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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 50, New Delhi, November 27, 2021

Negotiating Women’s Entrepreneurship | Asmita Pant

Saturday 27 November 2021

by Asmita Pant *

Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) is a day on which the work of women entrepreneurs is celebrated and is globally observed on the nineteenth of November of each year. However, women in India are not basking with the glory of entrepreneurship spirt. Number of factors could be attributed to the banality of stoic entrepreneurial ambitions.

Women form an estimate of 48.04% of the total population of India. But when it comes to the percentage of female entrepreneurs, they stand less than 20% of the total entrepreneurial population. As of last decade, it has witnessed the emergence and growth of women-owned businesses in Australia, making up 38% of all small businesses that keep the economy churning. So what stops a large chunk of the population to not be a part of the job-providing sector? Literacy rate of females in India stands at a decent rate. Despite that, cultural and societal restrictions on women and the defined conduct for women, continue to prevent many from pursuing their desired entrepreneurial endeavours. There remains unconscious or in many cases a conscious bias that plagues women.

Sagarika is pursuing her Master’s degree in Psychology, working a part-time job and running a business. She had seen her mother crocheting and knitting ever since she was a child, so when the lockdown affected her mom’s beauty parlour, Sagarika decided to take up crocheting and started an instagram account. “My father has always had a business. His business has always inspired me to work as an entrepreneur. My father’s business inspired me to have a business and what my mother and my nani (grandmother) inspired me to take up crocheting.”

Anukriti is in the trade of event and wedding planning with her firm Plan Your Memories. Based in Dehradun, the firm currently covers Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Delhi, parts of Uttrakhand including Dehradun, Mussoorie and Rishikesh. She plans to expand to Goa, Kerala and Jaipur and abroad in the near future.

“I never thought I’d become a wedding planner to be very honest”, says Anukriti chuckling. Narrating what transpired thenceforth, she recounts, “When I was doing my master’s, I was lucky enough to quit several good brands. I got to learn a lot from these brands. That is where I realised there’s a lot that can be brought to my hometown Dehradun and this was my initial thought. After which I slowly slowly started doing wedding and theme parties here. I realised, I can expand pan India and pan world.”

Even though her father is a businessman and mother owns a parlour and was pursuing crocheting and knitting as a side job, Sagarika’s parents grew worried when they realised her increasing interest in continuing and expanding Hancroknit, her brand. “I’m supposed to settle my life first before starting something new. I was expected to complete my degree, get a job and settle my life because I’m a girl and I don’t have time to try new things. I need to start getting an income before I try something new.” Sagarika’s parents are okay with it as long as it’s a side business. They insist that she gets a job and then does whatever she wants. While Sagarika’s case isn’t necessarily about gender stereotypes, it’s just parents looking out for their child. The underlying issue here, however, is the idea of settling in life and not taking risks because of gender.

Anukriti echoes the struggles many entrepreneurs experience because of their gender. “My husband used to accompany me to meetings a few times in order to support me. At these times, the people used to cater to him and talk to him. Woh matlab usko dekh ke baat karte the (They used to look at him and talk).” In spite of being the sole founder and the sole person running the company, major property owners, banquet hall owners, male clients, and older men used to interact with her husband whenever he accompanied her. “Initially when I used to go alone, they never took me seriously. ‘How will she be able to manage all of that?’”

There has always been a trust issue, believes Anukriti. But she lets her work speak for itself. With a strong portfolio to present, the tables have now turned. A lack of portfolio, however, doesn’t justify demeaning someone because of their gender.

Different people, different ages, different lives, different circumstances, but the stories remain similar. While women are breaking the glass ceiling and soaring high, deep rooted patriarchal mindset and cultural constraints continue to spread obstacles on their way to success. However, the 21st century women are strong enough to get past these and achieve whatever they lay their eyes on. Sagarika and Anukriti typify the females who have the courage and boldness to break the shackles of patriarchy and thrive in the men’s world.

* (The writer is from Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC), Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune. She writes on contemporary issues.)

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