Breaking the Glass Ceiling: An Overview of Women Empowerment in Business in the 2020s

Feminism as an idea has always managed to garner popularity for itself, be it in the social or literary circle.

Movies like Moana, Princess of Katwe, Erin Brockovich have been extremely successful in reviving the need for women empowerment and establishing themselves as precedents promoting girl power. The role of a woman is no longer limited to the confines of her household or as an embodiment of traditional maternal duties only. Today’s woman has spread her wings and has managed to break the shackles, identifying herself as a leader and as an able challenger to the patriarchal setup, both on the professional as well as domestic front.

The year 2020, where on one hand forced people to live a life of self-imposed isolation, on the other it was also the year that saw women spearheading positions of decision making, in the political as well as economic arena. The year witnessed a rise of several startups and small businesses as well as the birth and revival of several women entrepreneurs.

Amidst the overwhelming challenges of the global pandemic, the year 2020 has witnessed women assuming important roles in leadership and decision making, with their presence becoming synonymous with and critical to success.

Let’s look at a few of them:

  1. Kamala Harris, the first US elect woman vice-president: She proved to be a pioneer of positive and progressive change, breaking through a glass ceiling for women by getting elected as Vice President of the United States. With her very able leadership skills, a clear, all inclusive political agenda and her extremely magnetic personality, Kamala Harris joined the ranks of several female vice-presidents around the world as she shattered barriers in a very male dominated American political scene.

  1. New Zealand becomes the first country to declare itself Covid free: When the entire world was grappling with the dangers of the pandemic, and the mortality rate spiraling out of control, New Zealand declared itself free of Covid -19,and thereafter has managed to flatten the curve and maintain a very low count of affected cases. The New Zealand government headed by Jacinda Arden cannot be lauded enough for achieving this feat. Arden in many ways has re-defined political leadership.

  • She set new norms when she took a six weeks maternity leave and shared that her partner will be a stay –at–home dad.

  • She is the youngest female leader at the age of 38, and the youngest Prime Minister of New Zealand in 150 years.

  • She was re-elected in October2020, with a landslide victory.

Arden’s ministerial line up is ‘incredibly diverse’. There is a strong representation of women and the Maori Community, including the new Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta who has a “moko kauae” – a traditional Maori tattoo on her chin

  1. Scotland becomes the first country to make period products free for all: The right to a dignified life should be a principle made mandatory in all countries. Scotland realized this dream when its Parliament unanimously voted in favour of the Period Products bill, making menstrual products easily accessible to all. This marks a victory for the global movement against period poverty impacting several women and girls, especially the ones living in poverty and in poor countries, as the cost of the menstrual products along with the added taxes makes it extremely difficult for them to procure something that is extremely basic and intrinsic to their right to live safely, hygienically and with dignity.

  1. Brazil and Sierra Leone joined ranks with Australia, England, Norway and New Zealand to publicly commit to equal pay for both men and women footballers :

The global data highlights a gender pay gap of 16 per cent, which means that women workers, on an average, earn only 84 percent of what men earn. For women with children, immigrants and for women of colour the gap is wider, hence a decision like this becomes a giant leap towards ensuring the fulfilment of a long ensuing demand for equal pay.

  1. Years of activism finally results in a new law against domestic violence in Kuwait.
    With the world reeling under the effects of the global pandemic, another grave concern that raised its head was the rise in domestic violence. Violence on women, within the family and the community has always been a reason for concern- most of which goes unheard and unsaid, and when we talk about violence it is not limited to physical abuse but also mental harassment.

The new family protection law therefore comes as a sincere effort on the governments part to combat its ever-increasing levels of domestic abuse. Even though much work remains in successfully implementing the law, yet it certainly counts as a positive step towards a bigger dream.

However, despite the constant reminders of the grim reality, be it in the print media, social media or on TV, one cannot deny that all these narratives are also interspersed with several moments of hope, of a journey towards real and complete women empowerment.

The 10th anniversary of the women’s empowerment principles (WEP), was also celebrated in the year 2020. It is an initiative to ensure the presence of a safe work environment with its focus on gender equality. There was an active participation by several companies to ensure that these principles are followed and adhered to. The reports from BSR and the UN Global Compact are reflective of the organization’s commitment to create a meaningful change for their women employees, measured against parameters like transparency and implementation of the said principles.

Meenakshi Lekhi, Member of Parliament, while introducing the new women empowerment program said, “Initiatives like Shakti are a step forward in bridging the gender gap by empowering women in the real sense.”

Shakti is a program launched by The University of Petroleum & Energy Studies to empower women by focusing on areas of training and development and providing simultaneous financial aid through scholarships. The theme of the program, launched in Delhi is ‘Accelerating the gender equality journey”: Empowering women from classroom to boardroom.’

If we are to look at the statistics , we will see that even though women account for 48% of India’s population ,when it comes to the distribution of the privileges of the country’s economic growth, they have not been equal beneficiaries. Hence initiatives like Shakti aim to provide financial aid to girl students, through a 25% scholarship, thereby enabling them to fulfill their dreams of a good higher education.

Other similar schemes introduced by the Indian Government include:

Mahila -E-Haat: A bilingual online marketing platform to help women entrepreneurs and NGOs to showcase their products. It is an initiative by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, launched in the year 2016.

Mahila Shakti Kendra: It aims at providing opportunities for skill development, employment, digital literacy, health and nutrition to the rural women population. It works at four levels – national, state, district and block levels.

The ‘Sahki’ scheme that came into being with the ‘Nirbhaya’ fund. It aims to provide shelter, legal, medical and counseling services to victims of violence. It has a 24-hour helpline. The toll-free number is 181

Support to Training and Employment Programme or STEP: It provides help in agricultural, horticulture, handicraft, computer handlooms, tailoring etc. it also provides support in soft skills like spoken English, computer, hospitality etc.

To sum up, History stands proof of the success with which women have ably shouldered a varied range of responsibilities and we are only reminded of what, one of the major vanguards of feminism, Simone De Beauvoir , once said, “ One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. The scars of eons of struggle to make our voices heard, turns out to be the celebration of a journey.

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