UN Women is developing a three-year multi-country project funded by EU to increase women’s participation in the labour force. The countries to be covered include India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

The focus of UN Women is to support sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth by promoting economic participation and empowerment of women. It aims to achieve this by enhancing the capacity of private sector companies to implement the Women’s Empowerment Principles—set of seven principles. These principles are women’s participation in leadership roles, inclusion and equal opportunities, women’s health, training, supply chain, engagement and transparency in policies.

In a recent consultation which comprised of stakeholders from various sectors like entrepreneurship, activists and inclusion advocates, it looked into identifying the gaps and opportunities in promoting women’s participation in workplace.

Talking about the project, International Consultant of UN Women, Marianne Olsen said, “Overall, this project came about under the rationale that investment in women’s economic participation and empowerment strengthens equality, poverty eradication and sustainable economic growth.”

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Olsen then asked the stakeholders to start a dialogue on the challenges women face in the workforce and what drives them away from the career pipeline in their 30s.

One of the entrepreneurs, Neena Dasgupta, CEO and Director of Zirca, pointed out, “Women — while entering into entrepreneurship — have to accept that they are working with the male mind. When you are starting up a business, speaking finance with people who have a typical male mindset, what works to your advantage is making the differentiation clear in the beginning itself. The fact that the way women communicate is different from how men communicate all their lives.”

The barrier that I have faced is people not believing that I am a single woman in my 30s, running a business in the logistics industry without a male co-founder. So there is really a stereotypical mindset issue that women in India face where one needs to have the “support” of a man to run a business

Another entrepreneur, Neha Arora, founder of Planet Abled which organizes trips for disabled people, said, “The first barrier I faced was from my parents itself who are themselves disabled people. They had apprehension about whether I will be able to handle several disabled people at once and talk about accessibility when there is no accessibility in any sector in the country. The other barrier that I have faced is people not believing that I am a single woman in my 30s, running a business in the logistics industry without a male co-founder. So there is really a stereotypical mindset issue that women in India face where one needs to have the “support” of a man to run a business.”

Other women spoke up about the diverse issues women face — from rural women entrepreneurs, workers to women working in the urban setup. With rural women entrepreneurs, the issue of social norms is very high like they have to deal with like mobility, people in the family and decision-making etc. In rural settings, entrepreneurship is at a micro level, in self-owned businesses, the cnhallenges lie i asset-ownership, access to market and skills etc. On the other hand, when we look at urban women entrepreneurs, women’s aspirations have changed and the environment has become more conducive.

With more advocates of entrepreneurship and participation of women at workplace joining the conversation, we can see a rise in women’s economic empowerment. And that’s reason enough to cheer.

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