Economic Growth through Women Empowerment

“Every woman counts, be it at home, in civil society or at the government level. Unleashing the potential of a woman and existence in gender gaps inequality have left a large scope for improvement in empowering women across the globe”, said Ms. Michele Weldon, Strategic Partnerships Coordinator, UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka at the panel discussion on `The Emergence of Women Entrepreneurship in Asia’ held on Day 3 of the 3rd Edition of the Global Economic Summit 2014, organized jointly by MVIRDC World Trade Centre and the All India Association of Industries. The session was addressed by women from different walks of life, from various regions.

While providing a statistical overview on women, Ms. Weldon said two-thirds women were subject to negligence on socio- economic parameters. Twenty-six percent of Indian women were unemployed while 65 per cent were illiterate. The newest of the UN Agencies UN Women (constituted in 2010) was mandated to looking at women-related issues with the help of the governments across the world, civil society partners while shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Elaborating on the global response to the various initiatives undertaken by UN Women Ms. Weldon said that many governments had come forth to support the cause and a variety of intergovernmental processes to shape global standards on all forms of discrimination was in process. The Post 2015 Agenda and sustainable development goals (SDGs) focused largely on various indicators to women issues while the Beijing Platform for Action provided a defining policy framework for achieving gender equality and women’s rights. A pro-female and a pro-family approach were to be taken. Issues on women at work had to be treated equally under the law. Women continue to immensely contribute to society and owing to this, five areas have been demarcated namely, Economic empowerment, Violence against women, leadership role, gender budgeting and peace and security issues which have to be suitably addressed.

Elaborating on the economic performance of women across Asia, trade has been largely limited, if expanded women’s businesses would grow, to which a study is underway. Women faced difficulties in accessing markets. Forty per cent working women were graduates and 8 per cent were CEOs of companies. A lot of the women formed the SME sector and there was lot being done towards exchange of best practices and learning.

Ms. Nilankanthi Ford, Director, Europe and Asia, KFV Consulting and ex-Chairperson of the London Women in Business Network, Ireland, a panelist, while sharing her views said that women were different to men. She stressed that people in general should be who they are. Women together with men could bring about great ideas and actions. Women needed to recognize their strengths to be able to successfully contribute to society.

 Ms. Seyedeh Fatemeh Moghimi, Member of the Board of representatives and Adviser to the President on Business Women and Entrepreneurs Affairs; Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (TCCIMA), Iran, said that women as entrepreneurs contributed to the welfare of the family, employment, business and societal issues. They have accepted challenging roles guided by their strong desire to achieve. Status of women entrepreneurship has risen over time, moving from their role in family life to contributions made to society and in turn to countries.  Therefore, when understanding women entrepreneurship, domestic, regional and global aspects had to be taken into consideration. She concluded with the idea that `everyone should understand that women can provide’.

Ms Amrit Shahzad, Founder and CEO, Zeest Inc., USA, in her remarks said that although women were in powerful positions  they still lacked in many ways. To understand this better a Global Gender Cap index was created by the World Economic Forum which rated Scandinavian countries at the highest levels while it was Philippines that made it to the 5th position. In the Corporate Gender Gap Index based on a survey of 600 companies, positioned US at 52 per cent while India was at 23 per cent. She said that although women were part of the workforce they suffered from barriers to leadership. Mylan a CEO was the only woman to make it to the Fortune 1000, while from the Indian side it was Ms. Swati Piramal, Piramal Group and Ms. Kiran Mazumdar, Biocon Limited.

Some of the efforts made towards improving women entrepreneurship are provisions for mentorship, lack of information to women, education, provision of incubators and accelerators, partnership with venture capital firms and private and government collaborative efforts for market access.

Ms. Akila Agrawal, Partner M/s Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh  A. Shroff & Co., India spoke on women and the law. India is a legislative and gender neutral country, however inequality of gender was prevalent in practice which required correction in its laws and policies through reservation and quotas. Enumerating on the roadblocks for women entrepreneurship she said that low literacy rates, job market discrepancies, sector prohibitions, non conducive laws pertaining to safety and security issues, inequality in remuneration, insufficient facilities at mid- senior management levels and lack of capital are reason for the setbacks.

Ms. Shabnam Gupta, Principal Designer, the Orange Lane, India spoke on one’s own perception. She advocated that a woman’s greatest strength is a woman. She said that while women help at every level, she should not lose sight of herself. It is important to empower ourselves, to mentor the future while teaching for tomorrow. She ended on a positive note saying `behind every successful woman is a woman’.

Ms. Karon Shaiva, Chief Impact Officer & Managing Director, Idobro Impact Solutions, India, while agreeing to Ms. Ford said that women are different. In order that women hone their entrepreneurial skills they needed access to markets, build on their capacities, create linkages and deliver solutions.

Ms. Nilima Patil, Chairperson, Mahila Samiti – Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (MACCIA), Nashik Branch, India said that women empowerment can be achieved through institutional support. In the State of Maharashtra there were 946 women entrepreneurs while across India it was 940. Two major reasons barring entrepreneurship was lack of information and technology. To address this issue, an entrepreneur development programme for the food processing industry was initiated which later created the scope for formation of clusters. A detail study report was made to promote exports in the food sector.

Ms. Khatera Yusufi, Afghan-German journalist and Ambassador of the Organization of War Victims and disabled people in Afghanistan advocated education for women to being the key to better life, better society and better country. Providing resources, economic independence and making women socially active coupled by family support was important to promoting women entrepreneurship.

Addressing the challenges faced by Afghan women she said that post war, the country was in the process of rebuilding and lacked in skill development and capabilities for its women. Traditionally, women were artisans but were gradually moving into newer areas of international trade, construction and business consultancy. She advocated economic, psycho-socio empowerment for the Afghan women. Cultural, financial, hardships in selling and lack of institutional support are some of the areas that required to be address if women in Afghanistan are to be truly empowered, she added.