For a country which has always laid great store by nari shakti, it is somewhat ironic that India’s ranking on the Gender Inequality Index (GII) is not something to be very proud of. A rank in the bottom 20 per cent on the GII hardly does justice to a country which has had women holding the highest political offices in the land, that of President and Prime Minister, and also produced some of the finest women entrepreneurs and business executives of the world.
However, the fact remains that as a nation on the verge of breaking into the league of the world’s most developed economies, India still has to travel a long way in empowering the larger majority of its women population, and providing them that little window to realize their full potential.
While the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme is a highly laudable initiative, I feel that other measures also need to be simultaneously taken to ensure that Indian women, particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid, are in a position to give wings to their dreams and show the country what they are capable of, including turning entrepreneurs should they wish to.
The latest Union Budget has talked of the formation of a MUDRA Bank to foster the entrepreneurship culture in India. As we gear up to observe International Women’s Day this year, it would be fantastic if the proposed MUDRA Bank could focus on funding 1st generation women entrepreneurs, particularly those not hailing from business families, so that more women are enthused to take up entrepreneurship as a career option.
We need to launch initiatives wherein capital at favorable lending terms is made easily available for women entrepreneurs hailing from disadvantaged economic backgrounds and institutions also provide the mentoring and handholding support that all new businesses require. If we can do this, it could help create an ecosystem that would enable a few thousand first-generation women entrepreneurs to come up in all parts of India. I can assure you that GDP slowdowns would be the least of the country’s worries if we could spearhead this transformation agenda through the enthusiastic involvement of all stakeholders.
What gives me that confidence? Women are not just born leaders, but very effective ones at that. Leadership is in their DNA. Thus, businesses started by women - even by first-generation women entrepreneurs with no family background in business - are the least likely to fail.
To tweak a phrase of what the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had said, “Any woman who understands the problems of a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a business enterprise.”
As an ardent advocate of women empowerment, I have always held the view that the women of this country don’t need a special status. All they want is an equal opportunity. If we are able to provide that, not only will we able to unleash the dormant potential of 49 per cent of the country’s population to improve India’s standing in the social and economic sphere globally, but also as a nation stand out as a true champion of women empowerment whom the rest of the world may do well to emulate. This year’s International Women’s Day would be the perfect time to start this endeavor.
(The author is Founder, VLCC, and Chairperson, Beauty & Wellness Sector Skill Council).