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BW Businessworld

In India, Women Struggle To Take Active Part In Nation's Growth Story

According to the data, around 22 to 27 million direct employment opportunities in India can be created by tapping the estimated 13.5 to 15.7 million women-owned and operated enterprises

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'Who runs the world — Girls,’ a small phrase from American singer Beyonce's song has become synonymous with female empowerment. However, miles away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the ground reality is stunningly contrasting in India, as many women still struggle to secure their active position in the nation's growth story.

A report by charity organisation Oxfam revealed that the low participation of women in India's labour force is majorly due to gender discrimination in terms of wages and opportunities. 

India discrimination report 2022 found that 93 per cent of the gap in earnings between males and females is due to discrimination. As per the federal government data, India's female work participation rate was just 25 per cent for 2021.

Neeti Sharma, President and Co-founder, TeamLease Edtech, a learning solutions company, told BW Businessworld that in India, women spend close to 240 minutes a day on domestic chores and household work, almost 10 times more than the average 25 minutes men spend. 

"This itself drastically reduces the time women can spend learning a new skill, thereby gaining access to better employment opportunities. Then there are other concerns such as lack of basic infrastructure at the workplace, stereotyping of certain job roles for women and excluding them from probable employment opportunities due to external factors," said Sharma. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi time and again has emphasised the role of women in India's economic development. In August,  Modi said that by harnessing the power of women in the correct direction, India can achieve the desired results.

PM Modi commented that the female workforce in the country must be stronger than ever, especially in emerging industries. The flexibility in work will enable the nation to better utilise women's power in the future. However, end results hardly make any difference. 

Also, this trend is nothing new as in 2019 MasterCard index of women entrepreneurs showed that gender gaps in entrepreneurship have actually worsened in India, especially during the pandemic. 

Female entrepreneurial activity rate in comparison to men in the country registered a fall of 21.9 per cent from 79.6 to 62.1 per cent between 2018 and 2019. 

Also Read: Let's Talk About Female Participation In India's Growth Story

The report also finds that only 7 out of 100 business owners in India are female. 

Sumita Pillai, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Torus Wealth said that women's participation in the labour force is low not just in India but around the world. 

"Traditional roles and freedom to work are barriers to participation. Other factors include attitudes and role stereotypes, lack of family support and work-life balance. The growth prospects are limited as traditionally it’s perceived that leadership roles are associated with male qualities," Pillai added. 

MSME sector — a ray of hope?

The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector which generates the largest employment opportunities in India has recorded a relatively higher rate of women participation in the workforce (24 per cent) compared to other industries, as per the CIEL HR report.  

The study titled employment trends in the MSME sector stated that more than 20 per cent of proprietary MSMEs are owned by women with West Bengal leading at 23.4 per cent followed by 10.4 per cent in Tamil Nadu. 

Preethi Rao, Associate Director, LEAD at Krea University said, "Out of this, nearly half (49.9 per cent) start out of necessity rather than an aspiration to start a business venture. While there is more representation in the MSME segment (20 per cent in India compared to 30 per cent globally), the majority of the women-led enterprises in this segment are in the microenterprise category."

While women's participation is high in this sector, the study also revealed that their involvement at the leadership level is only 10 per cent. Also, the study has revealed the need for better gender representation at an executive level for improved organisational climate and better financial performance.

Rao said that the representation of women in the MSME space is skewed towards the nano and micro-level enterprises. Especially in urban and peri-urban India, out of the 10.84 million women-led enterprises, around 38 per cent are in the subsistence entrepreneur category making a monthly revenue of less than Rs 10,000.

As per a recent study by LEAD, the number of women-led enterprises decreases as they transcend from a monthly revenue of Rs 10,000 to Rs 75,000, whereas, there is an increase across the same categories among enterprises led by men. 

How to fix the issue?

Experts noted that streaming and easing loan application procedures for women entrepreneurs, providing access to financial assistance, enabling remote working, enhancing workplace infrastructure, developing a safe working environment and providing skilling opportunities will fix the issue. 

Neeti Sharma said that it has also been seen that higher self-employment in women boosts female labour participation. This means that the MSME sector is an important means of raising female labour force participation.  

"Therefore, an upward movement of women-led enterprises, from subsistence to growth-oriented businesses would impact job creation multifold and thus contribute to India’s GDP growth significantly," said Rao. 

India's journey to a developed nation 

In June, PM Modi addressed the G7 summit session on gender equality and emphasised that India's approach had transitioned from women's development to women-led development.

Recently, he said that women's power has become the differentiating factor between the India of the last century and the new India of this century. The economic empowerment of women empowers them equally in society. 

The PM has set the goal to transfer India into a developed country by 2047.

Nikhil Arora, Managing Director (MD) and Vice President, GoDaddy India said that people need to support domestic businesses and organisations, which also contributes to PM's call for the "Vocal for Local” initiative and encourage the growth of local production. 

"To help realise this goal, Indian MSMEs can go online, establish a digital presence for their business and contribute to the e-commerce sector. Being online provides MSMEs with the opportunity to benefit from increased adaptive business practices, access to global customers and efficient digital marketing tools to stay connected with customers," Arora said. 

Talking about women's participation to make India a developed nation, Pillai said that Women in India are more employable and should be granted a fair playing ground. Women are now taking on roles traditionally dominated by men, including pilots, entrepreneurs, CEOs, astronauts, athletes and politicians. 

"There is, however, a need for more women's participation. The family and government will play a key role in empowering women at a very early stage to let them make their own choices and also provide access to these opportunities," she said. 

Meanwhile, according to the data, in India, around 22 to 27 million direct employment opportunities can be created by tapping the estimated 13.5 to 15.7 million women-owned and operated enterprises.