--BY DWAIPAYAN REGMI
Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Joy Mangano, one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs in the movie Joy, earned her a best actress nomination at this year’s Oscars. Although the IMDb rating for the movie is just 6.6, the film still clearly highlights the challenges that women face, and the opportunities that only women can discover. Joy Mangano, today is recognised as one successful entrepreneur and businesswoman.
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx has a similar story. At 29, she invested her entire life savings of USD 5000 trying to come up with something flattering to wear under her white slacks. It took her six months, she found her new line of shaping underwear and her life changed. Forbes lists her as one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the world. Beyonce, the singer-songwriter who started as part of Destiny's Child in the mid 1990s also became a huge top selling female solo artist. She has added fashionista to her list of accomplishments with the launch of the House of Deron in 2004. She also started shop.beyonce.com in 2012 making her the number one celebrity on Forbes.
Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw, from India, founder of Biocon is also a lesson for South Asian Entrepreneurship students. It was her company that went public in 2004 and became the only second company to reach USD one billion on its first trading day itself. It's not only in women related things that they have been operating worldwide. From tech giants, real estate masters, health care experts, entertainment world to fashion designers, there are women who are becoming idols in the business world.
Forbes states that due to the financial turmoil in the global economy in early 2016, only 190 women out of 1810 managed to stay in the Forbes list of the World's Billionaires. Liliane Betton, a French citizen managed to become the 11th richest person on the Forbes List having a worth of USD 36.2 billion, followed by Alice Walton, who manages second in the list with USD 32.3 billion.
Our government came up with the idea of promoting entrepreneurship in Nepal some years back, but due to the lack of proper implementation, it could not provide effective results. Around 1500 fly abroad from Tribhuwan International Airport every day, and it costs at least fifty thousand Nepali rupees. 75 million (50,000 x 1500) cash flow takes place every day looking for that dream job abroad. Despite huge prospects in medicinal herbs, tourism and agriculture, very little has been done to uplift the standard of life in Nepal. The names from Nepal included in the Panama Papers clearly show that big shots in Nepal are seeking space outside Nepal for their wealth. Youths still seek employment rather than taking a risk. Be it for men or women, entrepreneurship is equally risky but fear has taken over.
Despite being located between two big economic giants -China and India- Nepal has not yet been able to make any huge turnovers economically.Despite different aims and objectives presented by the World Bank, Millinium Development Goal (MDGs), the difference among the genders can be clearly traced from the literacy rate variation - males with 71.1 percent and females with 46.7 percent. This difference of 24.4 percent shows the equality rate.
Life in Nepal as a woman itself is challenging. The fear of social stigma, and priority granted to males over females by society makes them stay a step behind. Namrata Shrestha owns her own bar at Lazimpat. She is an entrepreneur. Had she not been an actor, her name would not be listed. Her entrepreneurship is known because she is an actor. There are thousands of female entrepreneurs like Shrestha, who own their own business, but they are not known, because they are not an actor or a popular celebrity. The boutiques around Kupondole or Jawalakhel are owned by women.
There are stories of entrepreneurs like Rita Bhandary, President of Federation of Women's Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (FWEAN) who herself runs both a handmade paper company and a marketing cooperative. Laxmi Sharma appears as the next outstanding woman entrepreneur with various national and international awards. Through her Laxmi Wood Craft Udhyog, she initiated the first button factory in Nepal. Through her initial step of driving an auto rickshaw, she has been moving ahead. Savitri Devi Chaudhary, from Sunsari is another unheralded person who has been working through the grassroots level. There are a number of women entrepreneurs who have been working in different sectors, from agriculture to house hold craft activities and who never have been recognised.
FWEAN has been focusing on redefining the perspective of women entrepreneurship. However, it is not an easy task to do business in Nepal and the challenge is much tougher for women.
It can be considered that socio-economic factors play a key role in forcing women to stay back instead of motivating them to come to the front and take the lead. However, the low confidence level of women and their desire to be husband dependent has been major obstacles when it comes to women entrepreneurship in the context of Nepal. Despite being qualified, women prefer to support their husband instead of being independent. Our social structure shapes women to wake up and serve tea for her in laws and her husband, rather than wake up and plan for a day of business.
Although the literacy rate is growing, and in big cities, wives have also been acting as the economic partner at home, it is still rare to find a husband involved in cooking, or combing the hair of children. It has to be the wife who has to take care of everything at home.
The lack of confidence within women is brought about by various constraints imposed by a traditional society. Distrust of society and operational problems equally create problems. It is normal in Nepal for a male employee to ignore orders given by a female employer due ego and pride.
For a woman who really wants to begin their own business, funding has been the major obstacle. Usually, they are under someone’s decision, and hence the support of her in laws plays a key role in starting the new business. Despite positive legal provisions for women, granting equal rights for parental property- it has not yet been practiced. Own funds from any means is hard to come by, as parents’ property are for sons, and the earned money belongs to the husband- fund access has to be questioned. A woman may need to seek approval from her in laws just to start a pickle business from home.
These are huge problems faced by women, but they have prospects in every space that men have. Females are usually preferred in the hospitality sector. This is an area in which women can excel. When women own these business firms, they can train more female employees too.
Nursing training centres, air hostess training centres or restaurants can also be regarded in this aspect. Again, the majority of woman in Nepal are handed the job of house wife. Therefore they tend to be busy in household tasks the entire day. That way, they do have prospects in starting a business using household items. Carpets made of hay, the pickles business, or even agriculture is their next open space where they can perform.
Better education facilities and schemes supported by adequate training programmes on management skills, vocational training followed by skill development training can also be used to encourage women. Encouraging women participation in decision making within the business firm also helps to promote women will power. Counseling and women development programmes should be held at the local level. Media has an important role to play. It needs to highlight women success stories to motivate women. Special schemes encouraging women to participate in new ventures can be introduced by the government, banks and other financial institutions. Low interest rates can be given to women who seek to borrow money from banks. The government can waive tax rates, or impose a low tax for women willing to operate a business.
It is not that women are not working- we can see haatbazaars in the Terai regions of Nepal operated basically by female members more than males, or even in Gahlegauns- the home stay cottages are operated mainly by females more than males. But still the possibility and prospects of women entrepreneurship seems far away. When, globally only a few women entrepreneurs show their name in the entrepreneurs list, it can be regarded as being stupid to expect equality in the case of Nepal. However, it is not impossible. Women have plans and she can stand up to follow her dream.
The author is a freelance writer and a blogger. He can be reached at [email protected]