The hallmark of a great culture and civilisation is the respect and dignity that it affords to women. As Indian economy crosses new frontiers in terms of transformative growth and its impact on people, the participation of almost one-half of the country vis-à-vis the economy becomes critical.
From the point of view of empowering women, it is important to ensure financial inclusion for them. After all, financial independence is a key part of enabling women to make their choices.
Particularly in the last 4-5 years, the government and the policymakers have ensured that women are provided the necessary policy climate and institutional support in order to help them achieve greater success in business and entrepreneurial pursuits.
Financial inclusion for financial empowerment
The Jan Dhan programme has been a world-record creating financial inclusion initiative. Its success in ensuring access to bank accounts and banking services are well known and documented. However, a lesser known part of Jan Dhan’s success is the gender composition of its beneficiaries.
Out of the 34.87 crore beneficiaries of the programme, a staggering 18.53 crore are women. In other words, more than half of Jan Dhan Yojana’s beneficiaries are women.
These are not merely bank accounts but come with a host of other benefits. However, the most important benefit they bring to the table is that of possibilities. For someone who has finally entered the formal financial system, savings, financial security as well as formal capital are doors waiting to be knocked.
Mudra Yojana and Stand-up India
At a time when PM Narendra Modi has shifted policy discourse from women’s development to women led development, the biggest institutional impetus that women can receive is access to finance to start businesses of their own. The government has sought to earnestly address this concern through several initiatives.
For instance, thanks to the Mudra Yojana that provides collateral-free entrepreneurship loans up to Rs. 10 lakh, Indian women have benefited and even thrived at a rather rapid pace. Out of the 16 crore Mudra Yojana beneficiaries who have been sanctioned loans, more than 70% of the beneficiaries are women who are getting affordable and collateral-free loans to start their own businesses.
Another scheme Stand-up India that facilitates bank loans between Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 1 crore to at least one SC or ST borrower and at least one woman borrower per bank branch for setting up a Greenfield enterprise, has also been a success story.
Imparting dignity and comfort to the maternity aspect of women’s lives
Mindful of the need to ease the lives of working women during their pregnancy, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, has been passed extending the paid maternity leave to 26 weeks (6 months), one of the highest durations in the world. This allows them sufficient time to recover without worrying about finances, helping them to bounce back with more vigour and energy at work.
Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana provides a cash incentive of Rs. 5,000 which is deposited directly in the bank. Access to nutrition during pregnancy is key to the health of both the mother and the child. So far, over 55 lakh women have been paid maternity benefits worth Rs. 1,847.35 funds have been disbursed to the beneficiaries, as on January 2019. This has put money into the hands of women and helped them pursue a better future for themselves and their children.
The Role of Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
Recently, the Prime Minister announced a 12 point plan to boost the MSME sector. Among them was a decision that empowers women who run MSMEs. The Prime Minister said that out of the 25% procurement mandated from MSMEs, 3% must now be reserved for women entrepreneurs.
Small steps lead to big results. In order to start them off on smaller scale initially, the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises is empowering women entrepreneurs through a host of schemes. For instance, the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) scheme implemented through Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has seen over 1.38 lakh projects being set up by women entrepreneurs since inception.
PMEGP, a credit-linked subsidy scheme, helps set up micro enterprises. Women entrepreneurs under this scheme are covered under Special Category and are entitled to 25% and 35% subsidies for the project set up in urban and rural areas respectively. In fact, the projects set up by women entrepreneurs are about 30% of total projects under PMEGP. During 2016-17 and 2017-18 alone under the Khadi Programme of KVIC, women entrepreneurs have set up over 30,000 projects for which margin money of Rs. 853 crore has been disbursed.
Making New Technology Platforms Available for Women
With convergence of technology and business, now that online platforms for retail have become the order of the day, the government has launched Mahila e-Haat, a unique direct online digital marketing platform for women entrepreneurs, Self Help Groups or NGOs. This leverages technology for showcasing products made, manufactured or sold by women entrepreneurs. This also allows them to showcase their services reflecting their creative potential. Over the last few years, Mahila e-haat has grown impacting over 32,000 women entrepreneurs, SHGs and NGOs, and over 7.34 lakh beneficiaries.
Through all these multi-pronged measures to financially empower women, from financial inclusion to access to formal finance, from market access to maternity benefits, crores of women have been positively impacted. Therefore, the financial empowerment of Indian women in last few years has given a new meaning to the idea of women empowerment.