Union minister for Commerce and Industries, Nirmala Sitharaman said that women are no longer proxies and are taking their own decisions, either in politics or entrepreneurship. “Women are no longer shadows of men. In business, women do cost-benefit analysis in most ruthless analyses. Therefore it is only beneficial to enhance their role in business and entrepreneurships by using digital media,” she said, while speaking at the International Women’s Day organised by Moneylife Foundation in Mumbai. The programme was sponsored by Titan.
The Minister also felicitated two extraordinary activists, Dr Maria Barretto, CEO of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Society (PDMDS) and Shaheen Mistri, founder of Teach for India and Akanksha Foundation.
Talking about enhanced role of women in changing times, Ms Sitharaman, said, “Earlier women were assumed to be proxies for either their male relatives. However, this is rapidly changing. Especially, during my frequent visits to some Southern states, I often found women asking questions on development. In fact, in local panchayats and gramsabhas these women representatives have brought development agenda at the forefront.”
Describing how women in rural areas are now coming forward to adopt technology to reach to the outer world, Ms Sitharaman, said, “When I proposed to build a community hall for women at these places, one woman asked me whether it will have computers as well. The woman told me that she wanted her daughter to help her through the computers and internet and not her son, who was working in the city. This, however, is just one of the several examples, how women from rural areas are keen on adopting technology to grow their business”.
Last year, the minister adopted two villages Pedamainavani Lanka and Thruputalla villages in West Godavari district under the Prime Minister’s ‘Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’.
Referring to a National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report, Ms Sitharaman said, “Over half the country’s workforce is self-employed. Out of this, about 8.9% are rural women, while the percentage of self-employed women in urban area is just over 1%. In short, about 10% women are self-employed. But, there are no facilities, like funding, obtaining registrations and other necessary permissions from government bodies. Nothing is available for them and even they do not get easy help.”
“Women are already making a difference. However, they are not cared. In this situation, institutional mechanism, funding, like Mudra Bank, need to not only help but also help them understand the nitty-gritty of the trade, business,” Ms Sitharaman added.
“Digital India, the one step shop for government services, needs to reach these women entrepreneurs in rural areas,” the minister said, adding, “Women are not shy of new technologies. They want to be on the Internet. They want the world to see their business. So it is up to us, how we can provide them facilities like computers and internet so that the products from these women entrepreneurs reach to better markets.”
Digital India, an initiative of the Narendra Modi government promises to transform India into a connected knowledge economy offering world-class services at the click of a mouse and will be implemented in a phased manner.
Sucheta Dalal, Founder-Trustee of Moneylife Foundation pointed out the dangers about people losing their lifetime earnings as well as also faith in financial services, if somebody misuses their debit card or online accounts. With the rapid spread of mobile internet and RuPay debit cards through PM Jan Dhan Yojana, these dangers are now lurking towards a large population, she added.
Replying to the question, Ms Sitharaman, said, “I agree that one wrong thing or failure can finish an individual financially. It is risky as a Ponzi scam, where there is no out. Therefore, we need to have some safeguards in place; the system needs to have an element of trust. We may think to have an insurance cover for such mishaps.”
Shaheen Mistry founded the first Akanksha Center in 1989, enrolling fifteen children and persuading college friends to volunteer. It eventually evolved into the Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit education project that provides after-school tutoring to disadvantaged children at more than 60 centres, formal education at six schools in Mumbai and Pune for 4,500 students.
Teach for India was launched in 2008. With sheer conviction and enthusiasm, Shaheen has motivated hundreds of college students and young professionals to join the Teach for India movement and devote two years of their lives to end educational inequity in India. Transforming the US concept to a system as complex and diverse as India was, as one can imagine, a huge challenge. Over the years, Teach for India has recruited 1,700 enthusiasts for its two-year teaching Fellowship.
Dr Maria Barretto has devoted her life to helping people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. She empowers them to live a good quality life and ensures that the dreaded, debilitating Parkinson’s disease does not get people to the point that they give up their normal life. At PDMDS, she developed a ‘community based multidisciplinary model of care’ to reach out to patients of Parkinson’s who have limited or no access to medical care.
At the end, Nirali Kartik enthralled the audience with her beautiful voice. She sang on a theme, “Mrig Nayanee- A Woman’s Eyes and Expression”. She started the session with a bandish in Raag Jog, followed by song expressing various moods of Radha, Kaali through Tarana, a Holi song, and a Sufi song before ending it on a high note with popular songs like Chhap Tilak and Duma Dum Mast Kalandar.