The rise of fe­male en­trepreneur­ship?

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES CITY - San­tosh De­sai

Ev­ery­where one trav­els in the coun­try, one comes across a new breed of fe­male en­trepreneurs. They don’t give them­selves that la­bel, but in a va­ri­ety of small ways, en­trepreneur­ship is blos­som­ing at the small­est unit of change. The ef­forts are var­ied; not all ven­tures are full-time, some are car­ried out qui­etly, oth­ers with full fam­ily sup­port, but there is a com­mon spirit that runs through all these ef­forts.

A chain of beauty par­lours in Gaya. Chit funds in Waran­gal. An on­line por­tal for women in Jal­gaon. A dress rental busi­ness in Au­rangabad. A cater­ing ser­vice in Coim­bat­ore. Cook­ing classes in Ra­jkot. Jew­ellery made of out of tech­nol­ogy waste in Gur­gaon. A skilling cen­tre in Ra­ja­mundhry. A hos­tel in Bikaner. What is com­mon is that they all have been set up, and are be­ing run, by first­time fe­male en­trepreneurs.

Some ac­tiv­i­ties are an out­growth of jobs tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered to be ‘suit­able for women’. Adding on tu­ition to a for­mal teach­ing job, grad­u­ally mov­ing into it full­time, and turn­ing it into a busi­ness is one pat­tern. In some cases, a hobby or a skill gets con­verted into a busi­ness. Beauty par­lours can be found in ev­ery galli-mo­halla. Small bou­tiques, some­times run out of a spare room, are easy to spot too. Cater­ing units that sup­ply home- cooked food, cook­ing classes that turn culi­nary skill into an or­gan­ised en­ter­prise. In yet other in­stances, women con­vert so­cial net­works into a money-mak­ing en­ter­prise. Chit funds are ex­ten­sions of kitty par­ties, and of­ten get com­bined with mul­ti­level mar­ket­ing of prod­ucts.

In­ter­est­ingly, be­com­ing en­trepreneurs, gives women much greater flex­i­bil­ity than em­ploy­ment in a reg­u­lar job. The hours are not fixed, there is greater con­trol over one’s time and it is pos­si­ble to op­er­ate from home. Tech­nol­ogy is help­ing. Set­ting up on­line busi­nesses is much eas­ier, and needs lit­tle by way of phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture. The mo­bile phone is a god­send. Also, stand­ing out­side the hi­er­ar­chy that ev­ery for­mal job comes with, rep­re­sents a kind of free­dom that is highly val­ued. One does not work un­der any­one else, one is not an­swer­able to oth­ers. So­cially too, as some women pointed out, this make things eas­ier, for some of the tra­di­tional hes­i­ta­tion that ex­ists about hav­ing to min­gle with and follow the instructions of other men do not ap­ply. Of course, in the course of con­duct­ing one’s busi­ness, such con­sid­er­a­tions do not count for much, but a ve­neer of so­cial re­spectabil­ity is use­ful for women in smaller towns as they emerge into pro­tag­o­nists of their own ven­ture.

At a deeper level, the urge to do some­thing more, to squeeze out greater op­por­tu­ni­ties from the cards one is dealt with, is an un­der­ly­ing fea­ture of a lot of these ef­forts. One can see a rest­less urge, an itch that must be scratched, a sense that deep in­side lies un­told po­ten­tial that must some­how get har­nessed. This sur­plus am­bi­tion that pow­ers en­trepreneuri­al­ism is a vi­tal pal­pa­ble force that can be seen among women of all ages and classes across the coun­try to­day.

In­ter­est­ingly, fe­male en­trepreneur­ship does not un­set­tle men in quite the same way as a woman work­ing in a for­mal job of­ten does. The fact that there is no des­ig­na­tion, no rank that can serve as a rel­a­tive mea­sure of suc­cess and no fixed salary that be­comes a bench­mark to com­pete against, turns out to be an ad­van­tage for it side­steps is­sues to do with the bruis­ing of male egos. The money made in busi­ness has a fluid qual­ity.

This is why a lot of en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity is con­ducted in the name of ‘do­ing some­thing on the side’ or by way of ‘keep­ing busy’. Part of this char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion comes from a prag­matic un­der­stand­ing of the need to down­play am­bi­tion and even suc­cess, so as to not threaten the ex­ist­ing power hi­er­ar­chy with the men around her. Even in in­stances, where the woman was mak­ing more money than her hus­band, one of­ten saw a low-key de­scrip­tion of her work. Of course, this is not al­ways the case; there are ex­am­ples of women do­ing re­ally well and men learn­ing to live with it. In these cases, tra­di­tional roles are over­turned and a new power dy­namic is es­tab­lished, but this hap­pens in­fre­quently.

This is part of a long-stand­ing pat­tern that we have seen where the work con­tri­bu­tion of women has been con­sis­tently un­der­val­ued and in­ad­e­quately ac­knowl­edged. The house­wife is widely seen to be ‘not work­ing’. It is most stark in the case of women work­ing on farms. There is no such thing as a woman farmer, no word in our lan­guages that de­scribes this; only men can get this la­bel in spite of of­ten do­ing very lit­tle ac­tual work on their farms.

In­creas­ingly, the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and imag­i­na­tions of women across the coun­try can no longer be con­tained. An abil­ity to find a way from amongst one’s crowded life is pro­pelled by a fierce de­sire to im­pose one­self on one’s en­vi­ron­ment. En­trepreneur­ship be­comes an un­con­trol­lable leak­age of in­tent. Run­ning one’s own busi­ness gives a sense of free­dom that few other ac­tiv­i­ties can match. Fe­male en­trepreneur­ship is a form of un­teth­er­ing, a re­lease of de­sires and as­pi­ra­tions that ren­der the idea of bound­aries a lit­tle less rel­e­vant. The change may as yet be small, but it is un­mis­tak­able; the abil­ity to lead life on one’s own terms and to cre­ate some­thing of en­dur­ing value is a pro­foundly sig­nif­i­cant shift.

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