By Rameesh Kailasam & Madhabi Sarkar
There are close to 440 million working-age women in India as per various estimates. Women make up 48% of the Indian population and need to benefit equally from the country’s economic growth. Women are the largest reservoir of untapped potential in India that can usher the country to its next big economic success. In the past few years, the number of working women has risen drastically; thanks to various proactive and commendable measures launched in promoting girl child- and women-focused schemes by the prime minister and the women and child development ministry. It is but natural that the government has recognised this and made realising the potential of nari shakti a focus. Various efforts promoting inclusion of women in schemes like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, promoting women’s participation in manufacturing, services, agriculture and allied sectors, and measures taken to encourage women-led start-ups are steps in the right direction.
A report released last year by McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as a nation, if we work to open up new avenues for women, besides ensuring equal opportunities, there is a huge potential to add up to $770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. India has a massive economic potential that can be tapped through its 670 million women. Their contribution to India’s GDP is currently quite low, at 18%; therefore, there is a significant room for further growth.
India has witnessed a gradual growth of women’s impact on the economy over the past few decades, more so in the past few years. Over these decades, women have worked steadily, their talent, dedication and enthusiasm forming the bedrock of economic growth and prosperity in India. They have ventured into the market, started their own businesses, and worked tirelessly to prove that they are as adept and successful in the entrepreneurial space.
India is fast emerging as one of the largest, most active ecosystem for start-ups. Currently, 10% of start-ups are led by women founders. The need of the hour is to mobilise more support from a policy standpoint through a raft of policy interventions. The last few years have witnessed a sea-change in the business leadership landscape, with more and more women becoming business leaders and founding/co-founding enterprises and organisations, including start-ups. Government pushes in the form of Start-up India at the central level and various state government incentives for women-run start-ups are admirable steps forward; however, these need to evolve and adapt from time to time to meet the changing on-ground requirements as women are now foraying into sectors like strategic, and even defence, manufacturing.
It is a well-known fact that there are limited jobs as compared to the rising working-age population, and it is critical to create more work opportunities than jobs. While the relevant change in the mind-gradually takes hold over time, women today from the different cultural and economic strata of society enjoy varying degrees of freedom that may or may not allow them to step out for work. Hence, the target of work-creation through gig economy opportunities should strive to target and encompass women wherever they are currently, and help them become part of India’s economic journey.
A large chunk of India’s population is still in the economically vulnerable segment, with a large part of this comprising women. This vulnerable segment may have varying levels of education and access to smartphones/internet, and may face daunting language barriers. Even the educated in towns and villages face challenges in finding work-opportunities. There is a need to build awareness amongst women about ‘work from home’ and gig opportunities available to them through various government mediums, which are present at the district, even village, level. Initiatives such as The CSC Academy and CSC network under MeITY is fast emerging to be one such leverage point that is already working with start-ups like Jeevitam, which is aiming to provide work opportunities through gig, flexible and freelancing opportunities to women across India through their “social impact on wheels” initiative.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people lost their jobs, and women constituded a a significant portion of this pool. Education, marital status, childbirth, care and safety, distance to work, access to public transport, and domestic responsibilities are some of the attributes resulting in lower women engagements. India needs to provide systemic support and flexibility in their work schedule to female workers, along with a change in the mind-set towards women becoming part of the workforce. Systemic support that could nourish such goals inlcudes skills training for women, especially in the semi-urban and rural pockest of the country, upon successful completion of education. Digital and financial literacy training, on top, could help them avail of work opportunities wherever they are located.
The ministry of labour had come up with the Code on Social Security, which, if implemented in collaboration with industry after mutual agreement on certain clauses that needed clarity, would be a game-changer for those engaged in gig work, including women who are getting into the gig economy bandwagon by becoming online tutors, trainers, sellers, travel agents, freelancers, cloud kitchen operators, entrepreneurs, etc.
When we talk about the gig and unorganised sectors, women participation under various government projects has been commendable, for example, MGNREGA, where women constitute about 50% of the workforce. Women’s self-help groups (SHGs) have thrived during the pandemic times. SHGs are now one of the largest institutional platforms of the poor, with over 70 million women as members of over 6.9 million SHGs in India. Further, women dominate to a significant proportion of all healthcare workers.
The gig economy is a convenient and flexible income-generating model that can financially empower the female labour force. Digital platforms that allow WFH options also ensures that more women can be brought into the labour force. Increasing access to the internet for women can simultaneously boost their possibilities of engaging into the gig economy.
CSC’s Jeevitam, the government’s job-fair model, etc, are beginning to show results and the same can be replicated across every district wherein women candidates can be mapped to nearest possible locations for paid work. It is time for leveraging Indian women’s power for the next round of economic growth.
The authors are respectively, CEO, and senior manager (public policy), Indiatech.org