With the formal job market in crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic and work, especially in the unorganised sector, drying up, women have been further marginalised in the economy. But it is heartening to know that there is recognition that an economic recovery is not possible without women’s participation in the workforce. Perhaps, several initiatives taken by the government, while not nearly enough, have not got the notice they deserve. We have all heard of the Jan Dhan accounts whereby money is paid into women’s accounts, a scheme which has had mixed success.
One way to boost income for women and make them economically productive would be to push and motivate women entrepreneurs. Resources, again perhaps not enough, have been allocated to the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP), Entrepreneurship and Skill Development Programme (ESDP), Stand-Up India, and Mahila-E-Haat to promote entrepreneurial activities among women. As always, the problem lies in many potential women beneficiaries not being aware of these. Many programmes have no connection with others, creating duplication of work.
The initiative by Niti Aayog to create the Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) in 2018 could be further energised to play a greater role in creating awareness and enabling women to access the resources on offer. This initiative was meant to motivate women, provide knowledge, support an enabling ecosystem and help to scale up businesses. Women in India, as the experience with rural self-help groups shows, are remarkably prompt at repaying loans and the government should step up the amounts and ease loan disbursement for women who want to set up their own businesses.
The government has the road map all drawn up. It has to now actively push women by providing information about the gaps in demand and supply, provide the skilling required and create an enabling environment for easy finances. They will require mentors and help on best marketing strategies. The pandemic has caused a rethink on consumption and sustainability and this is an area which could be promoted. Already, the trend towards sourcing material locally and catering to local markets is growing as a result of geographical and other restrictions. These can all be turned into greater opportunities for women.
WEP has identified that women lack funds, they know little about effective marketing and they lack social support. What could be promoted to give women entrepreneurs a leg up is to foster public-private partnerships so that women can not only set up their businesses but also learn how to sustain and scale these up. WEP has also launched several new programmes to help in capacity-building, promote knowledge on taxes and accounting and business planning. With more people, hampered by the pandemic going online in both urban and rural India, the government could draw in stakeholders and mentors to hold workshops and promote the concept of entrepreneurship as a way for women to emerge from the pandemic undiminished in both social and economic aspects.
With the focus on boosting domestic capabilities, women should be brought to the centre of a new ecosystem. Recovery will come from many quarters and a large part of this can be from women, provided they have the right enabling tools, motivation and financial and social support.
The views expressed are personal