Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President of India at the Women Entrepreneurship Platform Conclave, organised by the NITI Aayog, in New Delhi on December 16, 2018.

New Delhi | December 16, 2018

“Let me begin by congratulating the NITI Aayog for creating this platform to deliberate upon the various facets of women empowerment, a crucial ingredient of growth and an essential precondition for development.

A state of the art resource centre and a repository of knowledge on good governance and best practices, the NITI Aayog has always placed women empowerment and gender equality at the centre of its policy inputs.

I am happy to learn that NITI Aayog hopes to create a ‘Planet 50-50’ by 2030, where men and women have equal access to opportunities.

NITI Aayog’s 15 year Vision Document also proposes key reforms to encourage women’s workforce participation across sectors in India.

I would like to compliment NITI Aayog for this great initiative that not only provides a platform to women entrepreneurs for realizing their dreams but also honors their accomplishments. I truly feel privileged to be amongst such accomplished women achievers.

India is one of the fastest growing startup ecosystems globally and, with more than 20,000 startups, it is among the top three countries in terms of startups. India currently has 14 unicorns, more than every other country except the US and China.

With Government of India’s focus on developing the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, the country has come a long way in the recent years and has become a hotbed of entrepreneurship, especially technology led entrepreneurship. Success stories include Walmart’s US$16bn investment in Flipkart, Warren Buffet’s US$300m investment in Paytm and OYO’s recent fundraising of US$1bn.

Yet, there is one aspect of this ecosystem that needs a lot of improvement and sustained efforts from the decision makers. We are a country of approximately 1.3 billion. We are a country which has 65 per cent of population under the age of 35 years. The country will see 150 million students in next 5 to 10 years who will join the workforce, more than 50 per cent of which will be women. How could a country progress if half of its population is not encouraged to be equal partners for progress? How could a country realize its full potential when 50 per cent of its population is not nurtured and provided with equal opportunity?

The contribution of Indian women to GDP, currently at 17 per cent, is not only well below the global average of 37 per cent, it is below that of China (41 per cent ) and sub-Saharan Africa (39 per cent). If you look at the labour force participation, only 27 per cent of women in India are gainfully employed as compared to 80 per cent men.

These are the numbers that pose a challenge to the lawmakers and policymakers of this country, and this is where NITI Aayog’s efforts in empowering women entrepreneurs through WEP is specially commendable. The IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde, was quoted as saying that gender parity can boost India’s GDP by as much as 27 per cent. In addition, women empowerment entails inter-generational benefits. It is said that if you empower a woman, you empower several generations that follow.

The good news is that, India, in the past few years, has recorded a healthy growth in women entrepreneurship.

Across the country, there are more than 8 million women who have started or are running their businesses, with more than 58 per cent of women entrepreneurs starting their ventures between the ages of 20 and 30. This is a good start, and the onus is on initiatives like WEP and Startup India to continue the momentum.

Women entrepreneurs tend to face unique set of challenges with differentiated risks, resource accessibility and information asymmetry.

NITI Aayog’s WEP, launched earlier this year on International Women’s Day, is thus an effort in the right direction.

I appreciate the progress that WEP has made over the past nine months, positioning itself as the first of its kind unified access platform in India that enables meeting of several stakeholders on a single platform, working in collaboration with these stakeholders to bridge the gap, hosting relevant information about several schemes and partnering organizations on WEP website to connect women entrepreneurs with relevant partners.

It is imperative to have a one stop platform for the same and harness the multiplier effects of networks, mentorship, finance and institutional support, all in one place.

I am sure, the newly developed WEP portal will enable increased engagement between the entrepreneurs and ecosystem enablers. I am confident that several success stories will emerge from this collaborative effort.

It is especially heartening to get to know the stories of the winners of the WTI Awards 2018.

The success of entrepreneurs like Ajaita Shah, who is building an army of energy entrepreneurs in rural Rajasthan, Thinlas Chorol, who has built all female team of guides and porters in Ladakh, and Tage Rita, who has found an innovative way of making high quality wine from Kiwi to name just a few are the stories that need to celebrated and highlighted.

I am happy that the WTI Awards 2018 has recognised such and several other women entrepreneurs.

As a matter of fact, Indian women have excelled in various fields from ancient times. For instance, women seers of Vedic period Maitreyi and Gargi were known for their intellectual attainment.

Women became pioneers in different fields by breaking gender barriers—Kalpana Chawla, Bachendra Pal, Tessy Thomas, Mary Kom, P V Sindhu, Sania Mirza, Mithali Raj, Indra Nooyi and Arundhati Bhattacharya are some of the shining examples.

There is not one sphere of activity where women have not carved a niche for themselves.

Indian women have also become fighter pilots and I am glad that a good number of 24 trainee officers graduated from the IAF Academy at Dundigal yesterday. I am also happy to note that the Army is proposing to induct more women into non-combat roles.

It is a matter of pride for all of us that our daughters have conquered the skies with 12 percent of India’s pilots being women when the world average is 3 per cent.

It is heartening to know that there are stories of change and progress being played out in every part of the country.

I am also happy to note that 55,000 women masons called rani mistris have been trained by the Jharkhand government over the last year. They played a crucial role in that State’s achievement of Open Defecation Free status and helped construct more than 15 lakh toilets under the Swachh Bharat mission. Today, standing in front of the outstanding women entrepreneurs and women achievers, I feel immensely proud to be part of the nation whose women are building a dynamic new society and have become the torchbearers of empowerment. I envision a dynamic new India where men and women are equal partners in shaping and realizing the development agenda of the nation and in becoming job creators rather than job seekers.

As Swami Vivekananda once remarked, “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”

India has realized that it is impossible to usher in inclusive and sustainable development without ensuring full and adequate participation of women in economic activities.

It is high time that we focus on gender equality. Women have to be given a level playing field. For that, I advise the following five “E”s to be given importance:

- Education of comparable and high quality
- Equality of opportunity in all fields
- Empowerment through skill up- gradation to lead a life of dignity and active citizenship
- Emancipation from the discriminatory, exploitative practices
- Enabling conditions for economic upliftment including equal rights to property

There is an urgent need to enhance education levels among women and to provide adequate number of rewarding and dignified employment opportunities to women.

We need safe transportation, safe roads and safe public spaces.

Discrimination against women has to end, be it in terms of differential wages or skewed opportunities for career advancement. The private sector can play a major role in ending discrimination by being equal opportunity employers.

It is time that the ‘glass ceiling’ that stops women from reaching their true potential is shattered.

Here, I would like to appeal to all political parties to arrive at a consensus and ensure the passage of Women's Reservation Bill for providing reservation to women in the Parliament and state legislatures.

The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has always been a strong advocate of women's empowerment and launched several important schemes like 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padao', which sought to change the mindset of the people. Another important scheme, PM Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana was launched to ensure financial security to the girl child.

From schemes like ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ to the opening up combat roles for women in the armed forces, it is abundantly clear that our country is taking major steps to involve women in its development journey.

I once again compliment NITI Aayog for this excellent initiative and hope that there will be many more such meaningful initiatives that take our country forward towards a gender sensitive, inclusive, women-friendly India.

Jai Hind!”