Tata Trusts and Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) recently embarked on a collaborative journey in knowledge creation and capacity building for social and economic empowerment in India. The 18-month research project titled, ‘Livelihood Creation in India through Social Entrepreneurship and Skill Development’ (beginning October 2015) was the first step in this direction. The project focused on three key areas including rural livelihood creation (emphasis on the handicrafts and handloom sectors); educational, social and economic empowerment of women; and science and technology-based interventions for poverty alleviation.
There is consensus that India’s future growth depends in part on addressing the severe current deficit in gender equality. Much work has been done to address this discrimination through legislation, social policy, grass roots organizing, educational targeting, and public sector training. Despite the imperative of higher education as a preparation for engagement in a skill based global economy, only 6% of rural girls make it to college. 46%of Indian girls are still married before they are 18, and 16% experience their first pregnancy before they are 15 years old. At the same time, sexual violence against women continues to be reported at high levels—every third Indian woman between the ages of 15 and 49 years has experienced sexual or physical violence during her lifetime. Women are severely underrepresented in leadership positions in industry, academia, and government.
One component of the Livelihood Creation Project—Building Pathways with Women Project (Pathways)—aimed to make an impact on the highlighted issues through three sustained interventions at the educational, social and economic levels. The culminating step in this project focused on economic empowerment of women in India. India’s impressive growth, improved physical infrastructure, strong manufacturing capabilities, and an evolving higher education system, have positioned it as an emerging world leader. With the second-largest population in the world, India generates 14% of the global talent pool; however, India’s women are forced to navigate a familiar—and daunting—set of obstacles and challenges in their search for economic empowerment and professional success. Although the knowledge economy in India has created enormous opportunities, a large proportion of Indian women are still prevented from reaching their full potential in the workforce. The interventions in this area focused on the legal and social reforms for strengthening women’s economic self-sufficiency, legal and financial incentives for generating better opportunities for women, exploring organizational platforms for women’s economic empowerment in India, studying examples of institutions that have achieved considerable success in the economic empowerment of women, and suggesting ways in which they can be scaled up.
In a recent feature on NDTV, The Startup Wednesday show explores how women with informal employment often don’t reap the benefits of progressive equality legislation. Eight out of ten working women in urban India are informally employed. The women who work in garment factories, construction sites, as rag-pickers, tailors, and domestic helpers have no social security, no formal places of work and no legal contracts to protect their rights. This feature presents the challenges of home-based working women and startups that are employing and empowering women in India. Watch as experts, entrepreneurs and the working women themselves talk about the issues they face.