Geetika Kohli Amla
An identity is an intricate design – a grid. From getting acclimatised to the four walls of the house she lives in, a woman with the passage of time wakes to the maze outside. Her education propels her and she walks out of her four-walled existence, believing her time has come. But as she crosses the threshold and gives up her cocoon, she exposes herself to the callous reality of the countless grids I mentioned before. It is not different from witnessing infinite reflections of your image in a beauty parlour where two large mirrors face each other. Your own eyes parallel to the unforgiving mirror of the society, you echo the image down to smallest detail.
What most working women fail to reflect upon, thanks to the truckload of domestic responsibilities and the weight of the labels they wear on their sleeves, is the fact that getting an education and pursuing a job is not enough. While it is true that it widens the grid that traps a woman and allows her breathing space, it does very little to topple the system. There is seldom an answer to the new challenges that crop up. For example, when a woman goes to work, she may face a new threat in the form of harassment at the hands of a staff member not gender-sensitized. She may herself be incapable of perceiving an advance as being predatory.
Or there may not be a POSH committee at her organisation. Or it may function perfunctorily. Had we got effective systems in place, would cancer cells grow anew?
Talk of the present – what are most ‘women empowerment programmes’ aiming to achieve? Who are the women they are catering to? Can any frame, no matter how many happy women it depicts, capture the efficiency of such initiatives?
When we talk of women empowerment initiatives in India, we are still at a point where the thought revolves around women’s education, sanitary needs, protection against violence, doling out freebies and often awards (to opportunists in many cases). It is rural women who are the primary subjects of several projects. Urban professionals, given their ‘privileges’ fail to make it to the ‘concerns’ list. Though evolved discourse pertaining to the economic empowerment of women exists but things like financial inclusion via opening of a bank account remain the centrepiece. There are a few initiatives that have at their heart the shattering of gender constructs, the revamping of the system by having women ‘own’ the economic resources.
Entrepreneurship development instituteshave been doing a praiseworthy job in this regard. Of late, they have been promoting the idea of women entrepreneurship highlighting schemes that already exist and that many aspiring entrepreneurs are not aware about.
Entrepreneurship is a mind-set any individual may cultivate. To refer to it as a masculine or a feminine trait is absurd. Also, one’s masculinity or femininity, unless extreme, is not a threat to this mind-set. On the contrary, a woman may leverage her feminine attributes to drive maximum success in her business.
Women are known to be collaborative. They are efficient communicators and empathetic. Armed with such qualities, they can work miracles as social entrepreneurs. Many diversity-hires have been seen to impact the organisations they work in with the sensitivity, attention to detail and the collaborative economies they bring in. If women acknowledge this as a way of doing business, they can get started quickly and have a strong foundation for their future empire. Modern business has evolved to prioritise these skills over all others.
The key reason why most women shy away from entrepreneurship unlike their male counterparts is a lack of capital. While our Indian constitution guarantees equal property and inheritance rights to women, in practice, most women are subject to a perpetual homelessness, furnishing duties as daughters and daughters – in – law but never claiming the rights to the houses they build with their hands. Because women inheriting father’s properties is still a taboo in our country, most of them start their careers, penniless. Many do not even have bank accounts before they get into jobs.
It is such factors that debilitate a woman, discourage her to pursue business. Women, though seen to be frugal and efficient savers, are risk-averse and investment-phobic. Traditionally, they invest in assets like gold that do not appreciate manifold. Most Indian women live without ever acquiring insurance. Their resources do not grow at par with men’s. As such, it is not merely starting without an inheritance but a lack of financial literacy that exacerbates their condition, keeping women economically weak and dependent.
What women need to do to counter this is to cash in on their confidence and be exposed to the government and non – government schemes promoting women’s economic welfare by giving them trainings, seed capital, easy and no – interest loan facilities, technical assistance and the like.
They need to opt for non – traditional fields and shed their dependency on secure income sources like salary paying jobs. Women need to reflect on the collaborative economies they can bring in and work on the sustenance of the same. It is high time they eyed their femininity as a core operational advantage.
Moreover, women must be open to training and building – up more professional women, so that not only they, but our entire economy can tap into the new, skilled human resource potential. When more women become owners of economic resources, the way to a balanced world will be paved. India will be propelled towards being a developed economy, as our age – old, culturally – rich society evolves into new qualitative dimensions where goddesses lead, fearlessly.
Courage isallowing yourself to grow larger than an identity thrust upon you. Women have been valiantly shattering rigid ceilings and skies, and reworking the shards into monuments for the coming generations. The young must nowprogress on the path, lighting candles wherever they tread.