic and health indicators such as the expectancy of life at birth, the birth and death rates, the infant mortality rate and general mortality.


According to the 2001 census the male work participation rate has been increased to 50.2 percent ( it was 47.6% in 1991 census) while the female work participation has declined slightly to 15.4 percent (it was 15.8% as per the 1991 census). Female WPR is 15.9% in rural and 13.5% in the urban area. Of the total 102.91 lakh workers (main and marginal) only 25 lakh are women, according to census 2001, of which 1.18lakh are female cultivators and 5.50 lakhs are agricultural laborers. Of the total 3.65lakh workers in household industry female form only 1.83 lakhs and 16.50 lakh women belong to other category of workers (Census 2001, Kerala). It is well known that Census underestimates work participation rates (WPRs), in particular of women, while the methodology and concepts used by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) ensures a better enumeration of the work force. However, these data are not given at the district level. The latest NSSO Round data for the year 2004-05 reveals much higher WPRs for men and women compared to the Census (see Table 18.3). However, unlike at the all-India level where WPRs have increased among men and women, in rural and urban areas, for Kerala the increase is muted; rural WPRs show some increase while the estimates for urban areas have stagnated; since the early 90s, 20 percent of urban women are working in the principal and subsidiary status.

The inferior economic position of women is also reflected in wage disparities. Despite the Equal Remuneration Act 1936 it is generally observed that women get low wages particularly in casual work, construction work etc. The Act ensures equal wage for equal work and it is illegal to pay a lower wage to a female worker doing hard manual labour like agricultural works. According to NSSO, 1999-2000, rural agricultural wage for women was Rs. 62.2 and for men it was Rs. 94.5. The wage for non-agricultural unskilled women workers was Rs. 94.1 and for men it was Rs. 131.9.

Female educated unemployment is a crucial problem in Kerala particularly among those with secondary school level education. Out of the total number of 38.99 lakh registered job seekers in 2007, (including professional and general work seekers, 25.59 lakh are female job seekers (58%).

To evaluate the work participation of women in Kerala there are Women Development Agencies:

1. Kudumbashree

Government of Kerala has been pursuing empowerment of women through the poverty alleviation programme of Kudumbashree, agencies for women development like Kerala State Women Development Corporation (KSWDC) and by adopting the strategy of women component plan at the panchayat level.

Kudumbashree is an innovative poverty reduction programme implemented exclusively for women with the support of State Government and agencies like NABARD, Welfare Boards, Financial institutions and other autonomous agencies since 1999. The organisation functions through out the State with the help of approximately 1,83,741 neighbourhood groups. The activities are solid waste collection, power laundry, bio-fertilizer units, tissue culture labs, direct marketing, data entry , hardware units, small manufacturing units, canteen/catering units, food product units etc. Group farming is also encouraged with the help of lease land farming.

The focus of Kudumbashree so far has been in areas like housing, safe drinking water, sanitation and entrepreneurship development. Kudumbashree has also gained reputation in the management of thrift and credit despite the weak accounting system making auditing a difficult process. There are also issues in marketing, access to support mechanism etc. Therefore the unit has been adopting new strategies for improving performance at all levels. The vast network of women force also serve as a target group for the empowerment programmes initiated at all levels. The group also serve as a supportive target for the Flagship Programmes envisaged for awareness creation and skill development during the XI th Plan period.

The programme of Kudumbashree has been globally acclaimed through the following recognitions:‘We the people’ Award – UN (1995 ), UNCHS –100 Best Innovations(1998), CAPAM – International Innovations Gold Medal (2000), CAPAM – Best 10 innovations (2002 ), UN Habitat 2002 Practices Global 100 list (2002), Dubai International Award -Finalist (2002), UNDP – One among the 15 best practices in India(2002) and India Innovation Award for the Social Innovations (2006).

Some of the listed out milestones of Kudumbashree are the Formation of 60,200 NHGs all over Kerala, Formation of 10,500 ADSs at Ward level, Formation of 1048 CDSs at Panchayat/Municipality/Corporation level by federating various ADSs, Linking at least 20% of NHGs with NABARD's scheme for linkage banking every year, Provide shelter to all poor, Provide safe drinking water within 300 meters of their residence,Provide sanitation facility in all the families within next five years, Establish at least one sustainable micro enterprise in each NHG leading to large-scale employment, Establish an Informal Bank of Women in the model of Bangladesh Grameen Bank, Implementation of special package programme for the development of SC/ST and traditional fishermen etc.

