[Good Governance] Government, private, and social sectors need to work together to increase opportunities for women
Women should be at the heart of India’s post-Covid-19 recovery plans, with sustained financing for women-focused programmes provided through gender budgeting.
In an interview with Social Story, Mitali Nikore, Founder, Nikore Associates, shares insight on how the government should prioritise increasing opportunities for women
Tackling gender-based inequalities
To chart a gender-sensitive socio-economic recovery post-COVID-19, the government, the private sector, media, and the social sector need to work together to improve working conditions, reduce wage gaps, increase opportunities for women across sectors, and change mindsets.
"COVID-19 has become the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to women’s exclusion from the labour force. Any change in gender disparity in the workplace can only happen when behaviour and work culture change," says Mitali.
She says that firms and industry associations of MSMEs can come together to set industry standards around shared parental leave, longer paternity leaves, in-situ childcare facilities, and family leaves or shorter work-days for care responsibilities to both men and women. Sex-disaggregated data can yield insights that will help us track and understand how crises such as COVID-19 affect men and women differently.
"Using this data, we can ensure that policy changes are gender-responsive, data-driven, and evidence-based," she says.
Technology bridging the gap
India suffers from pervasive gender-based digital divides, leading to gender gaps of up to 20 percent in ownership of mobile phones and an even wider gap of 50 percent in internet usage (Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2020).
Limited use of digital platforms by women prevents them from tapping into new opportunities (Bain, 2020).
Mitali Nikore, Founder of Nikore Associates
During consultations, multiple female entrepreneurs cited the inability to pivot to digital marketing either due to lack of mobile ownership or digital literacy/skills.
Female frontline health workers and community workers shared their inability to carry out their routine data reporting as their organisations moved these tasks online without equipping them with devices or training.
"Falling household incomes during the pandemic created barriers to purchasing smartphones, as women across sectors found them costly. Firms and NGOs should come together to invest in bridging the digital gender divide, offering free mobile phones and laptops to girls from disadvantaged communities, and offer long-term training," says Mitali.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the Mann Deshi Foundation introduced low-interest smartphone loans, after consultations with its women partners, enabling over 80 percent of them to buy their own smartphones and transition to digital platforms for business.
State governments can establish gender-based employment targets for urban public works and introduce mandatory or incentives-based gender targets across skill training institutions. Central or state governments can consider introducing wage subsidies to incentivise hiring women in MSMEs.
"The Central government could introduce gender targets for the capital it invests in businesses. Such efforts were observed in COVID-19 policy responses in Colombia, which announced a $4.8 billion credit line for women entrepreneurs, and in Cambodia, where at least 20 percent of SME borrowers in its low-interest enterprise loan programme must be women" says Mitali.
"Finally, akin to the ease of doing business ranking, NITI Aayog can consider developing a Gender Budget performance monitoring initiative, such that ministries and even states can be ranked on the quality, results, and impacts of their gender budgets," she adds.
Role in job creation
MSMEs have proven key to long-term job creation – employment in the sector has risen from 23.9 million in 2000-01 to nearly 111 million in 2019-20, making them the second-largest employer after agriculture. MSMEs are thus essential to raising India’s low female labour force participation rate, a mere 24.5 percent in 2018 (PLFS, 2018-19), with women-owned enterprises having the potential to generate 150-170 million new jobs by 2030 (Bain, 2019).
"Women’s leadership has been associated with positive socio-economic impacts and financial performance. Cross-country studies have linked increases in women’s political leadership to lower levels of corruption. Female politicians also prioritise gender issues such as reproductive rights and sexual health, as well as social protections in areas such as health, education, and welfare, according to the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership," says Mitali.
She points out that female leaders’ response to COVID-19 has proven effective thanks to their collaborative and collective leadership styles, as well as their higher risk aversion when it comes to the loss of human life.
"Running a business also allows women greater independence, financial and otherwise, in their personal lives.," says Mitali.