"Not only are digitization and re-skilling key tools in empowering women to rejoin the workforce in the post-pandemic era, but they are also key tools in creating new booming sectors in the economy," said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, as well as Electronics and Information Technology. At the maiden episode of The Indian Express Thinc series on Gender, Chandrasekhar gave the keynote talk.
"Gender-responsive economic recovery and bouncing back better" was the title of the online session. Chandrasekhar went on to say that his government was directing its skill-building programmes and the New Education Policy toward increasing women's participation in previously untapped areas. “We are offering skills to men and women equally and it is for them to use those skills to create opportunities for themselves either in employment or micro-entrepreneurship,” he said.
The minister also discussed how the recent Budget offered strategies to bring credit online, as well as micro- and small-business credit delivery.
Talking about the initiatives taken by his ministry to upskill more women to join the workforce, he said, “We have today in the skill ecosystem over 4,500 courses and trades that are being taught. I have given my ministry a target of 10,000-15,000 (courses). As long as the ecosystem provides more and more innovative trades, more and more innovative skills of the future, we create visibility and aspirations around those skills, we create opportunities around those skills. It is for a young Indian to decide what he or she is excited by.”
He mentioned how smartphones had spurred women in isolated places, particularly in the Northeast, to start new food enterprises, and how skilling had helped women overcome the male dominance in traditional sectors like plumbing, where they are now sales executives and product managers.
Renana Jhabvala, Chair of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA Bharat), Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, Team Lease, and Avani Kapur, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, moderated a panel discussion. Jhabvala emphasised the significance of reliable on-the-ground counts of women's workforces, pointing out the large disparity between official survey statistics and reality. “There needs to be a definitive way of identifying them. We can look at a safety net by way of cash transfers, look at practical ways of funding micro-entrepreneurship, encourage women-owned businesses because they naturally give opportunities to other women, extend digital and financial literacy and urge the private sector to include women enterprises in their supply chains, she said.”
Sabharwal pushed for a decentralised budgetary allocation after a mapping of needs and better wages, citing the work-from-home option as providing more chances for women. Kapur discussed public investment and infrastructure assistance, emphasising the need for an urban job guarantee plan and the need to track the scheme's eventual result.