Forbes India – Empowering Women: What we need to do to truly empower and empower women

Lack of access to finance is a huge marker of the difficulties Indian women face, with a gap of over $ 20 billion in unmet funding for Indian women entrepreneurs. Image: Noah Seelam / AFP

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Over the past two decades, India has experienced a massive decline in the participation of women in the labor market. According to World Bank estimates, the female labor force participation rate in India fell from 26% in 2005 to 20.3% in 2019. Although this figure may seem alarming, there is substantial data to prove that this decline drastic was to be expected. The socio-economic and cultural constraints imposed on women and the limited employment opportunities available to them have had a multisectoral and negative impact on their development. The fallout is clearly highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, where India still ranks 140th out of 153 countries. This is further corroborated by the contribution of Indian women to GDP which stands at 18% against a world average of 37%, with only 14% of women opting for a career as an entrepreneur. An increase in household chores, limited mobility and constant monitoring of families and community members (especially in light of Covid-19), have only made it more difficult for women to assert themselves and to claim their financial independence.

Take the case of Hamida for example. The 24-year-old unmarried girl from a conservative Gujarati family did not want to spend her life as a housewife or day-to-day employee. She had watched her parents struggle financially all her life and was determined to live a life of dignity and independence. She decided to take the bold step of becoming a car driver and connected with a local NGO to receive training. After six months of training, she is fully certified. However, her brothers did not support her decision to buy or hire a rickshaw as she was a woman and therefore felt it was an “inappropriate” profession for her. Her community also pushed her to give up her dream, claiming that the cars were mostly driven by men. Hamida was not even able to take advantage of government programs or initiatives because she was unaware of them. The only scheme she was aware of, whereby she could get a loan of Rs 5 lakh from a bank, required a guarantor, which she did not have.

Many women face the same challenges as Hamida. The pandemic is having a gendered impact due to the clients and the systemic and deeply rooted patriarchal traditions that are part of India’s socio-cultural fabric. The lack of confidence and agency to make decisions at home, being constantly informed of what to expect of a woman and having to adapt to an unprecedented lockdown situation has made it difficult many women from vulnerable rural and semi-urban areas. Many have also been victims of assault and violence at the hands of their husbands, brothers, fathers and in-laws. The National Commission for Women received 23,722 complaints in 2020, the highest in six years.

Through their businesses, women have the potential to play a pivotal role in enabling India to achieve its goal of a five trillion dollar economy. However, a report from the “Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy” points out that nearly 91% of women in India are employed in the informal sector, their incomes fluctuating and their futures uncertain. These women are unfairly exploited, have no social protection or security, and often work without being legally hired. In addition, they are often in ignorance of their rights, which makes them vulnerable to economic manipulation. Lack of access to finance is a huge marker of the difficulties Indian women face, with a gap of over $ 20 billion in unmet funding for Indian women entrepreneurs.

Therefore, to truly empower and empower women, interventions working in the female entrepreneurship space must focus on deconstructing gender stereotypes; galvanize women through vocational training; allow access to financial assistance; and raising awareness of available resources such as social protection schemes, processes and rights. It is crucial to empower women by providing them with support in the form of social protection, benefits if they are employed in the informal sector and gender sensitive income social security. Ruma Devi and Kavita Devi are examples of women whose entrepreneurship has been supported and encouraged through multi-stakeholder interventions. Ruma Devi is a traditional Indian artisan who won the highest civilian honor for women in India (the ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2018), and Kavita Devi is the editor of Khabar Lahriya (a rural weekly) and the first person from the Dalit community to become a member of the Editors Guild of India.

In addition, for the above plans to materialize to improve the status of women, it must be ensured that women are able to stay in touch with and inspire each other. Only then can dialogue, awareness and awareness building, capacity building take place and optimism, courage and empathy can be absorbed. The EdelGive Foundation’s “Landscape of Female Entrepreneurship” study, which corroborates this, found that 73% of women surveyed reported an increase in self-confidence once they started their business, while 19 % reported improved self-esteem as a result of being financially independent from business owners. Over 90 percent of the women felt happy and proud to have decided to start a business, while 80 percent agreed that after starting their business, their status in their family and in society s ‘was significantly improved.

Therefore, to stimulate and support women entrepreneurs in rural and semi-urban India, it is imperative that multi-stakeholder interventions focus on the potential for positive impact that female entrepreneurship could have. These targeted interventions will enable women to effectively overcome socio-cultural and socio-economic barriers and ensure that their work uplifts society and the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole.

The author is executive chairman of the EdelGive Foundation.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are those of the author.

Mara R. Wilmoth