The two-day national conference on Women Entrepreneurs in Trade & Commerce, being held in Bangalore for the first time in the country, have brought to the fore several issues concerning their vital role in the socio-economic development of India.
Hundreds of women entrepreneurs have gathered from across the country to highlight the need for policy guidelines and institutional framework that will enable them to contribute their mite in nation building.
Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural summit, organised by the Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Tarjani Vakil, former chairperson of Exim Bank of India, called for a national trading policy for free movement of goods with uniform levies so that more women could take to trade and commerce.
"Though India ranks 17th in the world on women entrepreneurs dealing with trade and commerce, they are still far behind many of their counterparts in the South-East region. While many of them have made a greater impact by emerging as entrepreneurs in diverse sectors such as manufacturing, small-scale sector, cottage industries, food-processing units and handicrafts, a large number of them are still left out in the services sector, including trade," Vakil stated.
With the service sector contributing about 50 percent of the national GDP growth, it is imperative that women entrepreneurs are encouraged to play a greater role in wholesale marketing and C&F activities. Dealerships in FMCG and consumer durables will give ample opportunities to be self-employed and create jobs for more women.
"The Centre has to formulate a national policy to facilitate women entrepreneurs to set up their own units in the new economy sectors such as biotechnology, consumer electronics, hardware, software and agro-food processing.
A national network of women entrepreneurs will enable them to market and distribute their products cost-effectively and efficiently. They have to coordinate their trading on the lines of their counterparts in the European Union," Vakil declared.
Stressing the need for easier access to information, communications, storage and distribution channels, Vakil said the government should have a dedicated source of funding for women entrepreneurs taking to trade and commerce on the lines of IDBI, which was set up exclusively for the growth of industries decades ago.
"There is an urgent need for greater fiscal reforms to simplify rules and regulations for attracting entrepreneurial and management skills of women for handling internal and external trade with other countries.
Incentives and exemptions will enable more women to face compete in the global market with an integrated approach to exports," said Women Entrepreneurs Committee chairperson Revathi Venkatraman.
Karnataka minister for heavy industries R V Deshpande said the state government would consider extending its popular Stree Shakthi Scheme to trade and commerce with micro credit for the women self-help groups.
Highlighting the success of the three-year innovative scheme, Deshpande said the innovative project, run exclusively by women self-help groups, empowers them to undertake income-generating activities through micro credit and self-financing units.
Canara Bank chairman and managing director R V Shastri assured the delegates that credit facilities and incentives would be made available for women entrepreneurs entering trade and service sectors.
Recalling the role of public sector banks in supporting ventures started by women, Shastri said during the fiscal year 2002-03, Canara Bank had disbursed a record Rs 2,074 crore (Rs 20.74 billion) credit to 700,000 women.
"About 6 percent of the bank's advancements have been earmarked for women entrepreneurs. With the recovery rate from them being the highest at around 98 percent, the bank is willing to extend financial support to more women, especially those entering the trade and service sectors," Shastri said.
Lamenting on the digital divide between urban and rural women, Women Entrepreneurs Committee advisor Madhura M Chatrapathy told about 300 delegates that a national movement had to be launched for eliminating the chasm that separates millions of rural women from their urban folk in every sphere of social and economic activities.
"An all-out campaign is required to eliminate illiteracy, poverty, and discrimination against women in the countryside so that they could be empowered to move up the value chain and become independent in decision-making.
The urban women should take the initiative in roping their rural folk into national mainstream and create opportunities for their self-employment," Chatrapathy asserted.