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Make Gender Diversity A Priority

Women do not need doles, they deserve legitimate opportunities

Kamala Harris was sworn in on January 20 as the first woman Vice President in American history as well as the first woman with African, American and Indian lineage. She had reached the coveted position breaking barriers and glass ceilings which had denied women their rightful due ever since the formation of USA.

Harris’s rise was rather heartwarming for civil society and saner elements in the US which witnessed a most violent and shameful transition of power from outgoing President Donald Trump who still remains blind to the stark public mandate against him. Other factors apart, her rise to power brought a glow to the sullen faces of most non-white Americans; this is not to say that she does not enjoy any ‘white’ support.

However, many in South Asia are unable to comprehend the ecstatic welcome of Kamala Harris in the US. After all, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and Israel in West Asia have seen extended regimes headed by women. In fact, we found surprising that the ‘advanced and modern’ US was a laggard in this respect till Kamala Harris rose despite her obstacles.

Politics apart, the US has been the hub of women emancipation and empowerment. They have scaled the most difficult of heights in most domains including corporate business, entrepreneurship, education, science & technology, defence, literature, art and culture. If you have the will, then you have the highest possibility of carving a way for yourself in USA.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Nepal and neighbouring countries. Advances in politics are not reflected in other spheres of our life. Gender discrimination in Nepal remains heavily weighed against our girls and women. There has been a spurt in laws formulated to offer equality and equity to women, but deeply entrenched social mindsets easily overwhelm government and legislative endeavour.

Keeping in context this column’s character, let us now focus on Nepali women’s place in the business space.

What is the shortest and sustainable way of enhancing the participation of Nepali women in business? Not least important may be the doubt over the need to do so. One may wonder whether women are really cut out for cutthroat business.

Let us go into the recent past. The country’s most major companies and conglomerates had humble beginnings. The seeds were sown by determined entrepreneurs in place and time which were not the most hospitable. Those dedicated to business survived and thrived. Many more fell by the wayside. That is the way and nature of business. Successful business persons created wealth and employment for thousands. They built Nepal’s economic spine at their own risk. Mind you, the private sector had to fend for itself unlike public sector undertakings it did not have unaccounted access to public tax. So the challenges were daunting.

Even after tasting success, many thriving companies have to be on their toes. While Covid 19 pandemic has shaken the roots of Nepali and global business, it’s also becoming a question of sheer survival.

Women who are trying to venture into business today deserve a salute from existing companies because they are beginning with a gender handicap in a strongly patriarchal society.

Let’s scan some data. Women own merely 14 % of the firms registered in Nepal. Lack of finance and share in immovable property compels women to hunt for bare minimum seed capital. Bereft of collateral they are unable to raise funds. This being the scenario, women are unable to showcase even technical expertise which is vital alongside networking for support from banks.

This gender gap can be bridged. But a very few are willing to invest in bringing women up to the desired level. This is despite the fact that heads of most banks and even CEOs of foreign companies operating in Nepal have a high opinion of our women managers’ honesty, integrity, work quality and sense of responsibility.

The lady head of a Nepali bank had no qualms in telling a conference that default rate by women was close to zero and they were willing to pay more to the lender. Women led and owned companies were making 10 to 15% higher profit than businesses owned by men, she added.

Entrepreneurial spirit forms the root of corporate business. But we also know that entrepreneurship is subject to high mortality. Gestation period and breakeven can be painfully long. Scalability is difficult and most enterprises get stuck after reaching a certain level.

It is here that major Nepali corporates can play a game changing role. They should head to the campuses and recruit the best managerial talent from among female students. As our economy recovers from Covid’s blow and employment grows, corporates should start inducting more and more female professionals. Their capability and commitment as corporate managers is unquestionable. Companies are hurting themselves and the society by neglecting women.

Women do not need doles, they deserve legitimate opportunities. Let us not overvalue men and undervalue women. We have done that for ages. It’s time to be fair. Is that too difficult?

Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (feedback@basantchaudhary.com)

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