HYDERABAD: Following the Covid-19 pandemic of lockdowns and ongoing social distancing norms that resulted in a decline in aggregate demand and business for physical retailers, e-commerce has emerged as a viable alternative for some small business owners. Among them were creative entrepreneurs.
Some women, who frequently work at home and are well versed in crafts, design, and other creative activities, have been able to use their creativity, talent, and intellectual property to take advantage of opportunities arising from the growing demand for products sold online. They met the need for products that ranged from masks and other wearables to household and packaged groceries. The geographically unrelated nature of this type of e-commerce enables women entrepreneurs to balance income generation with domestic responsibilities in ways that geographically connected work may not allow.
Given the low and declining female labor force participation rate in India of 9.3 percent as of December 2020, according to the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, it is imperative to use the opportunities of e-commerce to expand women’s entrepreneurship . At the same time, given the decline in the pandemic and vaccines, some glimmer of hope for a return to normal needs to be ensured that women entrepreneurs who have moved their business online or start new businesses rely on online marketplaces during the pandemic, not just survive, but also thrive.
Providing fairer access to technology, digital skills and information on how to access online markets is critical to enable more women to take advantage of e-commerce. According to the GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019, 40 percent of Indian women, compared to 20 percent of men, still do not have a mobile phone. Compared to male internet users, there are only half as many women. Compared to men, fewer women have access to digital skills.
Studies of existing female-owned businesses suggest that they remain small with a majority (83.2 percent) working without workers, according to the Sixth Economic Census 2013-14. However, success in e-commerce ultimately also depends on relatively low prices, but high production volumes that require larger structures.
In order for more women to grow their business, they need
(i) Access to more and better education, including training on how to run a business;
(ii) fairer access to a steady flow of capital beyond short-term microloans, which, unlike business investments, are often used for consumption; and
(iii) More gender-sensitive provisions in government programs to support small and medium-sized businesses.
Empowering women to take advantage of e-commerce means protecting the rights of sellers and consumers, but also tightening regulations to make e-commerce and exports more profitable.
India’s MSMEs make up over 99 percent of all businesses and are the building blocks of the country’s economic activity. When small businesses, especially women-owned businesses, can go online and access geographically dispersed markets, more women can enter the job market and realize their potential.
– Sabina Dewan, entrepreneur and international policy manager