Fostering women's entrepreneurship for progress - Hindustan Times
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Fostering women's entrepreneurship for progress

ByHindustan Times
Aug 22, 2023 12:26 PM IST

This article is authored by Fauzia Khan, member of parliament, Rajya Sabha and Sharmishtha Ghosh, senior vice president, healthcare & social Impact, Avian WE.

In a quaint village nestled amidst lush fields and rolling hills, lived a determined young woman named Meera. She was a woman of many talents – tending to the family's small farm, crafting intricate baskets, and sharing tales of her grandmother's age-old recipes. Yet, despite her numerous skills and the potential to contribute significantly to her community, Meera's dreams were often overshadowed by the prevailing gender norms that confined her within the boundaries of household chores, while only permitting her to participate in her family's communal farmlands.

Painting on women empowerment, cleanliness, yoga and wellness. (Praful Gangurde/HT Photo)
Painting on women empowerment, cleanliness, yoga and wellness. (Praful Gangurde/HT Photo)

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Meera's narrative is far from being an anomaly; rather, it serves as a reflection of the lived experiences shared by innumerable (rural) women throughout India. The journey of the country's female labour force participation rate (LFPR) has been marked by a decline, as indicated by the World Bank 2021 data which reports a modest 19%. This number is notably lower than the global average of 25.1%. In this respect, India ranks 121st out of 131 countries on the global female LFPR index, as per the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2022). This ongoing trend not only places constraints on women's economic opportunities but also raises questions about the broader potential for national progress.

Societal norms and structural obstacles underlie the challenges faced by individuals like Meera. In rural settings, women shoulder both household responsibilities and contributing to family income. This delicate balancing act leaves little room for pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, which demand time, resources, and assistance. These hurdles are exacerbated by limited financial access, inadequate training and education, and persistent gender biases. As a result, a 2018 ILO study highlights that over 95% of India's female workforce engages in informal, labour-intensive, low-paying, and precarious work without social safeguards. Furthermore, another ILO study carried in 2016, pointed out that a lack of access to quality child care services forces women workers to leave the labour force, ceasing their earning, and exposing themselves to discriminatory employment practices, and to significant economic and health risks.

Catalysing the potential of women in rural entrepreneurship holds the key to transformative change. The findings of a McKinsey Global Institute report resonate strongly in this context, highlighting that gender equality could serve as a catalyst for India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to ascend by a remarkable $700 billion by the year 2025, while translating to a considerable enhancement in annual GDP growth of around 1.4%. This far-reaching economic influence, combined with the social dividends of heightened employment opportunities and a reduction in poverty, unequivocally underscores the pivotal role of fostering and nurturing women entrepreneurs.

The realm of rural entrepreneurship often intertwines with agriculture, a sector that plays a crucial role in India's economy. The rapid feminisation of Indian agriculture (with 80% of rural women engaged in agriculture), has led to the growth in the number of women farmers shifting gears to pursue entrepreneurship as a natural progression as well as a strategic choice. Meera's story, in this respect, resonates with the many women farmers who are transitioning into agripreneurs, leveraging their agricultural skills to create value-added products. These women contribute not only to their families' sustenance but also to the nation's food security. However, recognising and supporting such endeavours requires a nuanced understanding of the blurred lines between household chores and entrepreneurial activities in rural settings.

To overcome the challenges impeding rural women's entrepreneurship, a holistic strategy is imperative. This entails aligning skill training with emerging sectors, facilitating improved financial access, refining marketing strategies, and providing specialised childcare support. Furthermore, nurturing a supportive ecosystem that champions diverse business models, encourages risk-taking, and offers mentorship can effectively empower women entrepreneurs. This calls for invoking the entrepreneurial spirit through network development, awareness campaigns, upskilling, digital expansion, private sector collaboration, and the creation of a robust, equitable, and secure environment.

The agricultural potential of India is colossal, and there lies untapped potential in the growth of women-led agri enterprises. By stimulating women-led businesses in rural and agricultural setups, profound impacts extend beyond the economy. This drive can reduce poverty, generate employment, foster social development, and contribute to a more gender-equitable society. Should India prioritise the creation of more women entrepreneurs, especially in the rural realm, the nation stands poised to catalyse innovation and investment in women's financial independence, education, and overall well-being.

As the sun sets over Meera's village, casting a golden glow on the fields that have been her family's livelihood for generations, her dreams now extend beyond the horizon. With a solution-oriented approach represented by the acronym ELEVATE - Empowerment through Learning, Entrepreneurship, Vision, Access, Transformation, and Engagement - India has the potential to rewrite stories like Meera's into tales of triumph and empowerment. To overcome challenges such as mentorship gaps, policy expertise, and limited financial access for women entrepreneurs in rural India, a cross-sectoral approach involving the public sector, commercial sector, and civil society is essential. The private sector's role in driving innovation and growth, along with the civil society's contribution to skill development, remains crucial. Learning from inspiring rural entrepreneurs would further be required to enrich the strategy. This journey would transcend economics; as it'd be a stride towards an equitable society where every woman's aspirations could flourish, catalysing India's growth and progress.

This article is authored by Fauzia Khan, member of parliament, Rajya Sabha and Sharmishtha Ghosh, senior vice president, healthcare & social Impact, Avian WE.

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