Atmanirbhar Nari: Inspiring India's Rural Women Entrepreneurs
There are many stories of successful rural women entrepreneurs who have become agents of change both for their families and villages
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Early this year, the story of Navalben Dalsangbhai Chaudhary went viral for good reason. In the year of COVID-19, the 62-year-old woman from a village in Gujarat set a record by selling milk worth INR 1.10 crore and earning a profit of INR 3.50 lakh a month. Navalben was one of several rural women entrepreneurs who made millions by selling milk to a dairy cooperative society.
Not surprisingly, Navalben has become a huge inspiration—a true Atmanirbhar Nari—for rural women who are fighting stereotypes and overcoming immense odds to initiate their entrepreneurial journey.
There are many stories of successful rural women entrepreneurs who have become agents of change both for their families and villages. They are transforming communities by providing skill training and employment to local people, and spreading the spirit of entrepreneurship among other women.
Sadly, however, women entrepreneurs in India are still in a minority. According to the Sixth Economic Census released by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, women constitute only 14 per cent of India's overall entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is because while India has made rapid strides in key social parameters such as education, healthcare and gender equality, it lags behind in economic development and financial inclusion of rural women.
The Atmanirbhar Bharat vision of innovation, self-reliance and entrepreneurship is yet to reach the rural hinterland and create hundreds and thousands of Atmanirbhar naris.
Indeed, when it comes to socioeconomic progress, women in small cities, towns and villages continue to face hurdles and challenges. A large number of rural womenfolk are engaged mostly in household work and unpaid labour. Education and employment opportunities are still inaccessible to them due to social, economic, structural and traditional barriers. Owing to a lack of exposure beyond the walls of their households, rural women do not have the knowledge or the means for self-employment or how to go about financing their entrepreneurial dreams, even if they have any.
The year 2020 has been particularly harsh for rural women. With COVID-19 closing local schools and forcing the migrant workforce to return to their hometowns, women have had to spend more time attending to their children and doing more household chores, thereby relegating to the backburner any thoughts of realising their entrepreneurial dreams.
As our country takes the necessary steps to bounce back from the ravages of the pandemic, we must accord equal priority to alleviate the socioeconomic conditions of rural women and provide them with both jobs and self-employment opportunities. I believe women empowerment is critical to the growth of the rural economy. The economic liberation of rural women will enable them to lead a life of dignity and purpose, ensure equal rights in matters of education, employment and family life, help them make their own choices, and bring about positive social change in small towns and villages.
The problem of lack of equal access of financial knowledge and resources needs to be addressed in a way that is tailored to the reality of women. Several private organizations have launched programmes that empower women and promote digital literacy. Such programmes should expand their reach and meet the rural women where they are in terms of both their location and their social standing. Digital literacy can open the doors to access to financial knowledge that can improve the businesses of rural women and social services that can improve their lives.
I am happy to note that the government of India is promoting the development as well as financial inclusion and entrepreneurship of rural women through various welfare schemes. The government can further incentivize the existing infrastructure of self-help groups that stepped up to the challenges of COVID-19 and provided rural women with the means to earn their own livelihood. Self-help groups have the ability to offer women need-based educational, financial and digital resources that will help them start their own enterprises.
According to a February 2020 report by Bain & Company and Google, women entrepreneurs can alter the employment landscape in India and help create 150-170 million jobs. It also found that women employers tend to hire women in their enterprises, primarily to give them a better life and encourage them to become entrepreneurs in their own right. The uplift of rural women has the potential to transform local communities and the nation as a whole.
I am aware that inspiring rural women to become Atmanirbhar naris is not an easy task in a patriarchal and tradition-driven society. But it can be done with the right kind of support from both government and private organizations. The power of rural women entrepreneurship lies in its capacity to achieve India's avowed goal of a sustainable, equitable and inclusive Atmanirbhar Bharat.