The contribution of women entrepreneurs in the process of development has for a long time been taken for granted and statistical evidence has globally remained sketchy. Accepting women as change agents in the process of development has also been more experimental and experiential than a tenet that evolved out of statistical evidence.
It was largely the work of Mohammad Yunus that started corroborating the possible sustainable contribution of women entrepreneurs in the process of development. The evolution of a working model for an implementable program of empowering women evolved through his experiments in Bangladesh. In this context, it needs to be mentioned that his was not the only effort to leverage women as the change agents in the process of economic development but his model of empowerment through the microfinance route proved to be the most feasible and adopted globally.
We, in India, also adopted the same route by tuning the model to sync it with the regulatory environment and from my own experience I am convinced that leveraging the women power is a sure-fire way of handling the issues of development. But before elaborating on it let me first quote a few numbers.
The first national level attempt to quantify the number of women entrepreneurs was initiated in the Sixth Economic Census, 2016. The census found that women entrepreneurs accounted for 13.76% of the total number of entrepreneurs in the country. In terms of absolute numbers there were 8.05 million women entrepreneurs in the country and they employed about 13.45 million people. The majority of the businesses are found to have been in the non-farm sector. 79 per cent of them set their own businesses up with their own capital, 3.37 per cent went for assistance from various government schemes, 1.08 per cent borrowed from various financial institutions, donations and grants accounted for 14.65 per cent and last but not the least is the loan from self-help groups accounted for 1 per cent.
In the table of the state wise enterprises, in this perspective, Tamil Nadu leads. The other prominent states are Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra -- the states that are relatively better placed also in terms of women empowerment. This fact is a pointer to the reason why women are not being seen in the country’s enterprise map in as many numbers as they ought to have been.
It’s now clearly accepted in the development literature that women are the pivots that keep the families running even in the face of extreme poverty. This act itself requires a lot of enterprise and channeling that into income generating activities would unleash a development process that is sustainable. An empowered woman is assumed to value the wellbeing of her children more than a man and acts as a change-agent that has intra and inter-generational impact.
The challenge here is that in the lower echelon of the society, women are more male dominated than in the upper ones and therefore lack easy access to education and awareness. There is also the issue of gender equality. If we look at the table of states, we find that Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal are in more than 70 per cent league in women education. And these states are found to be relatively more gender equal. Gender inequality and lack of awareness work in a difficult to break feedback loop.
Now the development paradigm requires sustainability and increasing prosperity across generations that in turn requires increasing level of literacy and gender equality. The statistics from the census clearly points to the degree of employment women entrepreneurs generate and validates the proposition that if we focus on women, the path to prosperity becomes to that extent better paved.
Having worked with the poor for long, as a social entrepreneur, my experience says empower a woman and you will have empowered more than one, irrespective of gender, directly or indirectly. We, therefore, need to focus more intensively on women empowerment to spur the process of development of India by creating more women entrepreneurs for a more evolved India.