“Entrepreneurship” by definition is an attitude to create something new, through an activity which creates value in the socio-economic system. This attitude primarily stems from a state of mind which develops naturally as a product of one’s surroundings and experiences. It all comes down to looking at life and career a certain way.
About the Poverties Project

This article is part of what was originally the 'Poverties project' which we ran from 2011-2016. It aimed to make social and economic research on poverty accessible to everyone. It focused on presenting evidence-based causes and solutions as much as possible, although with a pinch of sarcasm, cynicism or dark humour at times. Hopefully, it helps make the description of certain (horrible) situations more bearable.

EDIT: We have launched our first-ever children's book on the Sustainable Development Goals. A pretty unique way to educate both kids and parents on the best ways to care for the human and natural worlds!

Women in India and their attitude towards life and their careers(if any) have to be understood against the backdrop of a social set up which has evolved over a period of no less than a few thousand years, carrying traces of older customs while adapting as per the political and economic demands of the time. 

Through this historical time, the status of women has seen phases of acute decline with alternating phases of limited empowerment. The prevalence or not, of a possible environment which could provide a scope for creating value even during those few phases of limited empowerment is where the discussion ought to start from.

So, did Indian women have the surroundings and experiences which are essential to nurture the psyche of an entrepreneur? Did they get the support required from their families and the State? How has their journey towards an entrepreneurial role been? These are a few of the questions we will be mulling over while attempting to understand “women entrepreneurship” in India.

Taking a look back at History

Historically speaking, it would be wrong to say that women were “always” denied education or scope for learning value creating skills in India. Since the ancient times, women scholars and their wisdom have been recorded in texts and they were known to participate in the labour force as agricultural labourer, artisans, etc. 

They did add value to production, whether measured or not .The point that needs to be taken up in this context is the novelty with which they used their skills for value

  • Could they independently organise and set up their own enterprise? 
  • Or was their participation limited to working with their family members, or working for the male members in the family in whichever capacity? 
  • How has social perspective of women’s role shaped the way women see themselves in society? 
  • Does this self image aspect have a bearing on women’s choice of a career as an entrepreneur?

In India, it has been widely noted that women have been “socially” regarded as beings with “inferior intellect “, the ones who are more “emotional” and hence suited mostly for care giving roles either at home or outside. Besides this debilitating stereotype, women are also brought up within the confines of gender roles with lack of adequate exposure
to develop an aptitude for entrepreneurial ventures. 

The social setup, to add to this, tends to discourage the attempt by women to work on their ideas independently by often engineering multiple constraints( legal, financial and
familial). After all, if you do not trust a woman’s intellect in the first place, how much capital would you possibly invest while betting on her idea?

Fast-forward to the modern nation-state

Dr. B. R Ambedhkar, the father of the Indian Constitution was all for “equality of status and opportunity”. Legally thus, at this point there is a definite twist in the story. So, did the society go hand in hand with the new age legal provisions? In the 70 years since independence, how far have women been able to grab opportunities to create wealth and value as entrepreneurs?  Let us take a look.

India has been ranked amongst the worst performing countries in the area of women entrepreneurship in gender-focused global entrepreneurship survey which was released by the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute in July 2013.Out of the 17 countries, India ranks 16th where countries like Turkey, Morocco and Egypt have outperformed India.

Three categories of women entrepreneurs in India

Indian women entrepreneurs weaving
Indian women entrepreneur weaving, photo courtesy of Global Landscapes Forum

At present, most of the entrepreneurial roles of women have been observed to be concentrated in the large scale industries and technology based businesses. This sector with women entrepreneurs form a mere fraction in terms of the potential women workforce that can be tapped as a whole.

Women participation in small scale industries has been woefully low. The policy makers have realised this inequality in distribution of women entrepreneurs and are thus working on promoting women entrepreneurship in small scale industries at present. Much work has to be done to make the small scale industries conducive to the needs
only 9.46% of them are managed by women.

In order to better understand the different areas where women entrepreneurs feature in the socio-economic dynamics of the country, the next step in the study will be to categorise them under four broad pillars to begin with.

