As part of a qualitative study, I recently got the opportunity to conduct a Focus Group Discussion with some Women Kirana Entrepreneurs in one of the districts of U.P. While talking to these women was certainly inspirational, some of the conversations we touched upon were thought-provoking for me. We had discussions centered around their experiences in the Medium, Small, and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs)- operational and financial knowledge of running a business, and the realities and struggles of being working women in today’s world.
As the conversations unfolded, I realized that, while they are upskilling themselves on various technical aspects, there is still a long way ahead for us to ensure the economic and social inclusivity of women in male-dominated spaces such as this. There is a huge mismatch between the government’s efforts toward the retail sector and the inclusion of women within this space. There are about 16 million retail establishments in our country, with only 9% being run by women 1
As the discussion with them, seeped into the family dynamics and support in running businesses, I heard stories of how these women were juggling between household chores and running their shops, with minimal support. They mentioned getting a little help from their daughters and mothers-in-law in the household activities but, unsurprisingly, the men of the house were completely out of this picture. When asked if they expect their husbands and sons to help with the household chores, one of the entrepreneurs said, and I quote –
“Pati ko bhi ghar ke kaam me barabar ka sath dena chahiye, yeh sab kitaabi baate hai. Humare ghar me aadmiyon ne yeh sab kabhi nahi kiya hai. Yeh sab mera kaam hai or mai hi yeh karti hoon”
When talking about how they juggle the two, a woman entrepreneur mentioned opening the Kirana shop a little late in the morning and closing for an hour in the afternoon to cook lunch for the husband and family. She says it affects customer outreach a bit, but it is necessary and must be done.
The conversations reflected that though the women believed that gender roles should be fluid and men should participate equally in household chores, they cannot even think of questioning the already established status quo in their own homes. For now, it is just a theoretical concept to them, which is ideal but not their reality.
Another challenge that surfaced during our conversations was related to the perception of community. The women recalled instances where customers assumed them to be less knowledgeable and skilled than a man who was running a shop adjacent to theirs and questioned their ability to deliver the best services. One of the women Kirana entrepreneurs who primarily runs the shop with support from her husband quoted –
“Jab mere husband dukaan pe nahi hote hai or mai akele customers ko attend karti hun or samaan ka daam batati hun, kuch log mere husband ko bulane ko kehte hai ya husband ke hone par saaman kharidna pasand karte hai”
Despite these women being efficient at their work, society still perceives them as incompetent and fails to take them seriously.
We also talked about what they think would have been the state of their business if a man was primarily running it instead of them. One of them quoted –
‘’Agar koi aadmi is business ko chalata to vo shayad isko kaafi uchai tak le kar jaa pata. Aadmi logo ko business ke baare me zyada samaj hoti hai aur behtar tarah se isko handle kar paate’’
Other women with similar kinds of responses were the ones who resiliently opened their shops to suffice the monetary needs of families and have been proactively juggling home and business since then. Despite being strong, and hardworking, they had internalized the conjecture that they are less capable than men, as it has been projected on them throughout their lives.
The field insights clearly highlight how social norms, psychological constraints, and gender bias affect women’s participation in the entrepreneurial world. Studies suggest this to be true, not only for the women working in retail spaces but for women from all walks of life. According to literature by Indiaspend, less than 13% of the small business in our country are led by women, stating social challenges as one of the significant reasons for such a low figure 2
Various skill development initiatives by government and philanthropic organizations in India are playing a crucial role in supporting women entrepreneurs from MSME. Their focus is on honing technical competencies and providing improved access to financial resources to these women. It appears that there is also a need for the existing programs to focus on addressing such psychological and social constraints. India currently stands at number 52 out of 57 countries on MasterCard’s Women Entrepreneurs Index. We are currently losing out on the capacity for innovations, economic growth, and development, as millions of women, despite being ambitious are unable to realize their full potential. To accomplish our 2030 sustainability goals of achieving inclusive economic growth along with gender equality, there is an urgent need to address these less-focused constraints, holding back women entrepreneurs across the country.
Author: Vranda Gandhi, Project Coordinator, Development Solutions