The Importance of Financial Independence and Entrepreneurship for Women

It is a conventional belief that the relationship shared between a developing economy, and the number of job opportunities its female population can secure, is directly proportional.1 While the notion may hold true in the western world, this relationship seems to be inversely proportional in India. Often touted as the fasted growing economy in the world, India has been developing at a steady rate over the past few decades. However, India’s growth story unfortunately leaves behind the country’s most important demographic dividend i.e., women. This can be measured by the Female Labour Force Participation Rate, which has dropped from 30.3 per cent in 1990, to 20.8 per cent in 2019

Despite their best efforts, women in India continue to be relatively insignificant contributors to the country’s economy. As of 2020, less than one-quarter (20.3%) of women aged 15 or above were part of the Indian labour force, as compared to 76% of men. To put this into perspective, women comprise almost half of India’s total population (48.1%). Moreover, India was one of the worst-performing countries (140 out of 156) in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. These grim statistics – that are largely a result of societal structures and familial pressure – demand serious deliberation. 

Gender pay gaps exists in most sectors, and the tremendous pressure to strike a perfect balance between personal and professional duties, proves to be an omnipresent weight on most Indian women professionals. While women’s resilience in dealing with every obstacle that comes their way is commendable, much is left to be desired as regards gender stereotypes prevalent in the Indian business ecosystem. Furthermore, there is an imminent need to shift perceptions to include Indian women professionals and entrepreneurs, as capable and equal contributors to the country’s economy.  

 

The primary challenges faced by women in gaining financial independence. 

While an attentive mother or a meticulous household organiser’s role manages to earn respect in our society, attitudes often change when the same woman wants to take a constructive step towards building a career. While for urban women, it could be the simple challenge of returning to work after a maternity break or dealing with pay gaps, the challenges faced by rural women are more formidable, and start an early age. With age-old patriarchal mindsets expecting women to concentrate solely on household responsibilities, while men take care of business and finances, a girl child in rural and semi-urban India is likely to receive little to no encouragement as regards their education and skill training. It is this consistent discrimination against the girl child that results in the evaporation of their professional career aspirations, even before they can begin to take shape. 

 

Socio-cultural complexities and patriarchy.

Another concerning challenge to women’s financial independence in India, is domestic violence and being trapped in abusive marriages. Approximately 70% of women in India are subjected to domestic violence. However, they are unable to walk away from these abusive situations, because very often, they are financially dependent on their abusers. Additionally, in a patriarchal society, being financially dependent on a male family member creates layered and complex problems, in the event the women dependents outlive the male, get divorced, or are simply abandoned. Precarious legal circumstances ensue, to which most financially dependent women have no answer. 

 

 COVID-19 worsening adversities.

Before the pandemic, about 25% of women from rural areas were a part of the total workforce, as compared to 18% of their counterparts in urban areas. However, once the pandemic hit, many women in India’s villages were forced into unemployment. During March-April 2020, 15.4 million women were battling unemployment, taking up risky jobs, and tending to family, while arranging for food, water, and other necessities. Out of these, 12 million were rural women. 

Several middle-class families in India survive on daily or meagre monthly incomes. Having only one breadwinner, poses a risk of sustenance for the family during emergencies. The pandemic has brought this reality to the forefront. During the nationwide lockdowns, many people lost their jobs, and in such scenarios, two-income households would certainly fare better. 

Women who have financial sources of their own, will be able to assist their families in achieving monetary goals. The alarming scenario created by covid-19 has brought the spotlight back on the need for sustainable modes of financial independence for women, the primary one being entrepreneurship

 

Entrepreneurship emerging as a solution to complex adversity. 

While there are several examples of women in urban areas proving their mettle in diverse careers, and emerging as strong business leaders, the potential in the business sector for women from rural areas remains largely untapped. Over 65% of India’s population living in villages, and in specific, its female population, can become important contributors to the economy. Moreover, it is a proven fact that women entrepreneurs can inspire other women to start businesses, which in turn creates more jobs for women. This ultimately helps in reducing the gender pay gap in the workforce. As per studies, promoting entrepreneurship among women can pave the way for over 30 million women-owned enterprises, which could further generate 150-170 million new jobs, precisely what India needs to curb unemployment. 

 

Women can achieve independence and safety through entrepreneurship. 

Achieving financial independence through entrepreneurship is also the route to living a more dignified, independent, and progressive life. With funds at their disposal, women have the much-needed confidence, stability, and security to take strong decisions, and control over their lives. According to the ‘Landscape Study on Women Entrepreneurship’ conducted by EdelGive Foundation – with a sample size of 1200 women among 13 states – 82% of the women surveyed, sensed that they had achieved an improved status in their family, after becoming financially independent. The study also revealed that most women tend to reinvest about 90% of their income into their families i.e., into providing adequate nourishment for their families, and educating their children, thereby contributing to better outcomes for their children and for future generations. 

If there is one common parameter to judge the level of progress attained by a nation, then it must be the quality of life its female population leads. The sooner we realise that India’s growth firmly depends on the socio-economic progress of its female population, the closer we will be to the developed economy that our country aspires to be.  There is no dearth of capable and ambitious women who want to script their own success stories. All they need is an encouraging ecosystem that educates, guides, and supports women with equal opportunities at every step. Women-owned enterprises not only contribute to the GDP, but they are also powerful platforms that inspire upcoming generations of women entrepreneurs. 

 

UdyamStree is a platform by the EdelGive Foundation to support women entrepreneurs by providing them the right impetus for growth and solvency. We bring forth stories of success – women from marginalised communities who have successfully transitioned into entrepreneurs. We believe that these stories will motivate other women who aspire to be financially independent. Our advocacy initiatives are directed towards building a more inclusive and accommodating environment for women entrepreneurs, one where they get equal opportunities and lead a life of dignity, integrity, and security. 

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