Women play a vital role in both economic and social progress. Empowering rural women is essential for the rapid economic growth of the “New India.” The government defines women’s empowerment as granting them equal social and political rights, financial security, judicial strength, and all other rights enjoyed by men. In this regard, the Government of India has formulated women empowerment programs under the principle of “Empowered Women, Empowered Nation.” With approximately 54.6% of India’s workforce engaged in agriculture and related activities, empowering rural women is crucial. According to the Economic Survey 2022-23, the participation of rural women in the labor force was 27.7% in the previous year.
Challenges Faced by Rural Women in India
Unfortunately, numerous surveys have revealed that rural women face significant obstacles in participating in economic activities due to gender-based discrimination, social norms, limited access to education, healthcare, property, finance, and other services. Prevailing beliefs that women are inferior to men and should primarily fulfill domestic roles further restrict women’s workforce participation. Even when women manage to overcome these challenges and become financially independent, they often end up in the informal sector, where they are underpaid.
India Inc’s Role in Empowering Rural Women
Recognizing the positive impact empowered women can have at the family, societal, and national levels, Indian corporations have initiated various sustainable livelihood programs focused on women. These programs aim to skill women from target groups and involve them in income-generating activities.
CII Compendium: Boosting Livelihood Opportunities for Women
CII compendium titled “Boosting Livelihood Opportunities for Women by India Inc”chronicles the journeys of 19 companies that have launched programs to empower rural women. These programs have benefited ultra-poor women heading households, landless farmers, women with disabilities, and individuals residing in remote regions of the country.
Each story in the compendium outlines the context for identifying specific needs, project interventions, processes, partners, outcomes, and lessons learned. The compendium also documents the companies’ learnings from designing and implementing their women empowerment programs.
These initiatives are based on baseline surveys and needs assessment surveys of the target groups, often involving both men and women, along with local panchayats and existing self-help groups. Skills are selected based on assessments of potential livelihood opportunities in the villages where the programs are implemented.
Through years of experience, Indian corporations have realized that establishing an effective model or institutional mechanism is vital for sustaining rural enterprises after the sponsor exits. Many companies have created empowering ecosystems at the local level, collaborating with women self-help groups, farmer producer organizations, farmer interest groups, common resource centers, community resource persons, and local NGOs. Regular progress monitoring and connections to government funding schemes further support these initiatives.
Impact and Transformative Experiences
The 19 companies featured in this compendium have collectively invested over INR 600 crores in these women empowerment programs, in addition to their other Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. These programs have directly impacted the lives of more than 15 lakh women, empowering their families across 20 states and 2 union territories.
The women beneficiaries have experienced life-changing transformations, gaining financial independence, social status, and a voice in society. Some have contributed more than INR 10,000 per month to their household incomes, upgraded from makeshift to permanent homes, started businesses, empowered other women, overcome challenges in abusive relationships, ensured their children’s education, and provided healthy meals to their families. Testimonials from these beneficiaries underscore the far-reaching impact of these programs, not only on the target groups but also on their families, villages, and society at large.
India Inc remains committed to empowering women from all strata of society skilling them, helping them find sustainable sources of income and live a life of dignity that each Indian isentitled to.
Download CII Compendium “Boosting Livelihood Opportunities for Women by India Inc”to know more.