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IE Thinc Gender series: ‘Link skills with opportunity to access markets’

Abhishek Singh: Only 38 per cent of women have bank accounts because traditionally, they have not been given the opportunity to assert themselves as heads of families or claim land rights. Under government schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the subsidy for making toilets is released in the name of the woman member of the family. Women are direct beneficiaries of the PM Mudra scheme and get concessions if a property is registered in their name. Even in the “one nation, one ration card” scheme, women are recognized as heads of families, and in the states that are routing cash transfers, a bank account is mandatory for women. Having said that, the outreach for financial inclusion is being done by banks and Common Service Centers (CSCs), which are banking correspondents. We have a network of almost 400,000 CSCs in the villages, all fully equipped to open bank accounts for women. Theoretically, if women have an Aadhaar card, they can go to a CSC or a bank and open an account. But in practice, we need to do a lot of awareness-building exercises and provide value to what women will do once they get a bank account. Once they get wages, subsidies and cash transfers, there will be greater demand from them to have bank accounts. It would require a combination of legal provisions and outreach.

The Indian Express ieThinc Gender Series

Future-proofing women for tech

Ved Mani Tiwari: When we run a mass-level skilling program, there is a livelihood question. And so there seems to be a tilt towards traditional job roles, which will continue for some time. But can we bring economic empowerment into roles? Should we only be skilling a woman to be a sewing machine operator or provide her relevant skills to become a boutique operator? That is an entrepreneurship question. That is where the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) is taking a lot of initiative. We are working with non-banking financing companies (NBFCs) to provide loans to women without collateral. This will open up financial access to women. As for digital skills, we have designed coding classes for women, where they don’t need an engineering degree or even a science background. It’s a boot camp where girls educated up to Class XII acquire skills and get decent salaried jobs. Then there’s the Skill India Impact bond where the private sector has also invested. We are not only identifying competencies that industry wants but connecting women to these opportunities.

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Is there gender de-equalization?

Ritu Devan: India has 120 million women who are out of the workforce. This is not only because of the pandemic but the result of demonetisation that hit the small scale sector, particularly MSMEs. More than mindset, there are structural constraints towards financial inclusion like the privatization of public banks. RBI data shows that when the number of banks decreases, particularly public sector banks, the financial inclusion of women decreases progressively. But my fieldwork has shown that even account-holding women don’t have enough money to maintain them. So even if it is zero account, there are user fees, charges on withdrawals, ATMs etc.

India has the lowest female workforce participation rate in all of Asia and is one of the three lowest countries in the world on that count. Then there’s the wage gap. The word “development” has disappeared from any kind of political or economic debate as we focus only on growth. If we see the sectoral breakup, the only sector which has grown is the informal one. And agriculture, in spite of the decreased support to it. The private sector has not provided any kind of employment. If you see the first year of the pandemic,100 listed manufacturing companies increased their profits by about 18 per cent. Yet their wage share fell by 19 per cent. This is de-equalisation. Skilling is in the PPP (Papad, Pickle and Petticoat) mode. Then there are the digital divide and the decreased allocations for women in the Budget. Is there a financial articulation of our commitments?

The issue of unpaid work can only be resolved at the macro-economic and national level. Now they say teachers and nurses will have contractual jobs and education and health are sectors where women are employed the most. The ASHA workers, who had started with 20 schemes to look after, now have 72 schemes to oversee but their increments are held back. We keep hearing this very strange term called sakhis. But a sakhi is a worker first.

Bridging gender gaps online

Madhu Singh Sirohi: Based on a Mobile Gender Gap Report by JSME, Indian women are 15 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone and almost 33 per cent less likely to use mobile internet services than men. There is the urban-rural divide, an income-based digital divide and intra-household discrimination. So, we need to provide women much better access to finance. Our GOAL (Going Online for Leadership) programme, with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, is helping tribal girls with entrepreneurial efforts and mentoring them to access digital markets. About 69 per cent of the mentees were able to build businesses online or at least open pages and start interacting with the Internet.

This may not immediately result in a big change but just that confidence of coming online or feeling that leadership potential is a great initiator of this journey.

Besides, we need to drive role parity. The Meta Global State of Small Business Survey found that in some countries, more than one in four female business leaders spend six hours or more on domestic responsibilities everyday.

Changes women can drive in policy

Farzana Haque: There has to be a fundamental shift in thinking that this is not a gender but an economic conversation. How can half the population of the world that holds up the sky not be a part of the economic engine? When I enter the workforce, how can I not be a part of it all my life? The talent pool is gender-agnostic and needs to be so. There is a lot of social pressure on women to carry care-giving responsibilities. That mindset has to change. Everyone has a huge moral responsibility of supporting everyone in their families. I’ve been working for 24 years in the same company and it’s very alarming that in 2022, so many women I have mentored, all highly growth-oriented and achieving individuals, say, “I can’t do this anymore.” In India, the workplace orientation is male, there’s always the supposition of a wife or a mother looking after things. We shouldn’t allow women to fail.

Besides, women themselves have to stay the course. We need to have at least 50 per cent women on all company boards. Someone cannot set the policy for me. I have to set up the policy for myself and my fellow-workers who have to deal with a lot of care-giving. It is time that women in India became the hero of their own lives. We cannot wait for saviors. In TCS, 50% employees are women. Leaders of men and women, we try and proactively see that people don’t quit for whatever reason. So, whatever was needed to retain an employee, we have done it. That way our policies have evolved.

Abhishek Singh: About 20 years ago, when I was working as chief development officer in UP, although women became panchayat pramukhs because of the 33 per cent reservation quota, they became proxies for their men (pramukh patis and pramukh pitas) and wouldn’t attend meetings. We took a tough stand and held orientation programs for the elected women. Six months later, a woman pradhan reported her husband, who had made her sign a blank cheque. A year later, I was surprised that women sarpanches were focussing more schools, water supplies and anganwadi centres. They forced social issues on the agenda.

A woman pradhan once told me “We get only 33% of the reservation but we represent 70% of the population because we represent the children too.” So if you give them the right opportunity and tools, from

pradhan to start-ups, women know what to do. In 2022, we need to give them their rightful place and ensure that we benefit from the insights they bring in. There are reports which show that women-led companies do much better.

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