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With Only 20% Women-Owned Enterprises, India Is In Need Of Women-Only Incubators

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The world of entrepreneurship puts forth many challenges in front of any individual in today’s competitive environment. Seed funding and cash flow management are the major hurdles that most entrepreneurs face. However, roadblocks for women entrepreneurs begin with discriminating socio-cultural beliefs and norms in India.

Women In Workforce

Despite some significant strides over the decades, India’s growth story has ignored women. According to a report by Bain & Company, India has 13.5-15.7 million women-owned enterprises, representing only 20% of all enterprises, most of which are single-person enterprises. The World Bank estimates that 75% of working-age women (35% of India’s working-age population) currently does not have paid work and only 35% of women actively use their bank accounts, further limiting their opportunities.

Although women represent 42% of the agricultural labour force in India, women own just 2% of farmland. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has risked losing decades of progress on women’s economic justice and rights. Post the pandemic, as routine jobs become automated, the pressure on women will intensify and they will experience higher unemployment rates. By 2030, India’s working-age population will surpass an unprecedented one billion, and up to 400 million women’s economic potential may be left unaddressed.

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Inclusive Economic Growth In India? Is it? Will It Be?

To foster inclusive economic growth in India, we must work towards increasing the number of women entrepreneurs. This has the potential to drive transformational gains for individuals, the economy and society. Bringing up an equal number of women in the labour force can enhance the Gross Domestic Product of a developing country like India by over 27% through direct, indirect and induced employment. Reports show that when women earn an income, they invest 90% in their families and community. Women also invest more towards children’s education and health, which can provide high development rates for a country like India.

It has been observed that men tend to lay the foundation of their enterprises with twice as much capital as accorded to women. However, research shows that when provided with equal access to resources, women-owned enterprises produce equally strong economic outcomes when compared with enterprises led by men. Under-representation of women in business is a big socio-economic setback for a growing economy.

The Role of Incubators And Accelerators

Incubators and Accelerators are designed to support entrepreneurs navigate the obstacles in the business ecosystem. These programmes are designed to mentor, assist, fund and scale start-ups. They generally assist small firms, particularly those in their early phases, in growing and expanding by offering initial financing, appropriate workspaces and access to a large network of successful entrepreneurs. The participation rate of women in such programmes is relatively low.

The need of the hour is for incubators and accelerators to step up and target women exclusively for their programmes. There are numerous instances of nations, some incomparable stages of development to India as well as states within India, which structurally allows and encourages female entrepreneurship. Examples include industrialised nations such as the United States and Canada, which have nearly 40% of their businesses owned by women, and developing countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Russia, which have more than 30% of their businesses owned by women.

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Several states in India including Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka lead the way in female representation in the MSME sector. An acceleration in targeting women today will result in a complete transformation of India’s entrepreneurial landscape. This will bring India at par with several emerging and advanced economies, where nearly 40% of businesses are women-run. It will also create jobs that are required to absorb the working-age population by 2030. It is also critical to identify the various segments of women entrepreneurs. They have different ambitions, motivations and constraints depending on where they are coming from. A transformative and methodical strategy is required to overcome the difficulties faced by potential entrants and current women entrepreneurs.

Onboard Women And Invest More In Women

Entrepreneurship has the potential to be one of the most important routes for women’s economic empowerment and equality, as well as to have multiplier effects on poverty reduction and long-term economic growth. Women need increased and creative access to capability development and mentorship. A profound understanding of the need, as well as a coordinated scaled effort across diverse ecosystem actors, will be required to accelerate prospective and present women entrepreneurs.

Some of the ecosystem actors include: governments at all levels, grass-roots organisations, the investment and banking industry, other private companies, educational institutions, and the media. Incubator and accelerator programmes need to onboard more female entrepreneurs, investors and leaders as members of their community to engage with the women-founded start-ups in their programmes. Women-only and sector-specific incubators will drive targeted networking and mentorship. Unlocking entrepreneurship among Indian women will offer an extraordinary potential to transform India’s economic and social trajectory for coming generations.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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