Experts Column

Much like every year, 2021 has been a mixed bag for us all. With both bitter sweet experiences and occurrences, the year taught us several lessons. 2021 was also full of small victories for Indian women. Let us take a look back into the various pieces of good news that Indian women received throughout the year.

The year stated with a good news that there was marginal improvement in rural women's education. Education and the right to education is one of the main fundamental rights of our country’s citizens. Over the many years, especially after independence, India has managed to increase its literacy rate. It also has more primary education than ever before. The present-day education system has come a long way and age-old traditions have undergone a drastic change. One of the biggest achievements of India was the increase in literacy rate to 74.04 percent in 2010-11 from 18.3 percent in 1950-51.

On third week of January, it was a proud moment for all women entrepreneurs. There was a report published that said women entrepreneurs make 32 percent of the global wealth. Legal and social barriers that exist for women’s access to jobs is costing the MENA region $575 billion. Research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reflected on the growing influence of women entrepreneurs in the corporate world by reporting that they currently control 32 percent of the global wealth and continue to add $5 trillion to the global wealth pool every year.

In the month of February the Union budget was presented by Finance Minister NirmalaSitharaman. She has increased the budgetary allocation for Women and Child Development Ministry in her tenure as finance minister. In FY21 budget, the finance minister had set aside Rs. 30,000 crore for WCD ministry - a 14 percent increase over the FY20 budget. The total amount allocated for the social services sector, which includes nutrition and social security, and welfare, was increased from Rs. 3,891.71 crore in 2019-20 to Rs. 4,036.49 crore in 2020-21.

She announced some important reformation pertaining to women empowerment. Women were allowed to work in all categories and also in night shifts with adequate protection. A budget of Rs. 1000 crores was allocated for tea-workers, with an emphasis on women workers, especially in states of Assam and West Bengal. A sum of Rs. 24,435 crore was set aside for the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry for the next fiscal in the Budget announced on Monday, a 16.31 percent increase over the 2020-21 financial year.

The Finance Ministry said banks have sanctioned Rs 25,586 crore to about 1,14,322 beneficiaries under the Stand-Up India Scheme in the last five years for promoting entrepreneurship among women and SC & STs. This scheme, which has been extended up to 2025, covers SC/ST and/or women entrepreneurs, above 18 years of age.

Allowing women to work in all categories was a boost for all the women who wanted to foray into the fields which were considered male bastion. In fact women have proved their capability in the automobile sector too by manufacturing MG Hector. Automobile giant, MG Motor India has manufactured its 50,000th MG Hector with an all-women crew in Gujarat’s Vadodara. In a first of its kind development, an all-women crew led the end-to-end production involving in panel-pressing of sheet metal and welding to painting jobs as well as carrying out post-production test runs. The development is a positive step towards gender parity across workplaces.

It was good news for Women government officials of Karnataka. Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa announced a proposal to provide six-month child care leave to women Government employees. The initiative taken by the Karnataka State Government towards the welfare of women should set a model for other states.

Presenting the 2021-22 budget in the State Legislative Assembly, he announced a grant of Rs 37,188 crore for programs related to women. He also proposed an up-gradation of Anganawadis located in Bengaluru and other cities into creches so that urban working women are benefitted and also new creches in two major government offices in each district would be opened.

March is the month that has to be remembered by all the cricket lovers. Captain of women's national cricket team, Mithali Raj became the first Indian batsman to score 10,000 runs in women's international cricket, and just the second female player internationally. The first woman to complete 20 years in international cricket, Mithali raj is a right-handed opening batsman and occasional right-arm leg-break bowler. 

Whatsapp came forward to help expectant mothers around the country. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has launched a WhatsApp helpline for expectant mothers around the country to get medical support. The NCW said that it has found that pregnant women are having trouble getting medical assistance, so it has agreed to launch a message-only helpline in addition to the email ID that is already operational.

"Expectant mothers from across the country can reach out to the Commission through its helpline number-- 9354954224-- which will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the month of July, the new cabinet of Prime Minister NarendraModi included 14 female ministers under the age of 50. According to government sources, it had a perfect balance of castes, regions, and experience. To anchor and guide their departments, the rainbow cabinet had ministers who were seasoned administrators – 46 have experience in the Central government, four were former Chief Ministers, and 18 were former ministers in state governments.

In the same month the Army has granted Permanent Commission to 147 more women officers, months after the Supreme Court chastised it for denying women the same status despite a landmark ruling last year in which the court directed the Centre to ensure that women SSC officers are given PC in the Army.

“Do your venture” that happened in July was a feast for women entrepreneurs. The National Commission for Women (NCW) and the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) together launched an online 'Do Your Venture' module for female entrepreneurs. The unique programme, which was launched in collaboration with NSRCEL, IIMB's start-up incubator, and IIMBx, its digital learning initiative, has seen active participation from over 1,000 aspiring female entrepreneurs who have been equipped with tools and techniques for generating ideas and encouraging them to launch their own ventures.
This NCW-sponsored course is intended to provide 5,000 aspiring female entrepreneurs with hands-on, action-oriented, systematic, and scientific management lessons for identifying, evaluating, and testing entrepreneurial opportunities.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Indian shuttlerPV Sindhu won the bronze medal in women's singles, defeating China's He Bingjiao 21-13, 21-15 at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza, adding a second medal to India's tally at the Games.

The Indian women's hockey team made history today by qualifying for the Olympic Games semifinals for the first time, defeating three-time champions Australia by a solitary goal on Day 10 of the Tokyo Olympics 2021. A day after the Indian men's team returned to the Olympic semifinals after a 49-year absence, the world no. 9 women's team also made history with outstandingly rugged performance.

In the month of August, Supreme Court slammed slammed the armed forces for their "discriminatory mindset" toward women and, as a temporary solution, permitted female candidates to take the National Defence Academy entrance exam. The UPSC was instructed to release a corrigendum stating that female candidates will be permitted to take the exam pending the outcome of the lawsuit. The entrance exam is set to take place next month.

There were many firsts that happened in the same month such as PV Sindhu became the first women to win two Olympic medals;women's hockey team scripts history by qualifying for semifinals for the first time;supreme court considers elevating the first woman chief justice of India; In a first Indian army grants colonel ranks to five women officers;B V Nagarathna, the country's first female chief justice in 2021; and AvaniLekhara, first Indian women to win gold at Tokyo Paralympics.

In the following month the Union government has decided to make the National Defence Academy (NDA) open to women as well. The judgment comes after the Supreme Court, on August 18, cracked a 65-year-old glass ceiling by ruling that women can appear for the forthcoming NDA entrance exams, citing "gender discrimination" as the reason for the policy restricting women's access to the elite institution.

In the month of November, something big happened in Women entrepreneurship ecosystem. FalguniNayar, who started Nykaa at the age of 50 in April 2012, became one of India's 20 wealthiest personsafter Nykaa's parent company, FSN E-commerce Ventures, made a blockbuster debut on the stock exchanges.

In the last month of 2021, marriage age for women was raised to 21. The Union Cabinet approved a proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, the same as men, more than a year after Prime Minister NarendraModi unveiled the intention during his Independence Day address in 2020.

And with that, we greet 2022 with joy, happiness, and a wish for more women to be empowered in the year ahead.