‘Digitisation and re-skilling are key tools in empowering women, creating new booming sectors’

“Digitisation and re-skilling are key tools in not just empowering women to rejoin the workforce in the post-pandemic era but also in creating new booming sectors in the economy,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and Electronics and Information Technology. Chandrasekhar was delivering the keynote address at the inaugural edition of The Indian Express Thinc series on Gender.

The online session was titled “Gender-responsive economic recovery and bouncing back better.” Chandrasekhar added that his government was directing its skill programmes and the New Education Policy to ensure more and more women participate in hitherto 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 elaborated how the recent Budget had proposed ways of bringing credit online, getting micro enterprises and MSME credit delivery online.

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  cited the example of how smartphones had prodded women in remote locations, particularly in the Northeast, to drive new food businesses and how skilling had helped women break the male stronghold in traditional sectors like plumbing, where they are now  becoming sales executives and product managers.

The address was followed by a panel discussion with 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. Jhabvala emphasised the importance of accurate counting of the women workforce on the ground  and highlighted the big gap between official survey figures and ground realities. “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 talked about the work-from-home option as opening up more opportunities for women and argued for a decentralised budgetary allocation after a mapping of needs and improving wages. Kapur spoke about public investment and infrastructure support while emphasising the need for an urban employment guarantee scheme and tracking the end result of such a scheme. The discussion was moderated by Aanchal Magazine, Special Correspondent, The Indian Express.

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