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Women's Financial & Digital Inclusion to Boost Economic Growth: UN Women India Representative

© AP Photo / Mahesh Kumar A.Women dressed in traditional saris take a selfie during festivities marking Onam in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023. Onam is an annual harvest festival celebrated mainly in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Women dressed in traditional saris take a selfie during festivities marking Onam in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023. Onam is an annual harvest festival celebrated mainly in the southern Indian state of Kerala.  - Sputnik India, 1920, 07.09.2023
India’s focus has been on “women-led development” during its presidency of G20 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself said that women empowerment is the “bedrock of our society’s development and their leadership, especially at the grassroots, is crucial for our inclusive and sustainable progress”.
As part of the G-20 Summit, India hosted the G020 Alliance for the Empowerment and Progression of Women’s Economic Representation (G20 EMPOWER) Summit and Women20 (W20) Summit in various states which saw participation of over 300 delegates from 13 G-20 and 4 guest countries and 8 international organisations including UN Women, UNICEF, ILO, the World Bank and ADB.
A total of seven international meetings, including the Ministerial Conference for Women Empowerment, were organised by Federal Ministry of Women and Child Development as the nodal office of G20 EMPOWER and W20.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) organised a Corporate Women Leadership Awards 2022-23 to felicitate exemplary women leaders in the corporate world.

On the sidelines of the awards, UN Women India Representative Susan Ferguson in an interview with Sputnik India shared her thoughts about India’s G20 presidency in terms of women-led development and other issues related to women empowerment.
Sputnik India: How do you see G20 under India’s presidency in terms of the Women20 (W20) Summit?
Ferguson: Well, I think that India has done an amazing job in terms of focusing on the importance of women's leadership. The engagement groups, the G20 EMPOWER and W20, have been incredibly significant.

So, all the working groups and engagement groups have been encouraged by the Sherpa Amitabh Kant himself to think about how they are going to make sure that women are a part of decision-making in their areas of expertise and how will women benefit from any actions that are agreed during the several meetings.

Therefore, in terms of women-led development, I think that India has really been a game-changer as the focus on women-led development has been from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
Sputnik India: During one of the G20 meets in Goa, the emphasis was laid on financial and digital inclusion of women across the globe to bridge the gender inequality gap. How do you think this gap can be bridged?
Ferguson: There are a lot less women owning mobile phones than men. I think roughly 250 million women globally still don't have a phone. So, there is much to be done in this regard.
The issue of women having the same access to the digital world as men is absolutely essential. It is important because if they can have the same opportunities that the tech and digital worlds bring it can actually make lot of difference.

For example, if a woman is an entrepreneur and has equal access to phones and data their economic activities stand to benefit everyone. Women are an economic force for change as they are half the population of the world and if they don’t have the same kind of access as men, it drags everyone back.

One of way of bridging the gap is by training women to use digital technology to make them aware of the opportunities.
I believe that if this gap is bridged, it will speed up economic development for everyone, and also help meet the SDGs.
Sputnik India: In recent years, there have been a lot of young women entrepreneurs from India who have made a mark globally. How do you see the future prospects of Indian women in the corporate world?
Ferguson: I think there are exemplary women in the corporate world in India and this has been evident in the CII awards. I believe there will be more in time to come.
This is in the interest of the corporate sector also, as they understand the benefits of including women and for women's leadership, for greater diversity on boards, greater diversity within firms, improving profits, etc.
So I think that this knowledge, and the input and impact of women will only grow over the years, and let's hope that young women are a part of that wave.
Sputnik India: You have talked about safety of women in India during a G20 event on “women-led development”. What are your suggestions in order to augment women's safety in India?
Ferguson: As far women's safety in India is concerned, I think it's about effective implementation of some of the excellent laws that exist in the country, such as POSH Act, which is about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Apart from this, I think businesses should also be looking toward providing safe transportation to women so that they can easily and safely commute for work.

Then there are other policies which are helpful in stopping the exploitation of women or violence against women. I know that some firms in India have policies around domestic violence too. So, if a woman has experienced violence in the home, they can access special leave to deal with that. So that’s the kind of support the business sector can give women to ensure safety and greater participation in the workforce.

Sputnik India: If we talk about participation of women in the workforce, India is placed quite low. How do you think this can be improved?
Ferguson: There are some issues with women in the workforce in India, but I think we need to look at the fact that many women are in the workforce, they're just not being counted as such. They may be working in the informal sector, where many women are active and actually running very good businesses, but they are in the informal sector, so they're not being counted.
So I think, it's about looking at how they can be included in this data, so that we get a better understanding of where women are in the workforce and the segregation from the formal sector to the informal sector.
Apart from this, it's about looking at how we can help more women in the informal sector get into the formal sector. For this, we need to be conscious of merit-based selection, making sure that women have the same kind of advantage as men when they go to a job. I am saying this because often interview committees may have some biases, of which they're unaware, for instance, they may turn down a pregnant woman.
Therefore, some of these norms and ideas need to be changed and companies should specifically discuss the ways of dealing with such things, including having 50 percent men and 50 percent women on interview panels, so that there’s diversity as well.
Women walk as they carry pitchers filled with drinking water on a hot summer afternoon in Lalitpur,  Uttar Pradesh state, India, Saturday, June 17, 2023. - Sputnik India, 1920, 07.09.2023
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