Shantanu Sharma1, Komal Arora2
1Assistant Director, MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child, India
2Head – Sustainability and CSR, H&M Retail India
Women constitute nearly half of India’s population, i.e., in the population of 1.37 billion, there are about 0.65 billion women. However, less than two-thirds of women are literate, and only 26.4% of women enroll for higher education. Further, less than a quarter (23.6%) of women aged 15 and above participated in the labor force in 2018. Women made up the majority of the low-paid workers and are concentrated in the most precarious jobs. It is crucial to understand and act upon these worrisome statistics, especially for a growing economy like India, where women have an equal share in the demographic dividend. Our immediate actions to push for this cause would not only help us achieve the sustainable development goal of gender equality but would also give returns in the long-term. Increasing women’s labor force participation by 10 percentage points could add USD770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.
Women’s advancement, development and empowerment should be a part of core strategies for increasing women’s contribution to the developing economy. Empowerment of women may help us achieve broader development goals such as economic growth, poverty reduction, social welfare and education for all. Women empowerment focuses on increasing women’s ability to gain access and control over resources. The four pillars of women empowerment, defined broadly, are economic, social, personal, and political. Social empowerment helps women gain control over their lives – confidence, self-esteem, and decision-making. Similarly, economic empowerment unfolds women’s access to secured and sustainable livelihoods. Economic empowerment is made meaningful when she has autonomy and self-belief to make changes in her life, including having the agency and power to influence the decisions. An empowered woman should enjoy equal rights as men and live a free life without violence and one that ensures confidence, mobility, security and agency. From a broader perspective, the expansion of choice and strengthening of voice can be perceived as measures of women empowerment achieved through the interplay of power dynamics. The figure below (Figure 1) shows the determining factors in the evolving process towards the transformation of a woman into a skilled and empowered labor.
Figure 1. Determining factors in the evolving process towards transformation of a woman into a skilled and empowered labor
Besides basic education, the attainment of professional skills is a necessity for securing employment and continue progressing professionally. Further, helping women to acquire the right skills and opportunities may help businesses and national markets to grow. School dropout girls look for jobs and join the labor force directly without attending any prior skill development programs. They may acquire informal training on the job or join vocational courses specific to their skill demands afterwards. This shift from school to employment brings new challenges for skill development among youth. Currently, the skill demand far exceeds the annual skilling capacity in India. Besides, the huge skill gap creates challenges for the youth to secure employment. This mismatch between required skills, academic training and employment is complex and needs investment in each of these domains. The national policy for skill development and entrepreneurship 2015 aims to meet the challenges of skilling at scale with speed, standards, and sustainability. There is a need to increase the participation of women in the country’s labor force, which is directly linked to the economic growth of the country. Some of the approaches to increase women’s participation include skilling women in non-traditional roles and increasing gender sensitivity in the workplace.
Access to resources (loans or savings), internet, and job opportunities contribute significantly to assuring that women acquire a livelihood in the market. Besides, gender norms and institutions such as mobility of women outside the household, early marriage and childbirth, repeated pregnancies, and taboos are equally challenging to address in improving women’s access to livelihood. Despite acquiring a job, women struggle to survive in the market and face the brunt of the gender pay gap, sexual harassment at the workplace, and unequal opportunities for leadership positions. The gender pay gap, defined as women paid less than men for the same amount of work, has been estimated to be 24.8% in India.
Entrepreneurship provides a source of income and livelihood for the entrepreneurs, create job opportunities for others, develop new products or services and contribute to the economy of the nation. It is imperative that the jobs expect employees to be well equipped with life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making before entering the workforce. Three kinds of skills have been endorsed to play a potential role, namely, cognitive skills (reading, writing, and numeracy), employability skills (teamwork, computing, and communication skills) and vocational skills (trade or occupation-related). According to government reports, women constitute only 14% of the total entrepreneurship in India. Although, in spite of the increased demand and support from the government for start-ups and innovations, India could not make it to the top 50 countries in the global innovation index, but what is encouraging is that more than half of the women (58%) entrepreneurs started their business between the ages of 20 and 30. Increasing education, rapid urbanization and global competitiveness demand higher-order competencies and employability skills that can use new technologies and deliver complex tasks effectively. The informal sector has a huge capacity to absorb most of the new labor force in India. Hence, we should recognize the skills needed to raise the productivity and income of labor in the informal sector.
Acquiring livelihood does not alone empower a woman, the meaningful empowerment comes with the agency and power to control resources. Women should have decision-making capacity, control over financial resources, and freedom to express their desires and live in an environment free from violence, negotiations, and compromise. Financial literacy is fundamental to women’s ability to secure her savings, invest money to let it grow, and make informed choices for herself and her family. Critical consciousness helps women gain knowledge about their rights and grow a sense of self-awareness, confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.
To summarize, there is an emerging need for increasing women’s participation in building the economy of the country. Considering the interlinked plexus of factors that determine the economic, social, and personal empowerment of women in society, any intervention or program should cover them holistically. The initiatives by the government to support women’s development in this direction are creating a favorable environment for the not-for-profit or for-profit institutions to make the change sustainable.
Considering the need based on the situation discussed above, H&M Retail India and MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child (MAMTA) entered into a partnership for implementing a Sustainable Livelihood Program in Sultanpuri, West Delhi. The project aims to generate employment opportunities for women and girls belonging to poor households and moving highly vulnerable populations toward economic stability. Apart from facilitating the enrollment of women and girls in various vocational courses, the project strives to impart life skills education, financial literacy, and conduct preplacement workshops. The project targets to transform the lives of 3000 women and girls (18-35 years) by 2020. A team of seven women (catalysts of change) will drive the mission of transformation in the next 12 months. Our initiative is a contribution to the government of India's flagship program, Prime Minister Skill Development program.
The project is a move towards achieving gender equality and sustainable development goal 5. Gender equality is a fundamental human right and is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Working with women in urban slums calls attention to the challenges to a sustainable future. This endeavor aims to ensure that women from all sections of society have an equal contribution in the development of the nation. Different components of the intervention, including improved financial literacy and life skills, and promoting entrepreneurship is a holistic approach to empowerment of women. In the process to unleashing women’s potential in leadership and livelihood opportunities, we provide outcome-oriented support, mentorship and networking platforms. It is a small step in the ambit of ‘Naari tu Narayani’, an initiative by the government of India for socio-economic transformation of women.
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