A wise man of great intellect and power once said, “The best measure of a nation’s progress is the way it treats its women.” For centuries, women have faced challenges and hurdles and that has bestowed on them infinite patience, perseverance and have only helped them emerge stronger.
Over the past few decades, women working professionals have worked assiduously, with their talent, dedication and enthusiasm. They contribute massively towards India’s economic growth and prosperity. At present, there are 432 million women of working-age in India, out of which 343 million are employed in the unorganized sector. A report by McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that just by offering equal opportunities to women, India could add US$ 770 billion to its GDP by 2025. Yet, the present contribution of women to the GDP remains at 18%.
Even in rural India, women have been achieving new milestones everyday. Despite social and familial exclusion, women have asserted their right to financial independence, built businesses from the scratch and inspired those around them. In the panchayat system, 50% reservation is offered to women while many national programmes, such as ‘National Rural Livelihood Mission’, are providing leadership opportunities to them at the grassroots level. Government initiatives like the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’ has provided women workforce with supervisory job opportunities.
Today, India is the 3rd largest ecosystem in terms of Startups in the world and also, the 3rd largest in the Unicorn community. However, only 10% of them have been led by women founders. The need of the hour is to mobilize more support – mentally and financially – for women entrepreneurs and help them kickstart their journey. Fortunately, the last few years have seen a paradigm shift in the entire process of women becoming business leaders and founding companies.
However, as a result of the challenges posed by the pandemic, India’s gender gap has widened by 4.3%, owing to the dipping economic opportunities for Indian women, leading to a decline in their participation in the formal workforce. The aftershocks of the pandemic crisis are also being felt in the informal labour market. The plethora of unpaid tasks limits a woman’s time and thereby, her ability to make choices. This holds them back from pursuing higher education and skill development, inhibiting their entrepreneurial growth.
The way to enhance women’s economic empowerment is not just by increasing female employment opportunities, but also reducing the double shift burden women face. There is a need for adoption of the 3Rs approach, which involves Recognising, Reducing and Redistributing the unpaid care work done by women in all areas of policymaking. This can be done by facilitating women’s work as investment in public-sector care infrastructure. Public investment of just 2% of India’s GDP in the care economy, could not only generate 11 million jobs, but could also increase women’s economic and social welfare as they venture out into formal work. It is pivotal to have women-centric and women-friendly policies in place with an aim to encourage and support women entrepreneurship in India. There is also an urgent need to ensure that significant interventions take place to provide easier access to banks and other financial institutions, as well as tax incentives.
The CII National Committee on Women Empowerment works with industry to strengthen women’s role and participation in the economic sphere and community affairs, focussing on gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment at workplace and women empowerment at the community level. CII has also instituted the annual CII Woman Exemplar Award for women who have worked towards development initiatives in the fields of education and literacy, health and micro enterprises. The Committee, along with partner organisations like the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), conducts periodic studies on women empowerment in the workplace and holds conferences, seminars, workshops, gender sensitization programmes.
Women empowerment with gender equality is the key to fundamental human rights and is pivotal in our journey towards a more peaceful, progressive and sustainable world. Evolving and closing gender divide is inevitable and is being made possible through equal opportunities and equal representation for women.