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Financial Catalyst for Women: Fast pacing the journey to fiscal fitness

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People say that behind every successful man is a woman and this popular saying sums up the way our society has considered women so far. Believed to be the driving force of society, women play a vital role in running the world, but they have always been blurred in the background. Many would argue that this was a primitive case and the situation of women in society has now improved. Others may opine that this thought is more of an urban legend and could be true for only some rural backward class villages of the third world. However, this is not the case and we need to address the elephant in the room. Regardless of the conscious efforts put by several organizations and governments across the globe, women are still deprived in more ways than the ones acknowledged and addressed.

Considering the situation in India, it is prominent that most women over the decades have been through several levels of discrimination beginning from the right to birth to the right to education, financial independence, and other things. The government has made constant efforts to improve the situation and has been successful with initiatives like banning gender determination procedures, providing free medical facilities for infant girls, Right to Education Act, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, etc. These initiatives have resulted in a boost in the female population in India and improved the women literacy rate in India from 53. 7% in 2001 to 64.6% in 2011 for 7+ age group and from 47.8 % in 2001 to 59.3% in 2011 for 15+ age group. Another initiative worth a mention here is the white revolution of Amul. Its contribution towards empowering women has been recognized worldwide as it has been the epitome of transformation through cooperatives. While it is evident that the government initiatives have been fruitful and more women in India are receiving education, we also need to replicate such success stories in other states and sectors in India. According to the numbers released by the World Bank, only 26% of women are involved in the workforce in 2017, a sharp drop from 35% recorded in 2005.

According to a report by the United Nations, women perform 75% of the world s unpaid domestic work, which if valued could account for 13% or more of the world s GDP. The same report mentions that Indian women perform the highest proportion of unpaid domestic work at 90% which if accounted, could represent more than 50% of the national GDP. This is essential because in India women are by large expected to be homemakers and more often than not lack societal and familial support to take up formal jobs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also raised concerns on this falling number, reporting that India could be 27% richer if more women started working professionally. It is quite evident that India can cross the milestone of the double-digit GDP sooner if the mindset, which happens to be a major obstacle, changes. Owing to patriarchal traditions that still prevail, there is a lack of awareness among women which hinders their growth both financially and socially. This highlights that more efforts need to be put to bridge the gender gap and make India a women-friendly workplace.

Our Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, once said, Women are enterprising; they don’t need to be taught, but they need to be given opportunities to perform . Financially empowered women are a bulwark against societal evils. Furthermore, it is commendable that over the years the government has well-implemented policies and programs like Sukanya Samriddhi Account, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Mahila Shakti Kendra (MSK), Maternity Benefit Program, Mahila E-Haat, Swadhar Greh (rehabilitation for women in need), etc. to facilitate better working opportunities and conditions for women. These initiatives have been commendable but it may still take some time to prove their impact, leading us to believe that there is a dire need to reforms and reservations to make women financially independent by driving them into the workforce. This needs to start right from the government, as it is ironic that there are only 12% of women seated in both upper and lower houses of the parliament. Moreover, the women s reservation bill has been waiting for the Lok Sabha s green signal for years now. In this light, it is not surprising that there are only 23 women CEOs across the globe leading 500 Fortune companies, while amongst the top 100 companies of Indian origin, there are merely four women CEOs.

Women take up the entrepreneurial route mostly due to necessity and have emerged successful contributing a lot towards social welfare as well. As per the sixth economic census, India has only 13.76% of women entrepreneurs. However, recent schemes like Udyogini Scheme, Annapurna Scheme, Dena Shakti Scheme, Cent Kalyani Scheme, Mahila Udyam Nidhi Scheme, Mudra Yojna scheme for women, Suchana Microloan, etc. by the government, banks and micro-financing companies come as promising prospects. These schemes provide exclusive loans from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 50 lakh at low-interest rates for women aspiring to start their own business in different fields and facilitate support for women involved in agricultural work, retail trading, food catering, beauty salons, and many other small ventures. Such encouragement for budding women entrepreneurs is the exact catalyst that is suited for the situation at hand. NITI Aayog, the premier policy Think Tank of the Government of India, launched the Women Entrepreneurship Platform last year to boost the women entrepreneurship ecosystem in India.

These initiatives are indeed what is needed to make women financially independent. However, the obstacle in this journey is the absence of knowledge of these schemes and the process of availing them. If explored deeply, the superficial challenges boil down to the actual challenges of lack of women empowerment, societal discrimination and lack of awareness. While some gradual streaks of changes are noted, this growth can further be catapulted by supporting women education, empowerment, and employment. According to a report published by the World Bank, Indian companies are biased towards men over women, both concerning hiring and salaries. Overcoming such corporate inhibitions too would help fast pace the process of overcoming the gender gap.

(By Rajiv Ranjan Singh, CEO-Stock Broking, Karvy)