Women entrepreneurs from South Asia craft policy agenda for gender-friendly entrepreneurial ecosystem

All panelists at South Asian Policy Dialogue on Women's Entrepreneurship, New Delhi. 27 November 2013.   FICCI Photo.

Women entrepreneurs from across South Asia presented a united front at a United Nations meeting last week, when discussing the complex challenges they face in the mostly patriarchal societies of the subregion.

Attending the South Asian Policy Dialogue on Women’s Entrepreneurship held by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in New Delhi on 27-28 November, were over 80 participants including Government officials, policy makers, academics, business leaders, development experts and representatives of women entrepreneurs associations from eight countries in South Asia. Key goals of the meeting included identifying common challenges and exploring ways to harness regional cooperation to overcome difficulties, including lack of access to finance and credit, markets, opportunities, skills and trainings.

“Unless we place the issue of gender equality right, front and center, and heavily invest in women’s empowerment, it will be virtually impossible to meet the goals we have set for ourselves, whether those are millennium or sustainable development goals or those of the 12thfive-year plan in India,” stated Ms. Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, National Mission for the Empowerment of Women, Government of India. “We are now at a critical juncture.”

Acknowledging the socio-cultural barriers and the deeply rooted patriarchal values and mindsets prevailing in South Asia, she underscored the importanceof such forums for convergence of actions and to “lend strength to the collective voice for advocacy and to promote a culture where the entrepreneurship spirit is lit up.”

“ Women’s entrepreneurship is one pathway to more inclusive economic and social development with the potential to empower women to develop economic independence, overcome poverty, contribute to economic growth and benefit communities and societies, through a unique multiplier effect,” stated Dr. Nagesh Kumar, Director, ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office (ESCAP-SSWA) in his opening remarks. “Gender inequality holds back social and economic development and poverty alleviation efforts. If it persists, South Asia will continue to paya high cost in terms of economic, social and personal development of its population.”

While across South Asia only about 10 per cent of entrepreneurs are women, female labour force participation is also low in most countries, ranging from 16 per cent in Afghanistan, to 23 per cent in Pakistan, 29 per cent in India and 35 per cent in Sri Lanka, with rates higher only in the Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Women are over-represented however, in informal, lower paid and precarious employment.

“ When women are empowered, entire families benefit, in terms of nutrition, education and health,” stressed Ms. Anuradha Goel, Vice Chairperson, SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council, in her welcome remarks, citing good practices in India of integrated resources centres for women, which aim to support their empowerment in a holistic fashion. “These benefits have ripple effects.”

Organized by ESCAP-SSWA Office in cooperation with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies Organization, and in partnership with the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council, the Policy Dialogue brought forward concrete proposals and policy recommendations related to regional cooperation for women’s entrepreneurship, capacity building and access to financial resources for women entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs.

Recommendations from the meeting included convening an annual South Asia Women Summit, as well as establishing subregional information and resource centres, marketing centres for women entrepreneurs to display and market their products, along with the convening of annual exhibitions and trade fairs, and the replication of successful trainings to enhance women’s business and financial management skills.

For more information about the Policy Dialogue visit: http://sswa.unescap.org

Ms.Wanphen Sreshthaputra, ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office, New Delhi T: (+91) 11 309 73 706/M: (+91) 96505 10 663.