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Women’s Empowerment will strengthen the economy in India

A more granular classification, as well as the introduction of demographic targeting in corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting that distinguishes between beneficiaries by sex, could help enhance the tracking and support for women and girls.

In India, Women’s Economic Empowerment remains a big challenge as women’s participation in the workforce dropped to a historic low of 23.3%, per the recent periodic labour force survey (PLFS) data published by the NSSO. It is estimated that India’s GDP could be increased by 27% if women were to participate in the labour force in equal numbers to men. A report by the United Nations Development Programme in India (UNDP India), in partnership with Samhita Social Ventures, found that 72% of BSE 100 companies report an intervention in women’s Empowerment. So, there is a huge opportunity to tap into the widespread CSR interest in this cause. The report, Corporate Engagement in Women’s Economic Empowerment, launched in New Delhi, includes a microanalysis of the CSR and business activities of India’s top 100 companies on the BSE 100 index on women’s economic Empowerment (WEE). The report outlines the opportunities for corporations to use CSR as a catalyst for this cause. It examines the nature of CSR support for WEE, including the proportion and distribution of funding, geographical footprint, and the most popular types of interventions. It also explores the corporate sector’s treatment of women in employment, leadership and supply chain management practices. In doing so, it makes a case for better and more comprehensive measures for gender inclusivity and sensitivity through its two models: The Responsible Citizenship Continuum, which enables companies to solve the complex issues of gender empowerment, and the Lifecycle of Women’s Economic Empowerment.

CSR expenditure is relatively low: women’s economic Empowerment garnered was just Rs. 251 Cr, with a median of Rs. 1.97 Cr per company, accounting for 4% of total CSR spend, according to the report. Geographically, states requiring interventions in women’s Empowerment, such as Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam, require more CSR intervention. It has been observed that CSR strategies currently are missing certain critical aspects of the women’s economic empowerment lifecycle. Companies are taking a siloed approach, with only 31% of the businesses intervening in all three stages of preparation, enter, grow & sustain. As a result, the CSR support is concentrated in the Prepare and Enter stages. Vocational training was the most common CSR intervention (68% of companies reported such a program), followed by SHG creation (42%) and entrepreneurship development (30%). Experts suggest more thrust in these areas. Not many companies reported supporting digital and financial inclusion explicitly – 11% and 15% – despite the presence of well-established and scalable models and NGOs working in these sectors. As global work gets digital, India cannot afford to keep 50 per cent of the country’s economic power, devoid of digital skills. There were fewer CSR programs in ‘Enablers’. Only 22% of companies reported programs on soft and life skills, and only two companies worked in domestic violence. Companies said practical challenges, such as the complex nature of decision-making within companies, difficulties in identifying evidence-backed and effective models and experienced partners etc, when attempting to incorporate some of these interventions into their programs.

The Key Findings on addressing WEE through business practices

  • Highlighting a key need gap, the report nudges companies to look beyond the regular CSR focus on initiatives for women to promote an enabling environment for women to participate and thrive in the workforce.
  • Data showed that women make up less than 10% of the permanent workforce of the majority of BSE 100 companies, possibly because historically male-dominated industries, including manufacturing and automobile sectors, are highly represented in this category.
  • All except two companies complied with the mandate to appoint at least one women director on their board. However, only 15% of companies had three or more women board members – the strength it takes to create balanced board dynamics that allow for women’s ideas to be heard, per global research.
  • Case studies on Godrej Ltd., Arvind Ltd. And ACC show how companies are being responsible employers.
  • While representative, quantitative data was not available to map the supply chain performance of companies on WEE, the report highlights case studies on Future Group, Hindustan Unilever, Mars Inc. etc. to showcase how companies support women’s Empowerment through their procurement and distribution practices.

A report, Philanthropy and Gender Equality Taking stock: Domestic philanthropy and corporate social responsibility for gender equality in India, shows that within India, CSR spending for women’s organisations was positively correlated with state-level female labour participation rates. However, there was no correlation between funding and state-level female/ male wage ratios. In addition, the study revealed insights related to states with high proportions of a crime involving female victims and conditions with a high prevalence of domestic violence. Under CSR reporting requirements, only three categories refer to gender- or women-related support: gender equality, women empowerment, and setting up homes and hostels for women. Yet, funding in other categories, such as livelihood enhancement projects, setting up orphanages, or rural development projects, also targets gender equality.

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