For entrepreneurs to thrive in an economy, a stable and supportive political system has to prevail. A liberalized economic environment offers the space and confidence for people to take up commercial activities. Though pre-colonial Indian society possessed classy village and town economies that supported indigenous artisans, handicrafts, and commerce by trade guilds and business communities, the British occupation subverted the Indian economy to serve the interests of the rulers. After independence, there was a capital crunch that prevented proper growth of individual small and medium scale businesses.
The liberalization of the economy in 1991 opened up space for small and personal commercial activities to grow well. Indian women entrepreneurs have also been part of this development process. The growth of women entrepreneurs has not only reduced the gender gap in socio-economic participation but has also been instrumental in ensuring balanced and equitable development an economic upliftment at women, benefits her family surrounding and community. Nevertheless, women entrepreneurs still face obstacles in their business endeavours due to gender bias and discrimination.
Indian women entrepreneurs are significantly less aware of govt schemes policies available for them. According to the 2011 Census, around 34% of Indian women are illiterate, which prevents them from accessing information and training opportunities. Most women do not inherit their ancestral properties; It goes only to the male children. So it is very tough for them to arrange initial capital, finance, and working capital since angel investors show gender bias in their evaluation and investment decisions. Inequitable access to the labour market and lack of networking-cum-market understanding discourage them for a start-up. Women entrepreneurs choose to keep their businesses small since they have to juggle family responsibilities too. They are expected to balance and manage family work and everything else; even they contribute equally to family’s finance.
According to the Sixth Economic Census released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, women constitute around 14 per cent of the total entrepreneur base in India, i.e. 8.05 million out of the total 58.5 million entrepreneurs. While some are accidental entrepreneurs due to the lack of other work opportunities, many others are driven by a specific mission or goal. Of the total 20%, women-owned MSMEs, 20.44% are micro-enterprises, 5.26% are small and 2.67% medium enterprises. States such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Kerala have a higher number of women entrepreneurs, while Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Diu, and Daman have a low number of women entrepreneurs. Significant obstacles to women in MSMEs are gender bias exhibited by investors, lack of credit access and unsupportive family.
Census 2011 data shows that 32.8 per cent of women are engaged in the agriculture sector. 33 per cent cultivators and 47 per cent of agricultural labourers are women. In rural India, 84 per cent of women depend on agriculture for their livelihood. According to Economic Survey 2017-18, the number of women engaged in agriculture as cultivators, agri-entrepreneurs, and labourers is increasing. This feminization of agriculture can enable women to play a decisive role in ensuring food security and preserving local eco-biodiversity. It necessitates access to resources such as water, farm credit, land, technology, and information to women. However, only 12% of the land is owned by women. Women employed in the agriculture sector face gender wage disparity, mostly work in low skilled jobs, and many of them work as unpaid subsistence labourers.
Intels Women and Web Study (2013) found that women’s access to the Internet helps them acquire new knowledge, learning. However, there is a 34 per cent gender gap in online access in India. Indian women mainly use it for banking and financial activities. Over 30 per cent of girls drop out before completing secondary education in India. Due to lack of access to technical knowledge, women mostly occupy low and medium-skilled jobs. It makes them vulnerable to the effects of automation, which may force job layoffs shortly, resulting in further marginalization of women. Loss of employment can restrict their economic independence and development.
The concept of ‘Vocal for Local’ is possible only when women, whose population is almost half of the total, are made to be the part of the program and participate equally in terms of economic activities. Govt. ought to organize a survey on the post-COVID impact on women’s livelihood across sectors. There must be a special allocation of funds to women start-ups and proper incubation process. MSME ministry, in collaboration with NGOs, should provide research support and technical inductions to rural women entrepreneurs. Most importantly, We (govt., administration, society and you) have to ensure an inclusive, no favouritism, and sexual harassment-free workplace.
What is needed are gender-neutral policies, as well as pro-women budgets that promote women entrepreneurship. Strong legislation and public awareness of these laws are required to enable easy conduct of business. Non-discriminatory access to credit facilities and banking is another pre-requisite to encourage female entrepreneurs. Hope, we will see a new dawn of women empowerment in the nation in the coming decades as more and more women are coming into the centre stream of the economy across various sectors like IT, financial, e-commerce, biotechnology etc. which will also increase the productivity of women.
About the author:
Omm Priyadarshi is a Development Professional and typically writes on Socio-cultural, Policy & Gender-related issues. He tweets @iommpriyadarshi