HYDERABAD : In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with lockdowns and persistent social distancing norms that led to a decline in aggregate demand and in business for physical retailers, e-commerce emerged as a viable alternative for some small business owners. Among them were women creative entrepreneurs.
Often home-based, some women skilled in crafts, design, and other creative endeavours were able to leverage their creativity, talent, and intellectual property to avail opportunities brought about by the growing demand for products sold online. They fulfilled the need for products ranging from masks and other wearables to household and packaged food items. The geographically untethered nature of this kind of e-commerce enables women entrepreneurs to balance income generation with domestic responsibilities in a way that geographically tethered work may not allow.
Against the backdrop of India’s low and declining female labour force participation rate – 9.3 per cent as of December 2020 according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, leveraging the opportunities that e-commerce has to offer to expand women’s entrepreneurship is imperative. At the same time, as the pandemic recedes and vaccines provide some semblance of hope for a return to normalcy, there is a need to ensure that women entrepreneurs that shifted their businesses on to the internet or started new ones relying on online marketplaces during the pandemic, not only survive but also thrive.
Providing more equitable access to technology, digital skills, and education on how to access online markets is critical to enabling more women to avail of the opportunities that e-commerce has to offer. 40 per cent of Indian women, relative to 20 per cent of men, still do not own a mobile phone according to GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019. There are only half as many female relative to male internet users. Fewer women have access to digital skills relative to men.
Studies of existing women-owned businesses suggest that they remain small with a majority (83.2 per cent) according to the Sixth Economic Census 2013-14) operating without hired workers. But, success in e-commerce also ultimately relies on relatively low prices, but high volumes of production that call for larger set-ups.
To enable more women to grow their businesses, they need
(i) access to more and better education that includes training on how to run a business;
(ii) more equitable access to a steady stream of capital beyond short-term microloans that frequently get used for consumption as opposed to business investments; and
(iii) more gender-specific provisions in government schemes supporting small and medium enterprises.
Enabling women to capitalise on the opportunities that e-commerce has to offer entails protecting the rights of sellers and consumers, but also in streamlining regulations to make e-commerce and exports more viable.
Constituting over 99 per cent of all firms, India’s MSMEs are the building blocks of the country’s economic activity. Enabling small businesses, especially women-owned ones, to get online and access geographically dispersed markets, can help more women enter the labour market harnessing their potential.
– Sabina Dewan, entrepreneur and international policy executive