Women And The Industrial Sector

The Micro Small and Medium Industrial Enterprises (MSMEs) can be termed as a gender sensitive sector, as we have women entrepreneurs as well as women workers. This sector is a soft option for women as they generally have lower capital base and technical know- how. It also gives them more flexibility in terms of working from home and makes fewer demands on them by way of time, becuase women are time-poor as they have to look after their households too.

According to the latest data available), in 2006-2007, 13.83% of all registered and 7.83% of all unregistered MSME enterprises were owned and managed by women. In terms of employment, about 103 lakh women workers were employed in this sector. As against 15.85% of male workers in the registered segment, the percentage of female workers was 22.81. This clearly indicates that women find MSME sector a decent source of livelihood.

As of now, the government has certain special schemes exclusively for women entrepreneurs in the MSME sector, which focus on skill building and credit/marketing assistance. For women with inadequate education and skills, the MSME Development Organization has introduced product oriented entrepreneurship development programmes in areas like TV repairing, leather goods, screen printing etc. The Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) has two special schemes for women--- (i) Mahila Udyam Nidhi -for providing equity to them and (ii) Mahila Vikas Nidhi - for offering developmental help for pursuit of income generating activities for women.

Women owned enterprises were seen to have a lower capital base too. So in the context of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), the deciding factors for women entrepreneurs would be (i) their ability to be equally competitive as their male counterparts, so that they are able to cope as special protection goes down; (ii) availability of financial and human resources so that they are able to compete with bigger foreign companies; and (iii) continuation of government promotional policies giving them concessions.

A UNCTAD Study of 2008 found that only 36% of the increased jobs that accrued in India due to increased exports, went to women. Also, the experience of trade liberalisation has shown that whereas women have got more jobs in textiles/garments, leather, and agricultural processed products, they are also likely to face more adverse work conditions by way of wage disparity, stricter leave rules, and temporary jobs. So it is not a very fair playing field for women due to various social and economic factors.

Some of these issues and other concerns were addressed at a recent MSME stakeholders’ consultation on "India's Free Trade Agreement Policy: Implications for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises," held in Kanpur, which was organized jointly by Third World Network (TWN), Shramik Bharti and Traidcraft India. Ranja Sengupta, Senior Researcher at TWN, gave a lucid presentation on ‘Provision, Linkages and Possible Impacts’ of India’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on MSMEs.Neeti Malhotra, Country Director of Traidcraft, spoke about fair trade practices and their importance in business.

The consultation was chaired by Anil Gupta, President Indian Industries Association, Lucknow , who urged all MSME stakeholders to act unitedly, understand the implications of FTAs before it is too late, and impress upon the government the necessity of protecting the interests of MSMEs in all international negotiations regarding FTAs. Besides representatives of several MSME associations, including Padma Shukla, Chairperson Indian Council of Women Entrepreneurs (ICWE), Kanpur Chapter, many women entrepreneurs, also attended the meet. They came from all walks of life—school owners, stitching unit owners, jewellery designers and others. They were all members of ICWE and had come there out of curiosity to learn something new, and above all to get their business problems addressed—which ranged from non availability of finance to finding a proper outlet for sale/export of products manufactured by them. They were either unaware of, or wary of government schemes for women entrepreneurs. But none of them had heard of Free Trade Agreements.

One jewellery designer Sheetal Shukla, knew about intellectual property rights and wanted to have a patent and copyright for her designs which she sells to jewellers. She was also aware that getting a patent is a cumbersome and costly process, which was worrying her no end.

Despite formulating some women entrepreneur friendly schemes, India is yet to use gender sensitivity as a clear criterion for marking sensitive products. Also, threat to women entrepreneurs and workers make come from goods trade as well as from increased foreign investment which may target to reduce women’s labour with a view to be labour saving, stricter IPRs to which women have less access to; liberalization of public procurement, where women groups often get preferential access.

The consultation helped in generating an interest about FTA provisions as well as creating awareness about the valuable contribution of MSMEs in the growth of Indian economy. All the participants broadly agreed to prepare themselves to defend their markets as well as access new opportunities, by upgrading technology and by addressing environmental issues. They also decided to come together on a common platform to lobby with the government on domestic and international policies to ensure that MSMEs continue to grow and prosper.

A good beginning indeed, thanks to the combined efforts of the organizers and presenters of the consultation process. Unless we understand a issue and its implications, we cannot get actively and passionately involved in the policy/decision making processes.

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She is also the Director of CNS Gender Initiative and CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI). She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org)

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