The Indian Constitution which is honored and commemorated each year on Republic Day enshrines gender equality and empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favor of women. India is also a signatory to various international conventions and human rights instruments that commit the country to secure equal rights of women. Moreover, various governments that have come to power in New Delhi since the time of India’s independence have launched plans and programs aimed at women’s advancement in different spheres.
Despite all these initiatives, treaty ratifications and constitutional enshrinement, gender equality remains elusive to Indian women in most spheres of life across the country. Discrimination against girl children begins at birth and then evolves into social stereotyping, harrassment and violence against adolescent girls and women in domestic and societal levels in many parts of the country.
In India, the child gender ratio in the age group of 0 – 6 years, which stood at 927 girls for 1000 boys in the 2001 census dropped to 917 girls for every 1000 boys by the 2011 census. The decline in child gender ratio comes largely due to female foeticide that still prevails in many places, due to the belief among some that a male child is a boon while a girl is a burden
Apparently, lasting solutions to existing gender disparity challenges cannot come from programs and policies alone; without a corresponding change in the minds and attitudes of individuals, both men and women, India will continue to discriminate against half its population.
Notwithstanding the hurdles they face right from the womb, women in India have been able to successfully break through glass ceilings and carve out niches for themselves and leave indelible marks of achievement in various spheres of life.
Some Indian women entrepreneurs and business leaders include the likes of:
Indian scientist and industrialist Swati Piramal who is vice-chairperson of Piramal Enterprises, the business conglomerate involved in healthcare with a focus on public health and innovation; Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, another exemplary woman leader who founded Biocon, the country’s leading biotechnology enterprise, who has contributed immensely to research, innovation and affordable healthcare.
There are also multiple spheres where women have achieved success at the C-suite level. Vinita Bali, former managing director of Britannia Industries who is known to have quadrupled the company’s revenue in a single financial year. She is also a part of the United Nations committee that was set up to lead the ‘Scaling Up Nutrition’ across the globe. Another name which is counted among India’s most inspiring women is Indira Nooyi, who has ensured a steady revenue growth ever since she was appointed the chairperson and CEO, PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage business in the world.
Women also hold the reins of some of the largest Indian banks and financial services companies. The former chairperson of State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, was the first woman to hold this position and was named among the 50 most powerful women in a list compiled by Fortune magazine.
Another first in the banking industry in India was the setting up of the country’s first all-women bank, Bhartiya Mahila Bank in 2013. The bank, which now enjoys a pan-India presence and has over 100 branches across the country, focuses on providing monetary assistance to economically neglected, discriminated, rural and urban women.
But it is not just high-profile professionals who have made a mark for women in India, ‘Auntypreneurs’, or ordinary ladies doing successful odd jobs from the domains of their homes, are the latest to attract attention in the world of business in India. From making and selling eatables, to opening small garment boutiques, auntypreneurs are not shying from making that extra contribution to their economic well-being and that of the country.
It also needs to be acknowledged that various government initiatives are also helping women gain a foothold to raise themselves up economically and bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women in general. Here are some of the government initiatives aimed at empowering girls and women in India:
Mahila E-haat: It is a direct online marketing platform launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to support women entrepreneurs, Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to showcase products made and services rendered by them. Women can register themselves at www.mahilaehaat-rmk.gov.in and leverage technology for showcasing their work to a broader market.
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao: This is a social campaign aimed at eradication of female foeticide and raising awareness of welfare services intended for young Indian girls. To bridge the growing gap between the birth of girl and boy infants, the government of India undertook this initiative and promoted programs such as ‘Save the Girl Child’ and ‘Educate Girl Child’.
One Stop Centre Scheme: Popularly known as ‘Sakhi,’ it was implemented in 2015 with the ‘Nirbhaya’ fund. The One Stop Centres are established at various locations in India for providing shelter, police desk, legal, medical and counselling services to victims of violence under one roof integrated with a 24-hour Helpline.
Working Women Hostels: The objective of the scheme is to promote the availability of safe and conveniently located accommodation for working women, with daycare facility for their children, wherever possible, in urban, semi-urban, or even rural areas where employment opportunities for women exist.
Swadhar Greh: The Swadhar scheme was launched by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for rehabilitation of women in difficult circumstances. The scheme provides shelter, food, clothing and care to marginalized women and girls who are in need. The beneficiaries include widows deserted by their families and relatives, women prisoners released from jail and without family support, women survivors of natural disasters, women victims of terrorist or extremist violence etc.
STEP: The Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP) scheme aims to provide skills that give employability to women and to provide competencies and skill that enable women to become self-employed or entrepreneurs. Sectors include Agriculture, Horticulture, Food Processing, Handlooms, Tailoring, Stitching, Embroidery, Zari etc, Handicrafts, Computer and IT-enabled services along with soft skills and skills for the workplace such as spoken English, Gems & Jewellery, Travel & Tourism, Hospitality, etc.
Nari Shakti Puruskars: The Nari Shakti Puruskars are national level awards recognizing the efforts made by women and institutions in rendering distinguished services for the cause of women, especially vulnerable and marginalized women. The awards are presented by the President of India every year on 8 March, International Women’s Day, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi