The thought leadership of the second day of The Greater 50 Conclave and Exhibition focused on the increasing need to create role models. “You cannot be what you cannot see,” remarked Dr Sangita Reddy to summarise a session on cooperation for women empowerment that was moderated by her. Growth leaders stressed the need to nurture role models for narrowing the existing gender gap. Digitalisation emerged as the most highlighted tool for women empowerment across various sessions. Interestingly, panellists reiterated the reality that access to technology is not the only factor widening the digital literacy gap in India. Hierarchies, stereotypes, gender roles and power relations play a crucial role as well. From rural internet penetration to patriarchy, several factors are widening the literacy wide gap that needs our immediate attention.
Enabling Empowerment through Equality
Ambassador Lakshmi Puri started the day with her powerful statement: "Successful women's entrepreneurship is the new normal, not the exception." A statement every aspiring entrepreneur must take note of. But to create these successful entrepreneurs, an inclusive environment is imperative.
“When we talk about empowerment of women, we talk about creating an enabling environment where women can exercise their rights, where they have the freedom to choose, where they are not made to feel guilty for dreaming, for saying no and for being feminine. Where women can unabashedly flaunt their achievements, their strengths, their skills, and demand to be recognised,”
Digitalisation to accelerate empowerment
The session on digitalisation witnessed significant conversations on the challenges and opportunities for gender-inclusive digital empowerment. Highlighting a few not-so-surprising data, speakers shed light on the unfair gap between digital access and utility for women. Indian women are 15 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33 per cent less likely to use mobile internet services than men. This digital divide has manifested itself as a triple disadvantage – urban and rural division caused by broadband penetration, income-based division, and internal household division where women are prevented from access.
Ms Tanya Chaitanya added humour to the conversation with her remark, “The pandemic showed us that digital has seeped into our lives so seamlessly that we would go without water for a day but survival without WiFi is difficult.” This was definitely a reality check for most who attended the event. The need for awareness, education, accessibility and constant skilling and re-skilling were the key takeaways.
Mental wellbeing is crucial for development
Any conversation around the development of women is incomplete without focusing on mental health and wellbeing. From a safe and inclusive workplace to flexibility in terms of working hours, several factors must be considered for her psychological growth. “What we often see for women is getting into workplaces is a challenge. Staying at work is then seen as overcoming a series of systemic hurdles constantly, which add to pre-existing stressors,” mentioned Dr Amrita Joshi Clinical Psychologist, Professor TISS & Founder of Sukoon.
The second reality check for those in attendance was a statement by Ruby Hembron: “Entrepreneurship for an Adivasi like me grows out of ingenuity and human struggle. Resourcefulness is what keeps small organisations like mine in circulation.
The solution is to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem where women support women.
The need for a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem
It is important to enable a suitable, holistic, and supportive ecosystem for the women-led enterprises to flourish successfully through coordinated efforts by all stakeholders. “Women need operational networks, personal networks, social and business networks within entrepreneurial ecosystems,” remarked Uma Reddy Co-Chair FICCI Karnataka State Council & Managing Director, Hitech Magnetics & Electronics Private Limited. The lack of financial education and discipline was highlighted by most of the speakers.
Empowerment through cooperation
It is easier and faster to facilitate empowerment when women support women and India’s growth story requires examples and collaborations from countries that have successfully narrowed the gender gap. "Self-empowerment begins with us believing as women that we can lead the pack and be the trend-setters and trailblazers," commented Lebogang Zulu, CEO AV Group of Com5panies, Chairperson BRICS Women’s Business Alliance South Africa. The moderator of the session, Dr Reddy summarised the session with her remark, “Deepening trade amongst BRICS nations is a priority. Through this, we can create opportunities for women's employment and development.”
With digitalisation taking the lead on the second day of the conclave, several one-on-one sessions and keynote conversations focused on inspiring positive change through personal examples.
The day ended on a special note by HRH Princess Noor of Jordan: “Empowering women is a necessity. It's about improving outcomes, investing in healthier communities, stronger economies & improving the quality of life for people globally.”