“Women empowerment is vital to India’s development”—When PM Modi uttered these lines at the GES 2017, it gave hope to millions of aspirational women from every walk of life, who have harboured dreams of being an active participant in India’s workforce.
By appointing 9 ministers in key positions—including 6 in the cabinet and increasing the reservation for women to 33% in the police force, the PM sent out a clear strong signal that it’s high time women are adequately represented in the country’s economic and political domains. In addition, there have been several policies and developmental measures put in place by the government to give wings to the dreams and ambitions of women entrepreneurs, who in turn, will become job-creators and empower other women in their communities.
Mudra Yojana enabled many women to invest in sewing machines and other supplies, and facilitated them to set up micro-manufacturing units in their own homes. Now, instead of them commuting to the city, a factory van brings in raw material to the village every morning and returns to the factory with finished goods in the evening.
For the 400 women of Kolathur, a small village in the Salem district of Tamil Nadu, a three-hour one-way travel that started early every morning to work at a factory, was a harsh necessity—all to earn a meagre Rs.300/day. Not only did they have to struggle to make their financial ends meet, but they also had to juggle domestic responsibilities and children. The Mudra Yojana enabled many of these women to invest in sewing machines and other supplies, and facilitated them to set up micro-manufacturing units in their own homes. Now, instead of them commuting to the city, a factory van brings in raw material to the village every morning and returns to the factory with finished goods in the evening. Not only has this made life easier and more convenient for these women, it has also contributed to a marked increase in their productivity. The average income of these women is now Rs. 500/day, and they are able to tend to their homes and families in a much better way.
Creative and driven, Dulumoni Kalita, aged 26, lives in Dhula, a small town two hours away from Guwahati. Her humble town couldn’t provide this graduate with many opportunities for employment, but that did not stop the youngster from dreaming big. Finances, however, were a major obstacle. A seamless process fetched her a loan of Rs. 25,000 under the Mudra Yojana, apart from training from North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd. She now runs a successful venture manufacturing household products from water hyacinth which is found in abundance in the ponds and lakes of Assam. In the coming years, she plans to employ more women from her community and scale up her business operations.
Financial independence forms the foundation of women empowerment, and things in this sphere are changing fast, and for the better.
At the other end of the financial spectrum is ex-hotelier Lakshana Leel. Having spent four years in the UK working with a top hospitality chain, Lakshana gave in to her urge to return to her roots and give back to the community. Armed with passion, expertise and research, all that Lakshana needed was funding for her maiden venture—Kshana Cosmetics, which specializes in artisanal products made from natural and freshly-sourced ingredients from the Nilgiris. Like most young urban women, she was sceptical and wary of government schemes because of the tedious bureaucracy and paperwork involved. Signing up with Startup India, however, left her pleasantly surprised. The signing on process was quick and efficient, and her loan was approved within no time, along with the 25% subsidy for the term capital and other benefits such as subsidized electricity. She is now in the process of finishing her entrepreneur development programme organised by the EDI, and has already placed orders for the machinery she needs for her venture. She has already employed three rural women, and is in talks with an NGO for the training and employment of transgenders in her manufacturing unit. She also hopes to employ Divyang individuals for packing and logistics. All raw materials at Kshana are sourced from local farmers and small businesses.
Since the launch of PMMY in 2015, loans worth Rs. 4,43,495 crores were disbursed to the underprivileged under this scheme, of which 70% beneficiaries were women.
Financial independence forms the foundation of women empowerment, and things in this sphere are changing fast, and for the better. There are several factors that have stood in the way of women being active and equitable contributors to India’s economy—gender discrimination at workplaces, lack of suitable opportunities, domestic responsibilities, orthodox family values and safety concerns are only some of the major hindrances women face.
Entrepreneurship and self-employment therefore opens up multiple windows of opportunities for more women to step into the active workforce, sometimes without having to step out of their homes and cities. The good news is that the climate is now conducive enough for all of them to grow and flourish.
Ease of Doing Business Ranking
India’s World Bank ‘Ease of Doing Business Ranking’ saw an all-time high of 100 in 2017—a record 30 notches above the previous ranking. While this is good news for all business owners, women in particular benefit more as they face steep obstacles, including limited access to capital and mentors.
Specifically aimed at the upliftment of women and SC/ST through financial empowerment, the Stand Up India scheme was launched in April 2016.
Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY)
Since the launch of PMMY in 2015, loans worth Rs. 4,43,495 crores were disbursed to the underprivileged under this scheme, of which 70% beneficiaries were women. Small-scale businesses were previously unsupported by banks and acquiring a loan for the same was a struggle. As per a report by GEDI, globally 73% Indian women failed to get funding from venture capitalists and India ranked among the last five in the list of 30 countries studied. PMMY currently supports more than 50 million small business owners, a majority of which are women. The scheme also simplifies repayment of loans by eliminating middle-men, and bringing entrepreneurs and financial institutions onto a single platform. In a fast-growing economy where gender parity in the workforce in amongst the lowest in the world, this move empowers women to take charge of their financial independence and be an equal and assertive participant in the nation’s workforce.
The Startup India scheme was put into effect from April 1, 2017 with an initial funding of 100 crore to further boost the participation of women entrepreneurs in the field of technology and innovation. Right from organizing programmes at school level to motivate and encourage young girls to break stereotypes and seek technology-oriented careers, the scheme facilitates entrepreneurship at every stage. Aspiring tech entrepreneurs can now make use of resources that exist in the form of 13 startup centres and 18 technology business incubators in national institutions across the country, apart from mentorship, funding support, tax benefits and legal aid.
Of the 1.04 crore people who benefitted from the Skill India program within the first year of its launch, 40% were women.
Stand Up India
Specifically aimed at the upliftment of women and SC/ST through financial empowerment, the Stand Up India scheme was launched in April 2016. The scheme provides loans ranging from Rs.10 lakh to Rs.1 crore, and has benefitted over 50,000 borrowers. With easier access to capital, training and mentorship, more women will be encouraged to take up entrepreneurship.
Mahila E-Haat, which was launched in March 2016 as part of the ‘Digital India’, ‘Stand Up India’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives, has given an indigenous e-commerce platform to women entrepreneurs where they can showcase and sell their products without paying any listing fee. The platform helps entrepreneurs market their products effectively and reach a wider customer base, while at the same time eliminating the need for middle-men thus garnering more profits from direct sales. As per WCD ministry estimates, close to three lakh women entrepreneurs registered their businesses on the portal and generated a business of approximately Rs. 20 crore within just the first six months and the numbers are witnessing a growth every day.
Of the 1.04 crore people who benefitted from the Skill India programme within the first year of its launch, 40% were women. The programme comes as a blessing for women who have never received conventional vocational education or had to drop out of school/college for various reasons. With Skill India, even in the absence of schooling and traditional academic or vocational qualifications, millions of women now have an opportunity to acquire skills and training which will empower them to earn an independent living.
Revolutions bring changes in a day, but reforms take their time. In a country where the agenda of women empowerment has largely been neglected since Independence, it is heartening to see that policies are now being put in place to propel women towards emancipation. Empowering women economically and otherwise is a Herculean task, but the arduous journey in this direction has already begun. It’s only a matter of time before we see these efforts bear fruits, and our country becoming a truly developed nation with robust participation from the womenfolk.
Shuchi Singh Kalra writes women-centric fiction and has two published books to her credit. She tweets @shuchikalra.
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