Tell us a little about your startup Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurs.
CWE is a platform for women in India and South Asia who want to start a business or scale up an existing one. We offer both online and offline access to finance, markets, technology, trade networks and business skills. CWE was launched in 2016, and we already have 2,000-plus women across 49 cities in India in our network.
The Women 20 group, formed in Turkey during the 2015 G20, promotes gender-inclusive economic growth. As India’s W20 representative, what are your expectations from the 2017 G20?
Speaking for women in India and other developing countries especially, but also relevant for women across the globe, I see the need for including women in the mainstream economy. Women make up 50 per cent of the world’s population, and they already contribute 20 per cent to the global GDP, according to the World Bank. With customised support for women in education and skill development, full legal rights (155 countries of the world have at least one law that discriminates against women), childcare and eldercare support and access to finance, we will see women contributing substantially to the community as well as to local and global economies. Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, says that India’s GDP will leapfrog an additional 4.2 per cent in the next five years if all working-age women were contributing to their full potential as producers, employees and employers. That means India’s GDP will more than double if we empower women!
Which concern should the W20 tackle as a priority with regard to women entrepreneurship?.
Skill development, and very importantly, access to finance are crucial in enabling women to become entrepreneurs and scale their businesses for global markets. The Women Entrepreneur Fund for incubating and accelerating women-owned and -led businesses—which has been endorsed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel—will create many successful entrepreneurial role models in both developed and developing countries. I urge the G20 leaders to create this fund and work with corporate and civil society organisations to reach and equip women entrepreneurs.
In India women’s work participation in urban areas is half of what it is in rural areas. Why is this so?
There are two points to note here. Firstly, in rural areas women often work from home and in low-skilled and lowest-paying jobs. We need to take a number of steps to help them move up the value chain. Secondly, in urban areas women often have to drop out of the workplace to look after children and/or elders at home. There is a need to provide good and affordable childcare and eldercare services. Additionally, safety is a concern which sometimes prevents girls and women from working outside the home.
The G20 aims to address the problem of women not being able to access information technology. How can we close the digital gender divide?
There is a felt need for public-private-community partnerships to provide infrastructure for broadband and high-speed internet access. Already 79 per cent of India’s population has access to mobile telecom and that may be the way to go for digital access and services.
Access to digital skills and good quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for girls, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, will certainly help close the digital gender divide dramatically.
What was the outcome of the W20 summit which recently took place in Berlin?
Measures to implement and track women’s empowerment and mainstreaming were documented. Our recommendations were presented to Chancellor Merkel, who will place them before the G20 leaders. They have already been well received by the G20 Sherpas, delegates at the B20 and were well reported in the media.