How Women Entrepreneurs are Changing Indian Society

In India, the proportion of women in paid work is among the lowest in the world, at just over 23% – a figure which contrasts sharply with the corresponding rate of over 78% for men.

Opportunities for women to enter employment in the country are limited by a range of factors. These include a dominant tradition of female domestic responsibility, and a prevailing social patriarchy.

Deeply entrenched cultural expectations mean that women are more likely to stay at home. And when they do work, it is mainly on an informal basis, without the luxury of secured wages and contracts.

Against this backdrop, the idea of female entrepreneurship in India faces major challenges. Setting up a business can require significant efforts outside of normal work times, and can lead to women being perceived as irresponsible if they dedicate time to entrepreneurial activities.

But it seems as if things may be changing. My research on women entrepreneurs in India reveals they are contesting social, cultural and family pressures to challenge the status quo in Indian society. They are also empowering other women while providing innovative solutions to major social problems.

Some of the women I spoke to greatly inspired me with their stories. One manufacturing business founder, Pinky Maheshwari, was challenged by her son to make environmentally friendly paper. She went on to create handmade paper made out of cotton that is embedded with seeds. These can then be planted and grown into trees when the paper has served its purpose.

Her award-winning ideas have won appreciation and support from the highest levels of Indian government. She is, she told me, motivated by the idea of empowering others, and “hires women from rural and small towns so that they earn a livelihood and get acknowledged for their creativity”.

She added: “I have employed largely women and I support them in any way I can.”

A similar spirit shone through other women entrepreneurs I interviewed. Padmaja Narsipur, the founder of a digital marketing strategy firm, supports women “re-starters” to join her workforce after a break in their working lives.

She said: “Women re-starters are highly qualified and committed. I have been one myself. I have built a workplace where trust in employees, giving flexible hours, work from home options, is built into the DNA and it is paying off.”

The CEO of Anthill creations, Pooja Rai has a vision to create “interactive learning environments in public spaces with a primary focus on sustainability”, by using recycled materials to build accessible play areas in remote parts of India.

These are just some of the many Indian women entrepreneurs I met who are creating businesses of real purpose. Despite the cultural obstacles, they are changing perceptions and creating innovative businesses that have a real impact on their communities and beyond.

Their work is rewriting the rules for business, families and society while challenging the mindset that there is limited scope for them to create good businesses.

With a blend of social purpose and business acumen, Indian women are embarking on a journey to change perceptions and creating prosperity for themselves and for the nation.

This is the new face of women entrepreneurship in India. And there is evidence that public policy is increasingly supportive of this transformation while society is beginning to celebrate their successes.

Indian society is gradually becoming progressively egalitarian with much needed government initiatives such as “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) designed to improve the prospects of young girls.

Improved access to social mediaeducation, and social enterprises are all contributing to change. These are giving momentum to the aspirations of women entrepreneurs in India.

MILI SHRIVASTAVA is a Lecturer in Strategy at Bournemouth University.


Indigenous Women in Canada Have Filed a Class Action Lawsuit Over Coerced Sterilization

This practice has affected over 60 women and is a product of racism in Canada’s medical system.

Royal University Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada. Wendy Cooper. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Royal University Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada. Wendy Cooper. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

While Canada is known for its progressive policies surrounding human rights and health care, this assumption can often lead to overlooking the country’s history of institutionalized discrimination against indigenous people.

Recently, sixty women have come forward to join a class action lawsuit against doctors in Saskatchewan demanding compensation for forced sterilization. According to a report in the Guardian, these women have had their fallopian tubes tied, burned, or cut, in public government funded hospitals when they were unable to properly consent. This practice not only violates medical ethics, but Canadian law. Although this practice was exposed in 2015, reported cases have continued up to 2017.

In an interview with NPR, Alisa Lombard, the lawyer representing the women said that, “while they were in the throes of labor, they would be approached, pressured, harassed to sign consent forms [for sterilization] in some cases. In other cases, there was no such signing of a consent form. And in yet other cases, they would revoke consent either on the operating table or shortly after they had actually signed.”

This new occurrence of forced sterilization follows a disturbing trend of forced or coerced sterilization that has disproportionately affected - if not only affected - women of color, women with disabilities, incarcerated women, and indigenous women. It stems from the eugenics movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that used racist and ableist ideology to justify forced sterilization of people that were not seen as ‘fit’ to reproduce. The perpetuation of this warped and inhumane theory has become clearly evident in Canada’s upcoming lawsuit.

