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'Women's Employment within an Entrepreneurship Model''

July, 2019

Roundtable with approximately 15 participants from diverse sectors

Venue : India Habitat Centre,  21st January, 2019


Part I: Assess the current policy framework encouraging women’s employment within an entrepreneurship model

Part II: Identify current barriers in women entrepreneurship and ways to overcome them

Concept Note

Women’s Employment within an Entrepreneurship Model


In India, the increasing gender inequality and declining labour force participation rate of women has been the subject of much research and debate in the last few years. What has been lost sight of, however, in some of this discussion, is how we can encourage women to become entrepreneurs by improving asset ownership and enhancing skills. In view of this, the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST) along with the Initiative for What Works to advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), would like to invite policymakers, researchers and academicians to explore the employment opportunities for women entrepreneurs, pros and cons of wage work and entrepreneurship. Through this roundtable, we are looking to identify how improving women’s access to productive and economic resources along with enhanced skills and leveraging ability can help them to become entrepreneurs.


The recently published strategy document by NITI Aayog, ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’, recognises the issues related to gender inequality and highlights low female labour force participation rates in India as one of the key aspects to gender inequality and as an important constraint for sustained economic growth. The document identifies the need to enhance female labour force participation rate to at least 30 percent, up by almost 7 percent, by 2022-23, as a major objective. Such an objective assumes utmost importance in the current context, where most global gender gap indices clearly depict India’s disadvantaged position due to the low participation of women in economic and productive opportunities. According to the recent Global Gender Gap report, 2018 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India ranks 108 out of 149 countries and its rank has not changed since 2017 because of the disadvantage faced on account of the first and third subindexes, i.e. economic participation and opportunity and health and survival. The sub-index on economic opportunity and participation ranks India at 142 and in health and survival, it stands at 147 out of total 149 countries.

The latest Human Development Index rankings for India also portrays similar findings and according to the report India jumped one notch up in its HDI ranking and stands at 131 out of 189 countries in 2018. But it also points to the decline in HDI values by more than a fourth after adjusting for inequality. Further, in India, the loss in HDI due to inequality is higher not only relative to the global average (loss in global HDI due to inequality is 20 per cent) but also compared to the South Asian Countries also (for whom the average loss is 26.1 per cent). A further breakdown of the Gender Inequality Index indicates that over the period, 2005 to 2017 there was a continuous decline in women’s labour force participation rate in India while the other indicators improved.

So, all the global reports point to the low and declining women’s work participation rates in India over the last decade, more so after 2004-05. Various explanations are offered for this from increasing participation in education, especially among younger women, increased mechanisation of agriculture, decline of “distress” work as wages and real incomes of households improve as well as those which clearly highlight the lack of remunerative employment for women. Some studies have pointed to issues of defining and capturing women’s work, drawing attention to underestimation of women’s active engagement in economic activities. Another stream of research has focused on persistent gender-based inequalities historically faced by women in the labour markets, inequalities created as well as aggravated due to unequal access to basic amenities, which in turn act as barriers to access productive opportunities. In the recent past, studies have also stressed on the probable adverse impact of women’s retreat from the workforce on the overall growth of the economy by underutilising the potential of women as active agents of economic growth.

In this context, the strategy document released by the NITI Aayog comes as an important guiding tool in planning for the future. The proposed approach provides a multipronged approach to improve the participation of women in economic activities. These include gender-sensitive thinking for legislation and policies; strengthening legal frameworks; generating gender-disaggregated data; encouraging women’s participation in industry and enterprise; improving asset ownership; creating enabling conditions in agriculture; enhancing skills; ensuring mobility, security and safety. In reference to ‘encouraging women’s participation in industry and enterprise’, three ideas are mentioned: developing sector/ industry specific targets and incentivising implementation; access to credit by women entrepreneurs including women’s self-help groups; incentivising sectors/companies with over 30 percent women through tax benefits.

While the emphasis is clearly on facilitating and encouraging micro, small and medium entrepreneurship models among women based on easy access to skill training and credits at low rates of interest for women, the document also refers to capacity building of women’s SHGs so as to enable a diversified approach to the business models. These strategies need a deeper and sustained understanding and the event will try to capture these.