New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always advocated that women empowerment is the focus of his government. But beyond Swachh Bharat toilets and widely known schemes like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao,’ I did not have enough knowledge to determine whether the PM simply had slogans or his slogans had substance. Is women welfare really a top priority for his government? Have government actions reflected this? 

Several steps are required to holistically attain female empowerment. First, a woman must establish independence. Next, she must have the opportunity to generate wealth. Then, resources must exist for social and economic empowerment. The final step is the woman’s ability to empower others, financially and socially. 

Upon researching, I discovered that the current government has thought through all of these steps and also implemented solid measures to ensure empowerment at every level which is organic and irreversible. Here’s how. 

Step 1. Establishing Independence 

The first step is to set the stage for empowerment to take place. Ground level schemes like Jan Dhan accounts (where women can open up a bank account) provide a base where the world of financial instruments opens up to a woman who has previously never considered a part of financial inclusion. Statistics say that out of 33 crore Jan Dhan accounts opened, 17 crore have been opened by women. Only when an account is opened can a welfare fund (Direct Benefit Transfer [DBT]) be directly deposited. This cuts out corrupt middlemen and officials. A woman also gets ownership of a home (Awas Yojana). 

In other words, with the help of such schemes, a woman can become an independent being for the first time in her life. It is only at this stage that a woman can consider insurance coverage and next steps. At this stage, it is also likely that the woman will not take a step back. Her situation will allow her to think forward and she will be in a position to better her situation. 

Step 2. Wealth Generation

Once a woman has her basics from step one in place, the next step is thinking of maintaining a positive bank balance. She will be forced to think how to get more money and for this, she will be willing to expand her skill sets and even opt for an entrepreneurial loan. 

With the involvement of the women folk in the workforce of the country, the GDP could increase by up to 60%.  MUDRA loans have helped 15 crore entrepreneurs till date, out of which 10 crore are women. 

Once women begin their small enterprise, they will want to expand it. Female business owners can now also apply online for a loan for their MSME in under one hour. This measure is initiated not only in big cities but also in tier two and tier three cities, where forty-four percent of start-ups belong to. Around 45% of start-ups are founded by women entrepreneurs, for instance, Arulmozhi Saravanan, an entrepreneur, who obtained a MUDRA loan for supplying thermo-flasks. Now her enterprise’s turnover has crossed one crore rupees in the current financial year. 

There are a plethora of such examples, which prove the fact that more than wealth generation, the support to scale a start-up help women to become successful. 

Step 3. Nation-Building

By the year 2050, if we follow the current trend, India’s population is estimated to increase by 323 million people. Females make up just about half of the Indian population. Once a female establishes identity through independence along with generating wealth, the next step is to establish her as a contributing member of the economy. In fact, increasing women’s labour participation by just 10 percentage point could add up to $700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. 

More women in the workforce equate to social gain for the country. An increasing number of women now understand the empowerment and importance of working. But this transition requires some support and the government has stepped in quite intensively. For example, women are able to get 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. Earlier, it was only 12 weeks. The amendment, passed in 2017, currently helps millions of women in the organized sector. 

Additionally, in the formal sector, women employees’ contribution has been reduced to 8% versus the previous 12% rate with no change in the employer’s contribution under the EPFO. 

This not only results in higher wages but also encourages employers to hire more women. 

Step 4. Taking advantage of the momentum

A recent analysis points out that the professional sector alone has created four million jobs from 2014-15 to 2018-19.  During this timeframe, it is also estimated that 18 million jobs have been created across sectors and support schemes for MSMEs have been implemented. But the government can only do this much. Here’s where I am going to shout out to all the educated women- particularly the female millennials- that the real solution is to be the change you want to see. 

With strong government push for women, it is the time for women to aspire to become contributors to the GDP. Imagine if every woman worked, how much more opportunities could be created to lift other women. 

Women should act as a role model for other women around them. They should make getting a job the norm rather than an option. With this, they can raise the expectation bar for every other woman out there. 

After all, this is the only way that India will have an equal share of women contributing to the GDP. 

If women can achieve this with the help of the government, the dream of an ideal New India becoming reality will not be far away.