According to Lombard, “When Indigenous women go in for these health care services and reproductive health care services in the most vulnerable state, I think, a woman can be - having gone through childbirth myself, I can say that this is not the time to have a conversation about whether you ever want to do that again. There are other better times. And so why it happens in one simple word, I think we can just say discrimination - racism, quite plainly.”

Lombard and her team uncovered that Saskatchewan health cards are embossed with a capital R. She says that the R is part of a historic practice indicating that the person holding it is registered as an indigenous person. Thus, the patient’s identity is readily available to their doctor.

While the lawsuit has yet to be certified, Amnesty International said that they would lobby the UN Committee Against Torture in order to pressure the Canadian government to act. According to Amnesty’s Jacqueline Hansen, the organization has examined comparable instances of coerced or forced sterilization in Mexico, Chile, and Peru.

“It’s always done for a very specific reason. It is clear that it’s been linked to policies around wanting to ensure a group of people doesn’t reproduce,” Hansen told the Guardian. “Ultimately, this is about women who are supposed to have the right to make decisions about their bodies, having that right taken away from them.”

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her.

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New Zealand's Female Prime Minister Takes Maternity Leave

By Ministry of Justice of New Zealand ( [CC BY-SA 4.0  (], via Wikimedia Common)

By Ministry of Justice of New Zealand ( [CC BY-SA 4.0  (], via Wikimedia Common)

Women in positions of power, especially those of political nature, have historically been insufficiently represented within society. According to an article by TIME Magazine, just 11 countries of nearly 200 globally are lead by women today. However, gender norms are changing as feminist movements throughout the past century have pushed the limits of traditional female roles. New Zealand is one of the most progressive and equal countries around the world when it comes to issues of race and gender. As of October 26, 2017, Jacinda Ardern became the country’s third female prime minister—a feat on its own. She then went on to represent a greater controversy regarding the lack of women in positions of political power and the expectations placed on them once there. Ardern countered these expectations as a young female leader, unmarried and pregnant while still in office.

The prime minister used this opportunity to make a statement about gender equality, proving that traditional roles and rules regarding men, women, marriage, and children are outdated and wrongfully stigmatized. Ardern went on to suggest she would take a maternity leave, a first for any leader around the world. She announced that following her maternity leave, her husband and fishing documentarian will become a stay at home dad. She pridefully acknowledged on Instagram that her and her partner would become two of the many parents who “wear two hats.” New Zealand Labour prime minister Helen Clarke stated, “These are the kinds of practical arrangements working women make all over the world—the novelty here is that it is a prime minister who is making them. The signal this sends, however, is that this is life in the 21st century.” Clearly, Ardern has defied what has been typically represented in political positions by living and acting as many families do in today’s age. All at once, she disputes the expectations placed on politicians, traditional relationships and the role of women by decisively representing the new reality.

Upon the announcement of her pregnancy to the country, she remarked, “I don’t want to ever give the impression that I’m some kind of wonder woman or that women should be expected to do everything because I am. I’m not doing everything.” On June 21, 2018, her young daughter was born and it appeared that the whole of New Zealand was watching, waiting, and supporting the 37-year old leader. She shared the news of her child’s birth over a Facebook Live video. This openness implies a level of commitment to relatability to which her country has connected. She has achieved a 76% personal approval rate among NZ citizens.

Among her many achievements, from becoming the youngest prime minister to take office in NZ to being the first woman to take a maternity leave as the leader of a country, she was also named as part of TIME Magazine’s most influential people of 2018. Jacinda Ardern challenges the notion that women can’t have it all, she confidently meshes motherhood with career while leading a country into the new epoch. For women and politics around the world, she is paving the way for more female empowerment and acting—not simply remarking—on behalf of her values about equality.

ELEANOR DAINKO is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia studying Spanish and Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies. She recently finished a semester in Spain, expanding her knowledge of opportunity and culture as it exists around the world. With her passion to change the world and be a more socially conscious person, she is an aspiring entrepreneur with the hopes of attending business school over seas after college. 

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ESTONIA: No Man’s Land: The Island Where Women Rule

On the little island of Kihnu, seven miles off the coast of Estonia, women run the show. The island still functions as one of the last matriarchal societies left in the world. Historically, Kihnu’s men spend most of the year fishing at sea in order to provide for their families back home. In their absence, the women lead the community of 400 strong, cultivating a vibrant folk culture while protecting and preserving their ancient traditions.