In India, 195 million women are ‘employed in the unorganised sector or in unpaid labour’, according to a report by Deloitte.  If women were to participate in the country’s workforce to the same extent as men, it would help increase India’s GDP by 27 percent. 

The country has 18 percent of the world's population and a workforce of more than 520 million people. Investing in its female population presents India with a huge opportunity to transform its economic fortunes. 

The disparity between women and men working in the professional sector has been discussed by the UN Global Compact Network India at the 2019 Gender Equality Summit. Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of increasing women’s participation in the workforce is an important target for both the Indian economy and for its society’s wellbeing as a whole. Additionally, empowering Indian women to be part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will strengthen the country’s standing internationally. 

Barriers facing women and girls in India include limited access to education, information, technology, as well as social and political participation.  The problem begins in the education sector, where 39 percent of girls aged between 15-18 are leaving schools and colleges without finishing their education. Digital literacy is also an issue, with only a third of women (34 percent) having access to mobile technology, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Three quarters of women have also never used the internet.   

The education ecosystem in India requires overhauling in order to encourage girls to fulfil their potential. This can be achieved through digital literacy education, teaching strong foundational skills, and introducing STEM education in schools. Vocational training and apprenticeships will also be key to inject confidence into girls and women. 

Education-focused non-government organisations (NGOs) are looking to improve literacy in the country. Pratham aims to have “every child in school and learning well”, whilst Room to Read is focused on developing literacy skills and reading habits, encouraging girls to complete their secondary school education. 

For many social entrepreneurs, the desire to make a difference stems from personal experiences. Indian-born Stanford University graduate, Aashna Shroff, has co-founded the non-profit  Girls Code Camp, which aims to  teach computer science to middle and high-school aged girls in India. Whilst growing up in Mumbai, Shroff was one of only two girls in her computer classes at school. Shroff wants to help change the prospects for girls, and the Girls Code Camp has already taught over 800 pupils. Shroff is now studying at  Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and hopes to develop low-cost education tools for India and other countries in a similar situation.

Digital literacy initiatives are targeting women as well as girls. The Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) focuses on finding ‘sustainable ICT solutions for marginalised communities to overcome information poverty and enable better access to benefits and rights in rural India’. It aims to empower communities with digital literacy, digital tools and last mile connectivity. Its motto is to ‘inform, communicate and empower.’

One of DEF’s initiatives is around training female volunteers to be an ‘Internet Saathi’.  A project between Google and Tata Trusts, it educates women in rural areas how to use mobile phones and the internet, with the aim of encouraging independence and increased mobility. Through Internet Saathi, DEF aims to mobilise 3,000 women volunteers (Internet Saathis), equipping them with ICT tools and knowledge to connect remote communities with the mainstream world. The aim is that the initial 3,000 women will train other women about digital, creating a ripple effect that will eventually reach thousands of women across 10,000 villages. 

Empowering women and providing them with the education and confidence to work in the professional sector will have a far-reaching impact on India’s economy.  Technology has a role to play in enabling this change, but the real challenge is changing mindsets.

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