Our 2nd grade social science textbooks are filled with images: Images of women as “teachers” and men as “professionals”, of mothers singing lullabies to the baby and fathers teaching the kids mathematics.
When I was a kid, I remember the girls being as good, if not better than the boys. We did better in tests and were always picked to be Class Prefects. Sometime around the age of 16, things began to change. Boys started doing better in class, topping our engineering entrance exams and getting the more prestigious jobs. I googled “girl topper IIT JEE” and got no results – so I’m assuming there hasn’t ever been one.
Today, the world is entering a new era and India is leading the way into the next century. Yet, as on one hand Bangalore spurs its own Silicon Valley, on the other hand -India has to battle challenges like poverty, lack of sanitation, lack of access to clean drinking water and a lack of electricity. And to tackle these challenges, we need to empower our women. Not just our educated daughters in the cities but also our uneducated, illiterate sisters in the villages of real India.
As part of Jagriti Yatra 2012- I traveled to different parts of India visiting social enterprises. And it was in the deepest trenches of rural India that I realized empowering one woman can create hope- not for just the woman, but for the entire community. Be it the rural women solar engineers setting standards for MIT in Barefoot College, Tilonia, or self-help groups such as SEWA, women were taking charge of their lives, families and communities. These rural women entrepreneurs were now sending their children to good schools, they were investing in homes and were no longer victims of the abuse.
Any household with an empowered woman seems to flourish. Yet, why do we see so very few women in entrepreneurship and business? Are we as a society programming our boys in one-way and girls in another? Are our boys growing up with the notion that it is their responsibility to be “bread winners” and girls growing up with the notion that one day “they have to give up their careers to get married anyway”?
Are those same images in our 2nd standard social science textbooks responsible for a subconscious social programming that shapes our girls in one way and boys in another?
In my personal experience, the most difficult part about being an entrepreneur is “deciding” to be an entrepreneur. Deciding to start a business is hard for the average middle class Indian. Questions plague you everyday – Is it the right thing to do, what if you fail, what about your family, what will the neighbors say? And it is in these moments that it is important to have that one person you can look up to – your sister, neighbor or friend who knows what its like to have been there.
We come from a society, which celebrates success but scoffs at failure – and the risks associated with entrepreneurship make it an incredibly unconventional option. The additional bias of being a “woman” to this stratosphere makes it virtually impossible for an average Indian girl to even consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option.
And it is this bias that we need to tackle as society. We all respect our female teachers and are thankful to our female doctors. But as a society, we are not yet comfortable with the idea of women in business. Yes, we celebrate the success of Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Indira Nooyi – but we have not yet completely ‘accepted’ the possibility of our daughters running their own businesses.
But hope lies – in the 20-something young women such as the Anu Sridharan of Nextdrop.org and Richa Kar of Zivame.com who are redefining women entrepreneurship in India and with that, dissolving societal biases surrounding young women entrepreneurs in India.
And it is time that as a society – we begin to truly “accept” women entrepreneurs. Not look at them with astonishment, not celebrate them- just completely “accept” them.
About the Author:
Prukalpa Sankar is the co-founder of Social Cops (www.socialcops.in) – a web and mobile platform that crowd sources citizen reports regarding civic issues ranging from uncollected garbage and potholes, forwards them to the relevant authorities and generates analytics – bringing NGOs, corporate and citizens together to create long lasting change. Follow Social Cops on Facebook at www.facebook.com/socialcops
(Also Read: Our Review of Social Cops)
Prukalpa blogs at www.prukalpa.wordpress.com and tweets @prukalpa