‘Nari shakti’ offers G20 nations a women’s empowerment model

As a nation, India has been making waves in the world of women’s rights, especially in recent years. A Centre for Global Development study found that India’s policies have helped empower women and reduce gender inequality. India is fast moving from the paradigm of women’s development to women-led development. Women’s economic empowerment remains at the heart of India’s G20 agenda. It has been well encapsulated in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark at the G20 Summit in Bali that “global development is not possible without women’s participation.”

Empowering women is not just a choice, but a necessity. Because it is about improving outcomes, investing in healthier communities and stronger economies. The principle of gender equality is enshrined within the Constitution of India, and the government has always been committed to promoting gender equality in all sectors and levels of governance. Financing for gender equality is central to mitigating gender inequalities. Gender budgeting is a critical strategy in this endeavour.

Under India’s G20 presidency, we endeavour to showcase India’s initiatives, measures and on-ground action being implemented for women’s economic empowerment by both the government and private sector for replicability by G20 nations.

Over the decades, our government and civic bodies have put a lot of effort into empowering and giving equal opportunities to women in the country. There are various policies that India has made that empower women to improve their livelihoods.

The country’s Nari Shakti Scheme, which funds women entrepreneurs by providing soft loans, the Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WEST) programme to encourage women pursuing education in STEM subjects, and the Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP), a unified access portal that brings together an ecosystem for women, have all contributed significantly towards enabling women in India to realize their entrepreneurial aspirations.

It would be noteworthy to mention that the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) has funded over 107,000 women entrepreneurs between 2016 and 2021. In addition, the government has mandated targeted procurement from women entrepreneurs.

Further, Indian legislation provides for reserving one-third of the seats for women in gram panchayats, panchayat samitis, zilla parishads, municipalities and municipal corporations. About 21 states have mandated 50% representation, which has helped create local-level ecosystems for uplifting women and encouraging women’s participation in economic activities. There are numerous success stories of self-help groups (SHGs) across India that significantly contribute to women’s development.

The position of women in corporate enterprises in the country has evolved tremendously, especially in the services sector. For example, women’s representation in banking and finance services has gone to 31% of the sector’s workforce. The figure is 30% in India’s media sector. In new-age service sectors such as consulting, women account for 45% of the workforce. In the IT services and IT-enabled services sector, women constitute 34-36% of the workforce.

Women entrepreneurs are not far behind. In India, women are estimated to own and run over 12 million micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) units. Women-led enterprises account for more than 20% of proprietary MSME units. Evidence supports the observation that increased internet and mobile penetration has led to a substantial scale-up in female entrepreneurship in the country. With agribusinesses included in the count, India has more women-owned enterprises than many other countries. Women are also dominating grassroots-level enterprises. For example, 80% of Khadi Village Industries’ 490,000 artisans are women. SHGs have become a favoured model to help women at the grassroots level through government programmes and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

There is no easy fix for gender inequality. Still, recent policy initiatives by the Indian government help illuminate key areas where change could be possible. They also serve as an inspiring reminder that through public advocacy and partnership with private corporations both in India and abroad, there are ways for us to continue moving closer to gender equality throughout the developing world.

Moving forward, we need to focus on three critical areas: women in STEM, women-led enterprises and women at the grassroots level. These will have a profound impact on all-around women’s empowerment and help G20 economies reduce gender gaps and inequality, as envisaged under the UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

Under India’s G20 presidency, the G20’s ‘Empower’ effort will be inclusive, decisive, outcome-oriented and action-oriented. Nobody can achieve this more than the women of the world. I am confident that we will be able to take the cause forward and bridge gender gaps through a collaborative framework for women’s empowerment.

Sangita Reddy is Chair, G20 Empower, joint managing director, Apollo Hospitals Enterprises Ltd., and past president of FICCI

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