“No struggle can ever succeed without women’s participation side by side with men. There are two powers in the world. One is the sword; one is the pen. There is a third power, stronger than both, that of women”. – Malala Yousafzai
Several women’s movements have happened in the last half-century, thereby making major gains in highlighting women empowerment in India as an issue of prime importance while formulating policies. These movements on Women’s Empowerment have resulted in an increase in the education domain, wherein women are standing at par with men; and in the health sector where investments in reproductive health issues have resulted in better maternal health, longer lives, and lower population growth. In many countries, women have entered the labour force in large numbers and have gained economically. In India, however, women have been left behind, with low labour force participation rates and highly unequal incomes.
The problem arises when economic policies are drafted, women are rarely considered. Whereas in reality, women have always been part of the economy in every country, be it through wage work, self-employment, unpaid work in family enterprises or farms, or the unpaid work of care, which helps the economy to grow. However, because of the fact that their work is not fully measured, their contribution to the economy tends to be undervalued, and even where women are counted, they end up being clustered at the base of the economic pyramid with low incomes and access to the most menial kind of work.
Given this situation, the next phase of the women’s movement and policy formulation should focus on women’s economic empowerment.
Importance of Economic Empowerment
Economic Empowerment is imperative, especially for the downtrodden and women, in fact, it is one of the best ways for people to realize their potential and exercise their rights. It allows people to explore beyond their daily and general survival needs thereby making them more independent in terms of their way of living.
When the true potential is realized, assets and capabilities are improved, and the freedom of choice and action follows naturally. Economic Empowerment targets these aspects which help in liberating people from their vulnerable states, improving their standard of living, and further contributing to the overall economic development of the nation.
Women’s Role in Economic Development in India
Rural women are said to be the torchbearers for social, economic, and environmental transformation for the ‘New India’. India is an Agrarian Economy, 80% of the rural women are employed in the agriculture sector. Simply empowering and mainstreaming the rural women workforce in the agriculture sector can bring a paradigm shift toward the economic growth of the nation. It would enhance food and nutrition security and alleviate poverty and hunger, which would further be a win-win strategy for achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Growth also comes from changing the regressive social structure of a nation and challenging prejudices. In that aspect, the contribution of women to India’s economic growth has played a major role in changing the outlook of the country. Some of the renowned foundations engaged in ground-breaking work are women-led. Many Indian women have represented the nation on a global platform and their innovations have further helped in growth. Research suggests that ventures started by women end up being more sustainable. The growth trajectory of India shows that there has been a significant rise in the number of women entrepreneurs and if the figures keep going up, their contribution to the economy would be noteworthy.
However, there exist large gender gaps in economic opportunities and outcomes in almost all countries. Women earn less, have fewer assets, and bear the burden of unpaid and care work, they are largely concentrated in vulnerable and low-paying activities. Gaps in economic opportunities and outcomes are one such universal problem that led to the establishment of a High-Level Panel (HLP) by the UN Secretary-General in 2015 so as to tackle the biggest challenges acting as roadblocks in women’s economic development.
Experts came together from different parts of the world to review gender gaps in economic empowerment and come up with solutions to realize women’s full and equal participation in the economy
The High-Level Panel (HLP) submitted its final report to the Secretary-General in 2017 which recognized four key areas of work that women engage in:
Moreover, the report identified seven drivers for women’s economic empowerment and laid out concrete actions to accelerate progress toward women’s full and equal economic participation, these include:
Women's Economic Empowerment Statistics in India
Over the past few decades, working women professionals have worked with great care and perseverance, with their talent, dedication, and enthusiasm. They have contributed extensively towards India’s economic growth and prosperity. Currently, there are 432 million women of working age in India, out of which 343 million comes under the employed segment in the unorganized sector.
Research indicates, the present contribution of women to the GDP remains at 18%, however, simply by offering equal opportunities to women, India could add US$ 770 billion to its GDP by 2025.
India is the 3rd largest ecosystem in terms of startups in the world and also the 3rd largest in the Unicorn community. Yet only 10% of them have women founders.
The need of the hour is to mobilize more support – mentally and financially – for women entrepreneurs and help them kickstart their journey. Fortunately, the last few years have seen a paradigm shift in the entire process of women’s entrepreneurship, with the female force becoming business leaders.
However, due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, India’s gender gap has expanded by 4.3%, owing to the dipping economic opportunities for Indian women, further indicating a decline in their participation in the formal workforce. The aftershocks of the pandemic crisis are still being felt in the informal labour market.
The government of India has taken various steps to ensure social, educational, economic, and political empowerment through various schematic interventions. Several government Initiatives such as Samagra Shiksha, Scheme of National Overseas Scholarship, Babu Jagjivan Ram Chhatrawas Yojna, Swacch Vidyalaya Mission, etc. have made sure that schools are girl-friendly, especially for vulnerable sections of society and have adequate facilities in place in order to fulfill their requirements.
The National Education Policy (NEP) introduced in 2020 prioritizes gender equity and envisions equitable access to quality education for all students, with a special emphasis on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs).
Further, to increase the employment rate amongst women, the government is coming up with training facilities through a network of Women’s Industrial Training Institutes, National Vocational Training Institutes, and Regional Vocational Training Institutes and has also introduced Skill India Mission in order to ensure economic independence of women through skill development and vocational training.
The National Skill Development Policy focuses on inclusive skill development, with the aim of enhancing women’s participation for better economic productivity. Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Kendra focuses on creating additional infrastructure both for training and apprenticeship for women; flexible training delivery mechanisms to accommodate women, ensuring a safe and gender-sensitive training environment, employment of women trainers, equity in remuneration, and a safe and sound complaint redressal mechanism.
Moreover, to encourage the employment of women, plenty of legal provisions have been incorporated in the recently enacted Labour Codes viz. the Code on Wages, 2019, the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 and the Code on Social Security, 2020 so as to create a congenial work environment for women workers.
Furthermore, as per the mandates of The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA) at least one-third of the jobs generated under the scheme should be given to women. Adding to this, the government has also made enabling provisions for allowing women’s participation in non-conventional sectors such as fighter pilots in Indian Air Force, Commandos, Central Police Forces, admissions in Sainik Schools, etc.
The Road Ahead
The way to enhance women’s economic empowerment is not just by increasing female employment opportunities, but also getting a subsequent decrease in the double shift burden that women have to face. There is a strong need for the adoption of the 3Rs approach, which involves Recognizing, Reducing, and Redistributing the unpaid care work done by women in all areas of policymaking.
This can be done by facilitating women’s work as an investment in public-sector care infrastructure. Although the public investment of just 2% of India’s GDP in the care economy segment, could not only generate 11 million jobs, but it could also result in a significant increase in women’s economic and social welfare as they put a step forward in the formal work sector.
One of the ways to encourage women’s entrepreneurship in India is pivotal to have women-centric and women-friendly policies, tax incentives, and significant interventions in place so as to provide easier access to banks and other financial institutions.
The National Committee on Women Empowerment set up by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) works with industry to strengthen women’s role and participation in the economic sphere and community affairs, focusing on gender equality, prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace, and women empowerment at the community level. CII has also instituted an annual CII Woman Exemplar Award for women who have worked towards development initiatives in the fields of education and literacy, health, and micro enterprises, which can act as a great motivating factor for the existing as well as the aspiring female entrepreneurs.
Women’s empowerment paired with gender equality is the key to fundamental human rights and is inevitable in our journey towards a more peaceful, progressive, and sustainable world.