Dr. Shweta Singh
Founder & CEO Ennoble IP and Chairperson Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Foundation
History is evidence of the fact that women have not had the same stature as men in society. Women have, in fact, been subjected to a lot of hardships solely on the basis of their sex. They have been deprived of their rights and stripped off of their basic needs. Women have been objectified as mere means of giving birth to offsprings, their bodies have been violated and they have been forced to turn to ashes while they were still alive, just because their husbands were dead, the husbands who were deemed to be the owners of the property that their wives were. But women rose from those ashes, they stood up and fought for their rights, they refrained from giving in to an intrinsically and inherently patriarchal society. They carved out their way out of androcentrism, they broke free of the shackles of male supremacy. Women, they arose, more powerful than ever and outshone men in numerous walks of life.
There is no doubt that the society is still far from achieving the perfect balance and equality between men and women, but the journey that women have traveled so far towards the attainment of impartiality among sexes is notable nonetheless. Women have managed to remove the smoke, emanating through their kitchens, from their eyes, and see clearly. They have manifested their musings and weaved them into their realities.
Women have not only gotten out from their houses to earn and enfranchise themselves from conformist gender roles but have also built completely new paths to traverse upon and lead others on it. Women have become leaders. They have displayed unparalleled entrepreneurial skills in order to bring to reality, the expanse of their aspirations, brick by brick.
India has seen an upsurge in the number of women entrepreneurs in the last decade. These women have built their businesses from scratch and have enabled these ventures to attain well-deserved acclamation among the people.
The entrepreneurial landscape of the country continued to achieve unprecedented heights before the world was engulfed in the recent spate of COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the society which is entrenched with biases and prejudices, the pandemic infesting it did not discriminate among the population on the basis of sex and affected men as well as women. Various establishments had to be temporarily shut down, bringing everyday life to a halt which in turn adversely affected the supply and demand of various products and services offered by the business establishments within the country making it onerous for many of them to remain afloat.
The lock-down implemented by the government in order to mitigate the impact of the novel Corona Virus affected the businesses of various women entrepreneurs. For instance, Pooja Dhingra, patissier and owner of Le 15, the renowned café in Mumbai’s Colaba, had to shut down the café due to the inability to sustain the costs of maintaining the same while there were no incoming streams of revenue to cover the costs of high rates of rent and the salaries of the employees. Pooja wrote an article for Condé Nast Traveller about her decision to shutter the café. While recalling the days when her business, after months of investment of sweat and money, had started making profits, Pooja said, “I started seeing results on a long shelf-life product that I’d been working on for a year. Things were good. I had found my feet. I started writing a growth business plan. What’s the goal, you’d ask? I would smile and say ‘World Domination”. Pooja, in the article, said that “the costs of running a restaurant in Mumbai are exceptionally high: real estate prices are unreasonable, and yet there’s never an empty space to lease. Our cafe is situated in the heart of the busiest area of the city. A large number of our customers are tourists. We could say goodbye to that part of our business for the foreseeable future. Social distancing would necessitate reducing our covers. With the onset of the monsoons, walk-ins would also drop dramatically. Running the cafe didn’t make commercial sense. Everywhere I looked, I got the same message: conserve your cash, increase your runway. I had to make a decision quickly or I would be in a graver situation. We just didn’t have the room to bleed more money.”
Just like Pooja’s, many businesses have had to face a setback because of the impediments brought forth by the disease. The government, in order to attenuate the effect of the economic losses incurred by the citizens of the country, recently announced a Rupees 20 Lakh Crore relief package aiming to revive the country’s economy.
Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India, announced various benefits to be granted to Micro, small and medium enterprises in the first tranche of the AtmaNirbhar Package. The reliefs include collateral free automatic loans to MSMEs, 100% credit guarantee cover to banks, NBFCs up to Rupees 3 lakh crore, Subordinate debt to stressed MSMEs up to Rupees 20,000 crore and equity infusion for MSMEs: Rupees 50,000 crore.
These reliefs are sure to aid small businesses in order for them to be able to get back on their feet and will help the women running small or medium enterprises but they do not contain any provisions specifically for women entrepreneurs. Keeping in mind the struggles, especially faced by women while starting their business, the package could have acted as a tourniquet to the women who displayed the courage to foray into a male dominant territory.
India had recently started to see an efflux in the number of women entrepreneurs but the temporary economic shut down has acted as a stumbling block to these women which could have been smoothed out by the timely efforts and aids by the government. It shall be hoped that this hindrance is only a temporary blockade and that women will continue to show the indefatigable strength that they have shown in the past and build a bridge to the other side in order to get out of this adversity with flying colors and become the leaders that they deserve to be.