Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship: Education is a key aspect of our collective efforts as a society towards ensuring gender equality. It empowers women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence they need to be equal financial contributors to their families, and to participate holistically in the nations social and economic development.
Womens growing involvement in the economy is often seen through the prism of increased female participation in the workforce. However, the rise of successful women entrepreneurs has also been a highly inspiring trend. A 2019 report by Bain & Company and Google indicated that women-owned enterprises in India grew from 14% to 20% over the preceding decade. This wave of women-led entrepreneurship not only adds tremendous value to the economy as a whole, but also creates generates additional employment opportunities for women. Moreover, increased financial independence among women has larger positive societal impacts, such as reducing gender-based violence, and promoting gender equality in all aspects of life.
As a country, we have set an ambitious target of achieving universal access to quality education, in line with our commitments to the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To this end, there is a pressing need for a gender transformative approach to education, given the widespread disparities that exist due to unequal gender norms.
A strong and systematic approach to ensure gender equity in education provides a powerful impetus for efforts to reduce gender-based violence and discrimination, as well as the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty, that afflict women and girls across the country. This in turn significantly increases womens participation in the workforce, including in leadership roles as well as in the entrepreneurial space.
In this context, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which is being implemented for the 2023-24 academic year, is a heartening development placing a significant emphasis on gender inclusivity as a cross-cutting priority in education. This encompasses aspects such as the development of gender sensitive curricula, teacher training programs that incorporate gender sensitization, and the creation of safe and inclusive learning spaces. Breaking down stereotypes and promoting positive attitudes towards gender equality among boys, as well as addressing cultural factors that contribute to gender inequities, are a key focus of gender transformative education. Greater investment in gender focused educational programs, through increased budgetary allocations, will pay rich dividends for society as a whole.
India has a long history of entrepreneurial pursuits by women in areas such as handicrafts and other traditional cottage industries. However, increased education has empowered women to venture beyond these domains and establish businesses even in the most innovative and rapidly evolving sectors. Any celebration of this phenomenal growth in women-led entrepreneurship however must be tempered by the sobering reality that women continue to face a number of gender-based obstacles in their business journeys. They are in a less favorable position when it comes to gaining access to commercial credit from financial service providers and are subject to conscious and unconscious biases from potential investors, partners and customers/clients. Lack of social and familial support for their entrepreneurial pursuits creates another significant barrier.
Education thus needs to go hand-in-hand with a broader range of efforts to create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs. This can include government policies to support women in business, such as investing in entrepreneurial training programs targeted at women. Special cells in banks and financial service providers to cater to the needs of women entrepreneurs will also go a long way towards helping women build their enterprises. At a more fundamental level however, there is a need to address deep-rooted cultural biases against women in the professional sphere in order for them to thrive in business. Gender sensitization throughout the business ecosystem, and a gender transformative approach to education will play a crucial role in minimizing, and eventually eliminating, these biases.
Every woman has the capacity to achieve excellence in any endeavor, and entrepreneurship is no exception to this. All they require is an opportunity to acquire the right skills and learnings, and a conducive environment in which to operate. Education, coupled with a society-wide push towards greater gender equality, will unlock the full potential of ambitious and talented businesswomen and empower them to take charge of their destinies. This in turn will enable women-led entrepreneurship to truly become a key driver in Indias growth story.