Policy gaps emerge because there is little gender-related tracking of businesses by the government, say entrepreneurs.

Empowering women entrepreneurs Karnataka has made the right start but theres room for changeWomen Entrepreneurs at ThinkBig 2016: Facebook/WEConnect International in India
news Business Thursday, November 24, 2016 - 17:22

One figure widely touted at the two-day summit for women entrepreneurs, ThinkBig 2016, held last week in Bengaluru, recorded that 51.9% of women entrepreneurs in the country come from just four states – Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. While Karnataka thus occupies pride of place in the country’s entrepreneurship space, women entrepreneurs in the state say the state should go much further in its efforts to encourage women-owned and run businesses. 

Revathy Ashok, CEO and Managing Trustee of the citizen’s advocacy initiative Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPac) says that Karnataka has taken some good first steps in its 2014-19 New Industrial Policy. Concrete initiatives in the policy such as the reservation of land/space for women entrepreneurs in industrial parks are a welcome move. 

At ThinkBig 2016, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced that this policy would be taken forward in the form of business parks exclusively for women entrepreneurs across the state. 

As much as these initiatives are appreciated, she says, businesses run by women still do not receive adequate recognition. “Statistics could be misleading. The real fact is data on women-owned businesses is very scanty. Gender-related tracking of businesses is not something that the government does very well.”

One of the major problems in the government’s policy trajectory, she explains, is that the nature of businesses carried out by women are often invisible to industrial policy. As many women are self-employed or run micro organisations, these women are normally left out of the calculations, “since the government statistics is based on registrations with the Department of Industries,” she says.

Infrastructurally, she adds, improvements in transportation, childcare facilities and public safety are critical for encouraging women entrepreneurs. Echoing the same thought, Aparna Chetan, Founder at HR consultancy Twam Global Advisors Pvt Ltd, says that public safety is the need of the hour. For Aparna, who deals with sexual harassment policy, the government has a much larger role to play in ensuring safety of women in the workplace and in public spaces.

One of the most difficult challenges for women entrepreneurs is funding, with funding often available only where male co-founders exist. In several IT and other companies, women founders often find it difficult to register their enterprises as women-owned businesses, says Kavita Arora, founder and CEO at Bangalore Makespace and Open Source Creativity. “Investors have a very orthodox and patriarchal mindset,” she says.  

Vibha Ghorpade, Founder of YoMama Cafe, observes, “The challenge will be to break out of the traditional mould and expectations of society and find the right balance.”

While, there are market access and financial access schemes for women, these entrepreneurs observe, there is a lack of data with which to prove the efficacy of women-founded enterprises. For this, they feel the government can intervene with the publication of “gender disaggregated business enterprise data”, which can fill the current void in the system.

At the fundamental policy level, they argue, women’s empowerment, which is seen as the agenda of only departments of Women and Child Welfare, needs to be mainstreamed and restructured from a pure welfare orientation to business empowerment approaches, with emphasis on women's workforce participation, Revathy asserts.