2. Kerala State Women Development Corporation (KSWDC)

KSWDC, functioning primarily as a loan lending unit assisting BPL (Below Poverty Line) women in self employment, has launched many job oriented skill upgradation training programmes. The corporation has channelised the loan fund for women belonging to backward minority communities and scheduled caste classes from NBCFDC, NMDFC and NSFDC receptively, whereas funds for the general category are met from the budgetary provisions of state government. Beneficiary contribution forms 5% of the loan assistance. The total loan assistance provided up to March 2007 is Rs. 326.41 lakh. Details on women beneficiaries of scheme wise loan lending are below.

Details of Physical and financial coverage (2006-07) as on 31-3-07

Particulars of schemes Women Beneficiaries(Nos) Loan assistance provided(Rs. lakhs)

Loan schemes of NBCFDC, GOI
279 112.30
Loan schemes of NMDFC, GOI 190 126.91
NSFDC 128 41.99
State Govt. Plan fund to economically marginalised women 59 45.21

Source: Economic Review 2007
ó NBCFDC : National Backward Caste Finance Development Corporation
ó NMFDC : National Minorities Development Finance Development Corporation.
ó NSFDC : National Scheduled Caste Finance Development Corporation.

3. Kerala Women's Commission

Kerala Women's Commission functions in a unique manner in solving petitions of women. With limited infrastructural facilities, the commission has challenging tasks to fulfill like conducting enquiry into unfair practices against women, settling disputes, conducting DNA Tests, Adalaths, counselling, organising legal awareness classes, seminars, workshops , publishing of a newsletter, Administering of short-stay homes etc. commission adopt settlement and counseling methods for the redressal of petitions and conducts Forums and Adalaths in every district for speedy redressal of petitions . Some of the petitions are referred to Police, KELSA, protection officers etc according to the gravity of cases. Section 18 of the Women's Commission Act, empowers the commission to prosecute a person committing offence against a woman. During 2006-07, 38 adalaths and five DNA Tests were conducted. The commission received 5171 petitions this year. Action has been completed in 3669 cases.

Source: Economic Review 2007

Out of the complaints received on the hazards faced by women ( from January 2006 to December 2007), harassment by women stood first (1600), followed by Harassment by husband (574), property related (373), cheating (243) abusive language (159), and anti social nuisance (152). This appears to suggest that women harass women more than men. However, what should be noted is that such ‘facts’ hide the husband’s role as a willing perpetrator. There were 107 employment related cases during this year showing the extent of harassment at work place for women and indicating the need for addressing this issue.


Although many women actively participate in women's organisations, trade unions, group activities etc., they are not very visible in higher levels of political leadership. A review of the past State Assembly elections reveals that the women representation like 1, 2, 3...12 was very low for a house of 140 legislators. As well as for the Lok Sabha Representations, it never exceeded two for a total of 20 members.

Politically women became visible in the state primarily at the local level with the enactment of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments which mandated a 33 percent representation of women at all three levels of the Local self government institutions(LSGIs). This enabled women to assume leadership. It is interesting to note that in the Panchayat elections held in November 2005, under the various political parties and also as independents about 3000 women from the Kudumbashree CBOs, contested the elections;1408 women emerged victorious from various constituencies covering 449 Local Self Government Institutions(LSGIs); 14 women were elected to Corporation; 92 to Municipalities; 1212 to Grama panchayats; 83 to Block panchayats and 7 to District Panchayats. At least 70 women have been elected as leaders (Panchayat Presidents and Chairpersons) of the LSGIs.

Women Partcipation in Kerala State Assembly

Term of assembly Total seats Men Women Women participation(%)
1957-60 127 121 6 4.7
1960-65 127 120 7 5.5
1965-67 133 130 3 2.2
1967-70 133 132 1 0.7
1970-77 133 131 2 1.5
1977-80 140 139 1 0.7
1980-82 140 135 5 3.5
1982-87 140 132 4 2.8
1987-91 140 132 8 5.7
1991-95 140 132 8 5.7
1995-2001 140 129 12 8.5
2001-2006 140 132 8 5.7
2006- 140 133 7 5.0

Women representation in Lok Sabha

Year of election Total seats Men Women Women (%)
1957 19 19 0 0
1962 19 19 0 0
1967 19 18 1 5.3
1971 19 18 1 5.3
1977 20 20 0 0
1980 20 19 1 5
1984 20 20 0 0
1989 20 19 1 5
1991 20 18 2 10
1996 20 18 2 10
1999 20 19 1 5
2004 20 18 2 10

Various capacity building programmes have helped in enhancing the potential, ability and competence of the elected women representatives in terms of decision making and confidence building.