“The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command,” so the central government recently said in an official affidavit, effectively attempting to legitimise the inherently sexist cultures that continue to dominate nearly all social structures in the world.
What is more unfortunate is that such patriarchal principles that are rooted in the oppression of women are ingrained in our society to such an extent that most people—both men and women—aren’t even aware that they exist. This is the foundation on which gender bias operates and propagates; and despite some critical developments throughout history, it continues to be the foremost challenge faced by women across all spheres of life.
India is no exception to this and, consequently, it is frequently ranked woefully low on various gender equality surveys and studies. For instance, India secured the 108th position out of 149 countries in the gender gap index by the World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report 2018. In economic opportunity and participation subindex of the same report, India was placed ahead of only seven countries.
These figures paint a very dismal picture of gender equality in the country and serve to accentuate the urgent need for accelerating development on the women empowerment front if India is to establish itself as a progressive nation. As Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO warns, “At the current pace, it will take 217 years to achieve gender equality…and that’s bad news for economy and society.”
The situation, however, is not all dark and grim. On the back of successively well-educated generations and the growing awareness about the need for gender equality, changes are occurring slowly but surely. The Indian startup ecosystem stands as proof of this assertion.
In a traditionally conservative society like India, women with an entrepreneurial vision are often required to overcome challenges on a personal level before they get a chance to face headwinds that are more relevant to professional domains.
It is the hangover of such challenges—that are gradually disappearing—that India is far behind in the entrepreneurial race in terms of the men-to-women ratio as compared to other countries. As per the Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019, India is the 52nd most female-entrepreneur-friendly country among the 57 that were included in the survey.
Further, according to the sixth economic census released by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, women make only around 14% of the business leader class in the country today. This is despite the fact that India is the world’s third-largest entrepreneurial hotspot.
However, thanks to consistent breakthroughs led by women leaders, such challenges are increasingly becoming a relic of the past. The Indian startup ecosystem has emerged as the frontrunner when it comes to being the playfield where women have achieved great success in the past decade and a half.
With them serving as inspiring role models and heralds of change—besides the much-needed intervention of other progressive-minded ecosystem stakeholders—modern female entrepreneurs are now immune to the problems that were typically faced by the previous generations. These include reservations from the family, limitations imposed by societal and religious diktats, etc.
Unequal financial access has historically been a major hurdle faced by female entrepreneurs. One major reason behind this was that women traditionally have not owned property or any high-value objects that they could offer as collateral for accessing formal credit.
Facilitating improved access to finance, as a result, has emerged as a key focus area for both the government as well as private players in recent years. Dedicated organisations such as NITI Aayog’s Women Entrepreneurship Platform are endeavouring to bridge the gender divide in the Indian startup ecosystem.
While government initiatives such as Startup India and Stand Up India are aiming to promote entrepreneurship across the country, there are still miles to go before India can project itself as a champion of gender equality.
Nonetheless, sustained efforts in the right direction are sure to yield positive outcomes in more ways than one.
For instance, International Monetary Fund’s 2018 study titled, “Closing Gender Gaps in India: Does Increasing Women’s Access to Finance Help?,” suggested that encouraging women’s participation in the workforce by focusing on their skill development along with simplifying complex labour market regulations can boost the country’s GDP by 6.8%.
This insight provides another compelling reason for the government to make extra efforts towards bolstering entrepreneurial prospects for women if it is to achieve its target of becoming a $5 trillion economy.
Such developments will need to be accompanied by personal efforts by individuals to achieve our objective of empowering all Indian women. Considering the contemporary trends, we seem to be heading in the right direction. The greatest proof of this was recently given by the country’s apex court when it criticised and rejected the centre’s argument of why women cannot be given higher posts in the Indian army.
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