Economic freedom isn’t just about how much money women earn, it’s also about their freedom to choose what they want to do to earn. It is control over her money and property that completes the complete cycle of women’s economic freedom.
Women’s economic freedom should not be confined within the four walls of family and society; she should have a supportive ecosystem that allows her to dream, plan and execute. Freedom of movement for training and jobs; easy access to capital and inputs for businesses and a level playing field for jobs and businesses; Maternity benefits and support during pregnancy are some of the key areas that can create a supportive work environment for women.
It is very important to have a good balance between all these elements. In the absence of either supporting factor, they can be easily disturbed. Despite enormous efforts by the government and provisions in the budgets, it is the ineffectiveness of the system and the social action of the people that creates roadblocks and imbalances. As we celebrate 75 years of independence next year, ensuring full economic freedom with a better balance in the ecosystem is extremely important to utilizing the full potential of half of India’s population.
Many women embark on unconventional careers. There are some encouraging developments in the country that truly reveal the power of women’s aspirations. Manya Singh, daughter of a rickshaw driver, who won second place in Miss India is one example. Another example of perseverance is Anchal Gangwal, the daughter of a tea seller, becoming an IAF pilot on her sixth attempt. Annies Kanmani Joy from Kerala fought poverty and broke UPSC on her second attempt to become an IAS officer last year.
There are hundreds of examples of the determination of young women to embark on the careers of their choice. However, there are equally disappointing stories where women give up due to structural and social barriers. As a nation, we have a responsibility to create an appropriate ecosystem that acts as a catalyst and facilitator, not a hindrance.
Some of the areas that require immediate attention are as follows. Girls’ access to quality education and their retention in schools and colleges is fundamental. Justice in education can certainly lead to economic freedom. According to a report by the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child in 2018, 39.4% of girls aged 15 to 18 drop out of school and college, 65% of whom go into household chores or engage in begging, etc.
There are economic factors that push them to quit education. Schools and colleges need to be more respectful of women. Although we have built schools and colleges, many of them do not have working women’s toilets. According to a CAG survey, 40% of the toilets built by the public sector under âSwachh Vidyalaya Abhiyanâ are either non-existent or cannot be used. The report further states that the target of providing separate toilets for boys and girls was not met in 27% of schools.
The lack of separate toilets for girls is one of the main obstacles to girls’ education. At puberty, having access to a separate toilet may be the deciding factor for further education. Likewise, they need to have access to a water point and a place to dispose of their towels. Without all of this, girls can miss up to five days of school each month and eventually drop out.
The other area that requires a lot of attention is the safety and security of women. According to the NCRB, India recorded 88 cases of rape every day in 2019. The report further highlights that the vulnerability to rape of a girl or woman has increased by up to 44% over the past decade. .
It is unfortunate that even the funds available to improve women’s safety are not used by state governments. Only around 36% of the âNirbhaya fundâ has been used since its inception in 2013. Due to the increase in sexual harassment on the streets and in the workplace, women’s free mobility is hampered, which impinges on their economical activities.
Even after the serious efforts of the current government under Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojna, women entrepreneurs do not have easy access to institutional finance. Banks are not in favor of providing moderate loans to women entrepreneurs without collateral. In the Women Entrepreneurs Index, India ranked 52nd out of 57 countries surveyed in 2019.
ORF study finds that low rates of female entrepreneurship are part of a wider gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. The report recommends that women entrepreneurs in India need better access to finance and networks. There is a need to create branches or exclusive offices headed by women leaders within banks, to exclusively meet the needs of women entrepreneurs of all sizes.
The digital revolution has provided women with tremendous opportunities at all levels. Digital money transactions and the ability to hold money digitally are extremely powerful for many women who have had to hide money from their husbands. However, some digital platforms and transactions can be risky, especially for illiterate and semi-literate women. In view of this, the government should set up a ânational digital women’s missionâ. This mission can manage digital literacy programs; help entrepreneurs present and sell their products; ensuring a safe digital space for women to name a few functions.
Women’s economic freedom means overcoming all of these challenges. A combination of efforts from government, society and family members could bring dramatic results. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our political freedom, it makes perfect sense that every woman in our country expects and enjoys economic freedom.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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