Women are the key agents of change to drive positive transformation in rural India and ensure sustainable development. Empowering women by nurturing their leadership skills becomes extremely crucial for economic productivity, considering the workforce in agriculture is largely women. As per the Census of India, they contribute to 48 percent of India’s population and have the potential to be active agents to drive socio-economic development in the country. More women in leadership roles can positively transform rural India, as it provides them an opportunity for personal growth, earn a livelihood and contribute to their community.
Challenges of Leadership in Rural India
Though many women aspire to take on more responsibility in their communities, they still endure barriers that affect their opportunities for growth. One of the prime reasons being family conflicts that can arise considering that leadership roles often demand more flexibility, where women have to juggle between domestic workload with outside work. Adding to this, lack of education can impede women from taking up more responsibility as they do not have a foundation of knowledge to build upon. Digital Skilling programs should be made more accessible to enable rural women to navigate through their finances more efficiently.
Financial challenges such as lack of funds along with low awareness on loan facilities can also discourage women from venturing out on their own. Lack of mobility due to social and cultural restrictions, lack of support and proper skill-training ecosystem, society’s stereotypes, and low health standards also hinder access to potential work opportunities and empowerment.
Sensitization of the family is also important to enable women to participate in economic activities and be self-reliant. The consciousness of self-esteem, self-identity, awareness of rights, and ability to take control over her life are important determining factors of women empowerment. When communities enable women to become leaders, they are enabling equal opportunities at decision-making levels, which can drive sustainable economic growth for communities at large.
Paving a Path to Leadership
The Indian Government has continued to play an active role to promote women’s leadership in rural areas through women-centric schemes with a prime example of the National Rural Livelihood Mission. The mission has helped in forming Self-Help Groups for women across rural India assisting these groups to increase their household income and educate them in financial technologies so that they are capable of undertaking self-employment opportunities.
Alongside these efforts, corporates are also supporting women and helping them in building entrepreneurial skills for sustained growth. One such example is the success story of Poornakala that was achieved through support from Srinivasan Services Trust, social arm of TVS Motor Company & Sundaram Clayton. Poornakala is a native of Moolakarai village in Thoothukudi district. She was in need of guidance as she aspired to start her own business in order to earn a livelihood and contribute to her family’s well-being. Through the trust’s intervention, Poornakala founded the Women’s Self Help Group (WSHG) known as Vadabathrakaali Amman Self Help Group and she was able to start her pickle business. With guidance from the corporate trust, she also applied and successfully received certification from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Her journey began with training on pickle making from the Gandhi Gram Rural Institute, which led to an increase in the scale of the business. With the brand name Bala Vishma Pickles, she sells more than 70 kgs of pickles every month and continues to get orders due to its high quality. She was also educated on the various financial support that was available that helped her to expand the business. Today, she is a role model for her community further to the success of her endeavors and aims to take her efforts to the international level.
To create equal opportunities for all and ensure better livelihood for communities, the trust has facilitated in forming SHGs in Tamil Nadu followed by other rural areas including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. These SHGs have consistently enabled rural women and their families to lead a better living. There are multiple ways in which women from the SHG work together to create employment opportunities and build entrepreneurial skills such as pottery, serial light bulb making, honey-selling, basket making, etc. One such notable success story is that of Bismi SHG where over 350 women were trained resulting in an increase of skilled women who were able to support their households equally through basket making and tailoring. The Mahamariyamman SHG headed by Dhanalakshmi is yet another result of an effective leadership capability of a woman Identifying her skill and effective mentorship has helped more than 550 women within the community.
There is definitely a need for stronger commitment and collective efforts from all stakeholders of the society to enable change in the condition of rural women. Government, corporates, and communities have to work closely to ensure women’s equal control over resources and lead the way to prosperity in the true sense. CSR Programmes will play a key role in supporting skill development initiatives, awareness campaigns, and equipping women with tools to assist their productive abilities. Women entrepreneurs and leaders who are financially independent set a great example for the younger generation and eventually create a change in the mindset of the community.
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