  1. Women in organised and unorganised sectors
  2. Women in traditional and modern industries
  3. Women in urban and rural areas
  4. Women in large scale and small scale industries

Under these pillars we could further categorise women in three basic categories. This division can be based on the following parameters:

Category I

  • ‍Those who are established in big cities
  • Those who have sound technical  qualifications
  • Those who have sound financial positions

Category II

  • ‍Those who are established in cities and towns
  • Those who have sufficient education
  • Those who are undertaking women’s services

Category III

  • ‍Illiterate Women
  • Those who are financially weak
  • Those who are involved in family businesses like agriculture, dairy, handlooms, power looms, horticulture, etc

Some of the basic challenges faced by women entrepreneurs across the spectrum

Challenges facing young women entrepreneurs in India
Challenges facing women entrepreneurs in India, photo by Jaume Escofet

Despite differences in geographical locations, education,  financial positions and sectors of the economy where women play the role of entrepreneurs, there are a few common challenges that women face that have been noted as per research over time . These are as follows :

  1. Conflict between work and domestic commitments
  2. Lack of finance/credit
  3. Legal constraints ( laws regulating the private sphere specifically regarding marriage, inheritance and land can hinder women’s access to assets that can be used as collateral to secure a loan)
  4. Lack of family support
  5. Lack of confidence and faith
  6. Lack of right public/private institutions
  7. Lack of proper training and education

Government initiatives: what is being done about it all?

In India, since independence, it has been noted that policy initiatives towards women have been more welfare oriented than development oriented. This was the case till around the 70s. It was only since the 1970s that a definite shift was observed in this approach.

 The 70s saw more emphasis being given on the process of development for a change. Consequently the  80s saw a multi-disciplinary approach with special focus on health, education and employment. Women’s development was made a priority in all sectors, particularly in the Small Scale industries. The government and non governmental bodies started giving more attention to women’s economic contribution through self employment and business ventures.

The 21st century trends in government policies

Women entrepreneur selling sugarcane juice in Hyderabad
Sugarcane juice vendor in Hyderabad, photo by Ahmed Mahin Fayaz

The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises development organizations, State Small Industries Development Corporations, Nationalized banks and NGOs have of late been conducting various Entrepreneurship Development Programmes to help women who do not have sufficient educational qualifications and skills for entrepreneurial ventures.

The Office of DC ( Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises)  has opened a Women’s Cell to facilitate and support women entrepreneurs facing specific problems. With the aim of inclusive development, decentralised state specific schemes are being provided to ensure training plus income generating opportunities for needy women who lack the means to a support system for their own enterprises and ventures. Small Industries Development bank of India ( SIDBI) has also been implementing special schemes for women entrepreneurs. MSMEs provide special incentives and concessions to women entrepreneurs.

At present, the Government of India has over 27 schemes to help women find the necessary environment to develop the psyche towards entrepreneurship . A few of them are as follows :

  1. Khadi and Village Industries Commission
  2. Training of Rural Youth for Self Employment
  3. Entrepreneurial Development Programme
  4. Management Development Programme
  5. Women’s Development Corporations
  6. Marketing of Non-Farm Products for Rural Women
  7. Assistance to Rural Women for Non – Farm Development
  8. Trade Related Entrepreneurship Assistance and Development
  9. Working Women’s Forum
  10. Indira Mahila Yojana
  11. Micro and Small Industries Clusters Development Programme
  12. Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women
  13. Mahila Vikas Nidhi
  14. Mahila Udhyam Nidhi
  15. Stand Up India

These schemes are recent developments where the government has started on the path to securing the environment required for women to help them to start dreaming of entrepreneurship as a career. There is a long way to go though, for measurable results to show.


A few recommendations regarding approach to the issue at hand, emerges out of the above discussion. The recommendations are meant to be broad guidelines that can be kept in mind while framing future policies. These should help re-shape the entire narrative of prospects for women entrepreneurship in the country and accelerate the growth process with added scope for employment generation as well.

  • The first step that can be the focus of the policy making process with regard to women entrepreneurship, is the effort to initiate a change in traditional mindsets. This can be achieved through peer awareness programmes, training and supportive services with emphasis on gender sensitisation.
  • The education system curriculum can be so designed to help groom future entrepreneurs with basic knowledge and practical skills in management.
  • The Government can set some priorities for women in terms of allocation of industrial plots, sheds and other amenities. However precaution should be taken to penalise any kind of misuse. There should be adequate regulatory provisions for the same.
  • There should be an added emphasis on enhancing the standards of education of women in general as well as making effective provisions for the training , practical experience and personal development programmes to improvise on their personality standards over all.
  • Self help groups should be promoted for women entrepreneurs.
  • There should be specific efforts to help women access finance. There should be bank and regulatory policies which accept less traditional forms of collateral, look at borrower’s willingness to repay and simplify business registry. There should be efforts to develop innovative loan and savings products for female entrepreneurs.
  • Last but not the least, there should be all India forums to discuss problems, grievances, issues of women entrepreneurs. Complaints against constraints or short comings towards the economic progress of women entrepreneurs should be addressed by authorities and adequate measures should be taken to facilitate more entrepreneurship in the long run.