By Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
“There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”
– Swami Vivekananda
In a country where men often dominate sports, several amazing women burst on to the stage to not only win glory for India but also make history at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu secured a silver on the first day of the Games; shuttler P.V. Sindhu became only the second Indian and the country’s first woman to win two Olympic medals; boxer Lovlina Borgohain fought her way to bronze; golfer Aditi Ashok finished a highly creditable fourth; and the Indian women’s hockey team qualified for their first Olympic semi-finals.
They have shown that today’s India is home to a confident new breed of women who have the self-belief that allows them to excel in any domain and compete with their male counterparts on an equal footing. Many of them are outperforming their male colleagues and assuming leadership roles in their respective fields.
Through sheer determination and hard work, these women have broken through gender barriers imposed on them by society, made a mark for themselves and inspired a future generation of girls.
I, myself, had to break many a gender barrier when I started Biocon in 1978 as a young, 25-year-old woman entrepreneur, with no business background and limited financial resources. To begin with, entrepreneurship was a new phenomenon that was only for daring men and certainly not a ‘career’ choice for women. Banks were unwilling to lend to me because I was considered ‘high risk’ in the business world. Professionals did not want to work for me as they felt that I could not provide them ‘job security.’ However, I was driven by my passion to pursue the road less taken and make a difference. Having built India’s largest enzymes company in the early 1980s, I decided to pursue the path of affordable innovation to develop complex biopharmaceuticals for chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer to enhance access for patients worldwide thus impacting global health. Today, 43 years down the road, Biocon is a global biopharmaceuticals powerhouse. Interestingly, there are over 8 million businesses managed by women entrepreneurs in India currently, according to latest NSSO data.
SOCIAL MINDSETS NEED TO CHANGE
Despite the success Indian women have achieved in science, business, sports and various other fields, certain sections of the Indian society continue to live under the cast of repressive mindsets. This finds expression in gender discrimination, female foeticide, preference for the male child, denying education to girls and extends to sexual violence against women. To create an environment that breeds equality, instils confidence in women and assures them of their safety and security, both men and women should come forward to commit themselves to a code of conduct that is built on mutual respect. Everybody needs to embrace a culture of gender diversity and gender equality. We need to create a society that is safe for each and every woman.
UNLEASHING WOMEN POWER
India is home to nearly 18% of the world’s population and women make up almost half of that number. Indian women have been contributing significantly to the country’s economy for decades now. Women thus have a crucial role to play in driving the Indian economy to the aspirational US$5-trillion milestone by 2025.
Entrepreneurshipis a bold and daring path irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman. It is about being able to ideate, take risks, manage failures, sight opportunities, and understand markets. Ideas are agnostic to gender and women have a huge opportunity in creating solutions for every aspect of the new normal that the COVID-19 pandemic has created.
India has over 50,000 government-recognized startups, with at least 45% of them having women entrepreneurs. Several women-led startups such as Adiuvo Diagnostics, Niramai, qure.ai, OncoStem Diagnostics, LungXpert etc are bringing path-breaking healthcare solutions to India. Nykaa, India’s first women-led unicorn, is readying for an IPO. The success of Nykaa should not only motivate more women to turn entrepreneurs but also inspire confidence among predominantly male-dominated venture capital firms to invest in women-led startups.
It is my firm belief that women will be at the forefront of transformational economic and societal change in India in the run-up to the centennial of Indian Independence.
The article first appeared in Dainik Bhaskar on 15th August 2021.