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  Opinion   Columnists  12 Mar 2024  Chandrajit Banerjee | Women-driven development to be a catalyst for India’s progress

Chandrajit Banerjee | Women-driven development to be a catalyst for India’s progress

The writer is the director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Published : Mar 12, 2024, 10:49 pm IST
Updated : Mar 12, 2024, 10:49 pm IST

India’s leadership on women’s empowerment is now gaining global recognition

A file photo of girl students. (Image: PTI)
 A file photo of girl students. (Image: PTI)

Across the world, the conversations around women's empowerment and the increasingly significant role of women in socio-economic progress are gaining traction. In India, there has been a paradigm shift with the government’s strong focus on women-led development, going beyond women’s development, as a key pillar of India’s progress.

This is apparent in many recent policies which have led to the growing presence of women in the economy. The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which will give women a greater voice in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies is a transformative step. This comes after a host of schemes and initiatives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and PM Mudra Yojana, all targeted at women-led development.

Such initiatives have yielded impressive outcomes on the ground and demonstrate India’s leadership in gender empowerment. The female labour force participation rate has grown by four percentage points and now stands at 37 per cent. Over 100 million self-help group women are accessing easy loans through the Mudra Yojana. Financial inclusion among women has improved greatly and women have accessed loans to the tune of Rs 7.68 trillion in the past 10 years. Under the National Digital Literacy Mission and Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (Disha), around 5.25 million persons are targeted for digital literacy with a focus on women, as the beneficiaries include the Asha and Anganwadi workers.

India’s leadership on women’s empowerment is now gaining global recognition as seen earlier this year with the launch of the Alliance for Global Good -- Gender Equity and Equality at the World Economic Forums’ annual meeting. Guided by women and child development minister Smriti Irani, the alliance found supporters in industry and brought within its fold the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Anchored by CII’s Centre for Women Leadership, the alliance is envisioned as a global collective of governments, industry and development organisations led by India. Sharing of best practices, developing new solutions and targeted investments in women-centric initiatives that this alliance plans to incubate and catalyse will accelerate progress towards gender equity and equality.

The alliance’s focus on investing in women ties in well with the theme of International Women’s Day 2024: “Invest in women: accelerate progress”.
I believe that Indian industry complements the efforts of the Indian government and has played a significant role in empowering women through various initiatives and policies. Today, there are several key enablers that corporates have initiated and can continue to intensify to catalyse women-led development.
First, many companies have initiated gender-responsive policies in the workplace. Targeted recruitment, conducting training on unconscious gender bias, sensitisation to address societal barriers and greater support to women through various stages of their personal and professional lives would enable women to stay and grow within the workplace. Enhanced reporting on disclosures and formulating a Diversity Index will further help create targeted and evidence-based interventions related to work flexibility, childcare and leave.

Two, many companies are focusing on skilling women for trades or work traditionally considered to be male preserves, such as manufacturing jobs. Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of women employed in manufacturing and this can be further expanded with targeted skill programmes. In this, the government has offered inspiration by encouraging women to join the armed forces and police services.

Three, with greater technical advancement and penetration of technology, women now have access to location-agnostic learning and working opportunities. The advent of Generative AI adds a whole new dimension. Digital and financial literacy programmes can help women take greater control over their education and employability.
Four, the proper valuation of care work and domestic work undertaken by women will result in many skilled and talented women being able to realise their full economic potential. Under CII’s Care Economy Strategy, the government and industry together can help women to build their skills in this fast-emerging sector and provide job offerings, including in locations convenient to them.

Five, while corporates continue to foster more and better openings for women, women themselves are taking the lead in community empowerment. CII’s Woman Exemplar Award, launched in 2005, identifies and recognises grassroots women leaders who have made a difference in their communities in education, healthcare and entrepreneurship. Today, this programme has evolved to create a large cohort of grassroots women leaders who are being mentored and coached to amplify their work and social impact, reaching out to more than a million women and children from the most vulnerable sections of society.

The Indian Women Network is another initiative to enable professional women and women entrepreneurs to come together to support each other and achieve their full economic potential. With the guidance of Ms Smriti Irani, CII launched the Centre for Women Leadership, which is a platform to inform policy, promote best practices, build the capacity of women, and develop alliances to promote the inclusion of women in the economy. Through programmes informed by research, the centre works with industry to promote practices like gender responsive procurement, targeted programmes and initiatives to drive inclusion and enable the measurement and progress of inclusion of women within industry. With the women, the initiatives aim at building capacity and giving access to information and resources that enable women not just to enter, but to stay and lead within the economy.

Indian industry is committed to playing a critical role in pushing forward the development agenda and fostering women-led development. Let us now all commit to unlocking the potential of women.

(The writer is director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry)

Tags: women empowerment, indian economy, women reservation, beti bachao beti padhao, pradhan mantri ujjwala yojana and pm mudra yojana