Cross-sectoral interventions to bridge the gender-gap in the field of women entrepreneurship

India is viewed as one of the leaders of the 21st century that has also been touted as the Asian age, due to the growing economic might of Asian countries. India’s global presence has been noted since its economic liberalization in the 1990s. Being the world’s largest democracy and having the highest density of youth in its population, India is a key economic driver of the Global South. 

With growing investments and amiable business policies, the country has also become the third-largest start-up ecosystem in the world and is expected to witness a year-on-year growth of 10-12%. It is estimated that about 20,000 start-up enterprises are to emerge annually given the sizeable domestic market of aspiring entrepreneurs. While this speaks volumes about the confidence young entrepreneurs exuberate, India still ranks the third lowest on the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, witnessing a 33% gender gap across businesses in the country. 

Women-run businesses that can provide potential employment to 13 million people only account for less than 1% of all Indian enterprises. However, despite the numerous challenges that women entrepreneurs face due to infrastructural as well as socio-cultural complexities, they continue to fight against the odds to emerge as champions in their journeys towards independence. Many organization has come forward to promote various Women’s startup business in India 

The inspiring journey of Mrs. Chetna Sinha is one such powerful example of breaking this cycle. 

In 1997, Mrs. Sinha began India’s first rural bank for women i.e., the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank. The bank was based out of Maharashtra and served as an institution that provided financial literacy and economic aid to aspiring women entrepreneurs. Today, the bank holds over 90,000 accounts and 1.5 crores in monetary value. Chetna Sinha has established herself as a visionary, not only because she achieved self-sufficiency and financial independence but, in the bargain, also managed to create better lives for women across the country. 

 

Even though banks and other formal and informal lending institutions serve as vital cogs in the journeys of women entrepreneurs, socio-cultural complexities continue to be formidable barriers to women who want to start businesses in India. Resistance from family and society deter women from gaining access to mentorship, finance, and social capital; prerequisites for ensuring self-sustenance. While a majority of urban women do have access to education and resources such as digital platforms, rural women are one of the most disenfranchised and socio-economically marginalised groups in the country, often being born into a cycle of discrimination that governs their lives from childhood. 

Moreover, the lack of awareness around the benefits that women entrepreneurs are entitled to, due to information asymmetry exacerbated by low internet connectivity and mobile penetration in rural India, only causes further problems. Most government programmes remain unused by women due to the lack of adequate access to information. Entrepreneurs also need to network to grow their businesses, and because of the lack of access to technology in rural regions, women entrepreneurs’ networking is mostly limited to their own villages. Helping women to sow the seeds for their businesses and expand them into sustainable, large-scale enterprises by providing them access to information platforms and technology can significantly boost the quality of life for them and their communities, as financially empowered women have the capability of lifting their families and communities out of poverty. 

So where do we begin our quest to build a level playing field for women who wish to start their own enterprises in an ecosystem that is primarily dominated by men? Multi-sectoral interventions – by both public and private systems – that eliminate the root causes of economic gender gaps are the need of the hour. 

Educating women about the resources pertaining to entrepreneurship 

Providing women with education and training is the first step towards empowering them to establish their own enterprises. Currently, the literacy rate for adult rural women stands at just 31%, which is less than half the rate of educated adult women in urban areas. As a result, most rural women struggle to find opportunities to earn a livelihood, navigate complex banking instruments, and identify reliable avenues for mentorship and network development.

The ‘Landscape Study on Women Entrepreneurship’ conducted by EdelGive Foundation, found that 89% of the women entrepreneurs surveyed were not aware of the financial schemes launched by the government, and that only 1% had availed of any such schemes. Further, only 9% of the women had managed to secure a loan.

Hence, bridging the education and awareness gap in rural geographies and facilitating management training for women could build the foundation for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and achieve financial independence. Structured and skill-based education increases their propensity to contribute to the economy as it enables them to innovate and utilise available technology and resources for their ventures, allowing them to prosper and achieve self-sufficiency. 

Providing soft skills training to challenge psychological gender and power constraints 

Various studies have highlighted that women often suffer from mind set constraints such as risk-aversion. Adolescent girls growing up in rural areas and tier 2 and 3 cities, are not exposed to important soft skills such as leadership and innovation. This is due to the deep-rooted gender-stereotypes and orthodox social conditioning that affords women and young girls fewer competitive opportunities as compared to men. Culturally enforced restrictions and gender roles that treat young girls differently to men/male children, psychologically affect their aspirations and confidence. 

Thus, a major prerequisite for the success of female entrepreneurs is to create supportive institutions that address these inherent mental constraints through soft-skill training.

Securing Investments through public and private partnerships 

Developing policies that incentivise individuals and organisations who invest in women-owned enterprises through venture funds, corporate ventures, private equity, and social capital could provide women entrepreneurs the much-needed financial impetus to get their projects off the ground. Modernising existing government certifications, grants and loan programmes, and creating new sources of capital such as crowdfunding initiatives and impact investments, are other ways of securing investments for women-owned enterprises. 

Sensitising communities to propel moral support 

To influence sustainable change and establish a growth model for women entrepreneurs in India, it is crucial to analyze and improve the circumstances and social norms that keep them demotivated and dependent. Nearly 50% of women in India struggle to obtain society’s permission to work, access community-level role models and garner support from their families and spouses. Household conflicts that arise at the intersection of work and domestic responsibilities divert many women from their entrepreneurial journeys. Even today, in most Indian households, the primary contribution that is expected from women is the raising of children, cooking and cleaning, and caring for the older members of the family. As a result, few women are left with enough time and energy to devote to their businesses. 

 

For this to change, the men of the household must take equal responsibility for managing and caring for their home, children, and elderly. School curriculums must focus on inculcating this aspect of responsibility sharing among men and women from an early age. Gender equality should be a compulsory subject for all states and communities. Only through these interventions, can we break the age-old patriarchal belief systems that create the gender divide. 

 

The importance of women entrepreneurs’ participation in boosting the Indian economy has been well documented in economic research, yet only approximately 14% of entrepreneurs in the country are women. Supporting women-run enterprises is imperative to ensuring the sustainability and growth of India’s economy. This is only possible when they are promised equal access to education, financial resources, business-oriented trainings, and human resource interventions that reduce the societal resistance they have faced since time immemorial. Both government and private organisations need to come forward to promote entrepreneurship amongst women and incentivise those who support women-led enterprises. 

India’s journey from a developing nation to a developed one will be defined by the presence of gender equality platforms that motivate its women to join the workforce and multiply opportunities for their peers through entrepreneurship. A congenial environment where women are encouraged to walk on the path of self-discovery and identify their strengths and abilities is what is required for India to emerge as the primary leader of the Global South, and, eventually, assume prominence in other territories of the world as well.

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