Empirical evidence shows that women contribute significantly to the running of family businesses mostly in the form of unpaid effort and skills. The value of this effort is underestimated both by the families that take it for granted and in academic studies. On the other hand, many of the enterprises defined as being run by women (that is, enterprises in which women hold the controlling share) are in fact run in their names by men who control operations and decision making. Programmes meant to reach women entrepreneurs can succeed only if they take note of this paradox as well as of the familial and social conditioning that reduces the confidence, independence and mobility of women.

Programmes for encouraging entrepreneurship among women are doomed to fail or at best to succeed partially when taken up in isolation. This is because entrepreneurship by definition implies being in control of one’s life and activities. It is precisely this independence that society has denied to women all along.

Promoting entrepreneurship for women will require an even greater reversal of traditional attitudes than the mere creation of jobs for women would. This does not mean that we should wait for societal change to take place first. But it does imply that the programme should go beyond subsidies and credit allocation to attitudinal changes, group formation, training and other support services.

Training in entrepreneurial attitudes should start at the high school level through well-designed courses which build confidence through behavioral games. This exercise would illustrate practical application of the academic knowledge being imparted regarding management (financial, legal, etc.) of an enterprise. This curriculum should include simple project work designed to give hands on experience of assessing the marketability of a commodity or a service. EDI Ahmedabad appears to be running a programme on these lines in Gujarat which could be replicated elsewhere. While making this compulsory for girls at the high school level, however, care must be taken to ensure quality and the syllabus should be reviewed continuously on the basis of the feedback received using professional inputs.

To release women from the constraints on mobility that society imposes on them throughout their lives, high school girls should be compulsorily taught to cycle. There is proof that increased mobility contributes immensely to raising confidence levels. An additional measure that may increase mobility and confidence is to compulsorily train girls also in the methods and techniques of self defence.

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