- 06 Apr 2023
India is the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world and is a budding platform for small businesses. But the one thing that India’s entrepreneurship lacks is gender balance. Women comprise a mere 13.76% of all entrepreneurs in India, which abandons a lot of possibilities. While there is considerable women's entrepreneurial representation in urban settings, women from rural communities are yet to catch up.
The first question that arises is: why promote rural women-led businesses? The rural areas of India have much more to offer than the world has seen. The traditional handlooms, agriculture, and handicrafts are yet unexplored and have unimaginable capabilities. Businesses created by and for rural women give them the confidence and voice to make something of their own, which eventually leads to a truly progressive society and nation.
Women who come from rural Indian backgrounds face countless challenges. Following are a few of them:
A massive number of rural women are often thwarted from receiving basic education. They are unaware of the simple fact that they can monetize their skills and make a living for themselves. In rural India, where most families follow a patriarchal setting, women are deprived of their rights and are unaware of the governmental policies in place for them. Lack of education and proper information suffocates their confidence to move away from the societal anomalies.
Structural gender inequality forces women of the family to never indulge in anything apart from taking care of the house and the family. Women don’t think about the possibility beyond men being the sole bread earners of the family, and even if they do, they do not receive the support for it. They are left out of the major family decisions, and most of these decisions are made for them due to their lack of information.
Entrepreneurship requires major skills relating to production, marketing, distribution, and finance. Due to their lack of exposure and control over their decisions, most rural women are clueless and afraid to start. With a widened scope of banks, rural women now have better access to their finances but are yet to catch up with the highly digitised world.
If you’re wondering how you can help create opportunities for women, you’re in the right space!
One of the big issues that scares rural women is the fear of the unknown and having to deal with it alone. Community support can help unburden these women and give them a safe space to work with each other and form a union. Women coming from similar regions can combine their efforts to start a regional business like handicrafts, handlooms, etc. This not only empowers a collective of women but also gives them the strength that they need.
The primary thing that rural women need is a skill and some entrepreneurial guidance so they can monetize their skills. Basic training programs that teach easy-to-understand and executable skills to rural women can work wonders for a woman’s life. The best way to approach training programs is to have a trainee-centred approach rather than a trainer-centred one. A little push is all they need to take that first step because female entrepreneurship in India is tethered to untapped potential waiting to be discovered.
When ‘Make in India’ was launched back in 2014, it promoted manufacturing, buying, and supporting businesses in India. The only way that women from rural communities can sustain and grow their businesses is when the citizens start opting for local brands instead of foreign ones. Supporting small businesses like these is a vital step towards advancing India’s production, exports, and eventually its economy.
Running a business requires funding and capital to start and continue. This is where the people of the country can contribute. Numerous NGOs today can help you fund initiatives that support the independence and employment of rural women. If we are in a position of privilege, elevating our community should be something that we consider doing.
Here are two examples of Indian female entrepreneurs who set an example for millions of women:
We cannot talk about women-led businesses without mentioning one of the biggest women-pioneered initiatives in the country. Lijjat Papad was a household initiative that was started in 1959 with a seed capital of ₹80. The seven women who started the business had no clue about entrepreneurship, but they wanted to make a living out of their culinary skills.
Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad’s morals were written in stone: the business is primarily to employ women across the country with community support. What made the brand different was that no employee was truly an employee. Instead, they were partners. Lijjat Papad offered and still offers each woman working with them a share of the company, so every single person was working for a company they owned a part of. Today, Lijjat Papad employs over 40,000 women who still roll out a burst of flavours in 25 countries with the same enthusiasm as they did decades ago.
The recipient of the Nari Shakti Puraskar, Ruma Devi, is an entrepreneur hailing from a small village called Rawatsar in Rajasthan’s Barmer district. She grew up in a village surrounded by the scorching Thar desert, with little to no access to basic amenities. She lost her mother at the age of 4 and only had her grandmother around, who gave her the knowledge of embroidery and weaving duvets at home. Being married at 17 and losing her firstborn shattered her. In search of happiness, her grandmother’s skills came to her rescue.
Starting from making bags to making complex handcrafted clothes that received the highest regard in exhibitions, she became the torchbearer for hundreds of families in her village. Ruma Devi now employs more than 25,000 female artisans from the country and is now an internationally acclaimed brand. The women who work there aren’t educated, but they can now educate their children simply through their art. Ruma Devi has reached heights that she never dreamed of, but her passion and motive stay connected to her humble beginnings, and that inspires us all.
What good is technology if it isn’t used for upliftment? Due to an increase in affordable smartphones and internet connectivity, more than half of the population that has access to the internet resides in the rural areas of the country. This only takes away a part of the problem because most of these users are unaware of the correct usage of the web. The Internet is the biggest market in the world, and rural women being equipped with its potential can totally change their businesses.
So, with the support of governmental and non-governmental bodies, rural women need to be trained for efficient usage so they can bridge the gap between the two worlds. Giving for Good is using its platform to empower hundreds of women coming from marginalized communities to become future entrepreneurs like the Lijjat Papad sisters and Ruma Devi. People coming from privilege must leverage technology to support women through online donation platforms and be a part of the change. After all, it is the collective effort that counts! To help, you can make a donation here today!
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Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Bhairavi Hiremath
With words as her medium and a diary full of scribbled ideas, she is usually found looking for ways to use her writing to impact for Good. If she’s out of sight, she’s probably either reading, petting cats, jamming to retro Bollywood, or of course, writing!