Women empowerment is necessary for socio-economic development of any country. "You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its women," Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said. According to Brigham (1801-1877), if you educate a man, you educate that man only but if you educate women then you educate a generation.
In fact, women participation and empowerment are fundamental women’s rights to enabling women to have control over their lives and put forth influence in society.
The Indian Constitution provides equal platform for both men and women. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution stated that the State shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection by the laws within the territory of India.
According to the census 2011, 48.5 per cent of the total population in India are women, and India's women today form a significant proportion of the country’s workforce.
In the changing dynamics of society, women empowerment is much talked about and equal opportunities and facilities are available to all. But in reality, all women do not enjoy equal status. Women often face discrimination and gender inequalities, with some women experiencing multiple discrimination and exclusion because of factors such as background and caste.
It may be pointed out that women empowerment largely depends on three factors i.e., economic, social and political identity. Women can be truly empowered only when all these three factors are made positive and compatible to each other. Again, all these three factors are correlated with skill development.
Skill development is the key to improving household productivity, employability and income-earning opportunities for women and for enhancing sustainable rural development and livelihoods.
In view of the importance of skill development for empowering women, the Indian Government and social organisations have taken up various awareness programmes for women owing to which, the situation has improved to a certain extent.
According to the Annual Report for the year ended 2017 which was issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the total number of establishments owned and managed by women entrepreneurs were 8.05 million and 34.3 per cent out of such establishments belong to agricultural activities.
Women entrepreneurship can be further upgraded by developing life skill and promoting their entrepreneurial qualities. After all, skill is the bridge between job and workforce.
However, women often have different training needs than men, as they are more likely to work as contributing family workers, subsistence farmers, home-based micro entrepreneurs or low-paid seasonal laborers, in addition to handling their domestic work and care responsibilities.
It may also be mentioned that the key strategy for women's empowerment and gender equality is to combine policy and institutions at the local level. Increase in their literacy rate is the need of the hour, as women help in better development of children.
Women, if given the opportunities and the right exposure, can excel themselves in any field. Since girls and women represent 50 per cent of the world population, enabling them to participate in their local economics helps broaden the employment pool.
However, the aim of skill development, particularly in case of women, is not only to prepare them for jobs, but also to improve the performance of women workers by enhancing the quality of work in which they are engaged.
There are a few major challenges, which need to be addressed for building a ecosystem conducive for skill development for the women workforce. Since it has become important to ensure women empowerment through skill development in development programmes, there is a need to create an atmosphere conducive for their effective participation.
In developed countries, the working population is decreasing due to ageing factors. However, India’s demographic curve arches towards the young. India’s median age is merely 28 years. Viewed from an economic lens, a younger workforce translates to an advantage, energizing fast-paced development and growth. But even as a section of India’s youth propels the country towards becoming a global power, many are left behind in the process.
And, the participation of women in the country’s workforce has been woefully inadequate, and this needs to change for India to reap its demographic dividend. Capacitating our women is also the key to generational social transformation.
While 37.1 per cent of youth are in the labour force, there is a large difference between the participation rate of men (57.1%) and that of women (12.7%).
India’s jagged labour structure and gender disparity means that three out of every four women do not take part in any recognized economic activity. In such a scenario, when more than half of our youth do not participate in the formal labour force, it is difficult to realise India’s demographic advantage.
One solution to narrow the gender gap in India’s labour force is to focus on the country’s 253 million youth, of which 48.5 per cent are young women. Why is this mandate? A strong women workforce not only means a more powerful economy, but also helps to bring about a lasting social change.
Gender equity and the consequent “opportunity to work” trickles down to eradicating injustice, disparities and deep-seated disadvantages of women in Indian homes. Here lies the root to a better future for all.
Empowerment of women is a critical part of a nation’s development and it is a balanced equation of her education, health, employability and decision-making power. Availability of agency and removal of constraints faced by women is imperative for sustainable and equitable development of both the community as well as the nation.
India needs to adopt a gender lens in education and skilling programmes to overcome the challenges of an underrepresented section of young women in the workforce, as well as support women in securing and retaining jobs.
An increasing number of women hold degrees, but still have no jobs.
Women unemployment rates increased to 65 per cent in 2018 from 46 per cent in 2005. This suggests that there are other issues to be addressed. Literacy does not translate into relevant skills for employment and there exist social, historical and cultural hindrances.
Empowerment of women, which can, to an extent, be addressed by integrating life skills coaching into skilling programmes, and interfacing with their families and communities to change backward mindsets - are critical aspects of helping women realise their potential.
One of the most common obstacles for women to enter employment is the stereotypical gender biases, which put women at a disadvantage compared to men. Covid further exacerbated this situation, having a disproportionate impact on working women.
Innovative thinking and social restructuring needs to be undertaken to make a shift by bringing young women to formal education and training programmes and, thereby, to the workforce.
Increasing women participation in the labour force can boost India’s GDP by 27 per cent (WEF). The use of technology, promotion of incubation space, funding opportunities and setting up of up-skilling centers would nudge women to participate in the ongoing fourth industrial revolution.
However, as data exposes, only 35 per cent of Indian women are active internet users. It should be taken into consideration that skilling programmes today need to enable access and include digital training, aiming to become equalisers bridging the digital divide.
In addition to vocational training, foundational and 21st-century skills are crucial to empower women in building a strong base for employment.
While programmes such as those by NSDC, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY), Sewa Bharat, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign and The/Nudge Centre for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (CSDE) take a holistic approach to skilling and employment, empowerment of women requires more efforts on multiple fronts for true financial and social inclusion.
(Views expressed is personal)