Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: Unveiling the Women Economic Empowerment Index

To push towards sustainable development goals, the voice and agency of women are catalysts for change and progress. Recognizing this, Samhita-CGF has taken a bold step towards quantifying and fostering women’s economic empowerment through an initiative: the Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) Index. This comprehensive tool is designed to measure and monitor the progress of women entrepreneurs in India’s dynamic semi-formal and informal sectors, recognizing their pivotal role in driving economic growth and societal transformation. 


Measuring Progress: From UN’s GEM to WEE Index

In 1995, the United Nations introduced the Gender Empowerment Measure, a landmark effort to measure the advancements made by women globally. This was followed by two critical indices—the Gender Development Index and the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law Index – evaluating gender inequalities across health, education, income, and specific economic empowerment indicators. While these global indices provide valuable insights, they often overlook a significant population: women operating in India’s informal sector. It became imperative henceforth, to recognize this gap and develop an index tailored exclusively for women-run microenterprises in India’s semi-formal and informal sector.


Unpacking Empowerment: The Six Dimensions of WEE Index

The WEE Index delves into six key dimensions that shape economic empowerment. These dimensions are carefully crafted to provide a comprehensive view of the multifaceted journey towards empowerment. They reflect not only economic progress but also the social and personal factors that influence a woman’s ability to thrive in her entrepreneurial endeavours. By addressing each dimension, the index helps to create a holistic framework that uplifts women not only as economic contributors but as leaders and change-makers within their communities. 

The selection of these six dimensions for the Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) Index is rooted in the need for a nuanced and comprehensive evaluation of women’s economic progress. Each of these dimensions serves as a broad category, further broken down into specific sub-dimensions and tangible indicators. For instance, within “Enterprise Performance,” aspects such as formalization, including registration under Udyam and GST, as well as the adoption of digital technologies for business growth is scrutinized. Similarly, “Intra-household Decision-Making” recognizes that empowerment extends to a woman’s ability to influence decisions within her household and community. This is evaluated through indicators like her confidence in handling banking transactions independently and active participation in women’s groups for networking and advice. 


Thus, these six dimensions, along with their respective sub-dimensions, form the building blocks of the WEE Index, ensuring a robust and inclusive assessment of women’s economic progress. The weightages are also assigned to the dimensions according to the influence they wield on overall women economic empowerment. 


Integrating the Women Economic Empowerment Index

The integration of the WEE Index into REVIVE Alliance is a monumental stride towards advancing livelihoods. Over the past three years, REVIVE has empowered over 5,50,000 informal workers and entrepreneurs, of which more than 4,40,000 are women, benefitting 1,76,573 MSMEs. The aim is to reach an ambitious target of impacting and empowering 5 million women beneficiaries in the next 5 years through multiple interventions. Integrating the Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) Index into REVIVE, is a significant step towards advancing economic empowerment for women. This strategic move allows to continuously assess and track the progress of women entrepreneurs within the chosen cohort. Through a structured panel design survey, one can gain invaluable insights into the economic empowerment journey of these entrepreneurs. This data-driven approach not only refines the multiple interventions under REVIVE Alliance, but also enables targeting resources effectively, ensuring that women receive the support they need to thrive.


From Index to Impact: How the WEE Index Drives Change

The true power of the WEE Index lies in its ability to catalyze change on the ground. As an actionable tool, it empowers organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders to make informed decisions and craft targeted interventions. By understanding the nuances of women’s economic empowerment, we can design programs that address specific challenges, provide tailored support, and amplify impact. The WEE Index isn’t just a measurement; it’s a catalyst for meaningful, sustainable change!


Through initiatives like the WEE Index and strategic collaborations, we are steadfastly building a future where women entrepreneurs are not just participants but leaders, not just beneficiaries but catalysts of change.


From Opportunity to Success: Microsoft’s Holistic Approach to Supporting Women Entrepreneurs

When it comes to keeping up with the digital age, women in India face several challenges, which have a significant influence on the growing digital gap in the country. Microsoft, through its CSR Program, has supported a total of 10,000 women entrepreneurs, with the last 5,000 beneficiaries benefiting from a comprehensive approach that includes digital and financial literacy, bookkeeping, mentoring, advanced training for participants, and access to government schemes, all of which are aligned with the theme of sustainable entrepreneurship.

Weaving Entrepreneurial Dreams, One Stitch at a Time: Manisha from Nuh, Haryana 

“After the program, I felt that in order to grow the business, I need to be educated further.”


Manisha, is a determined young entrepreneur, from Bichhor village in Nuh district, Haryana. At the age of 19, she found herself in a challenging situation where she had to drop out of school to support her family financially. The conservative environment in Nu district further exacerbated the impact on Manisha’s life as her family opposed her desire to pursue education. As a result, she was confined to her home, without any opportunities for formal learning.

Despite facing these challenges, Manisha’s determination led her to seek guidance from her sister, who was skilled in tailoring. She quickly learned from her and began taking orders directly from home. However, the income from her limited customer base within the village was insufficient. 

A major turning point for her was when she became a part of the REVIVE program, spearheaded by Microsoft. This program taught her how to utilise digital tools and effectively manage her cash flow, enabling her to expand the business and reach a larger customer base. Moreover, it made her realise the untapped potential of her own phone for conducting various business related activities beyond mere communication.

Additionally, the program’s impact extended well beyond the realm of business, positively influencing the overall wellbeing of the community. Nu district, known for its persistent problem of financial fraud and crime, had long been a burden on its residents. However, with the implementation of the REVIVE program, individuals like Manisha gained valuable skills to safeguard themselves from such incidents, fostering a newfound sense of resilience and empowerment that surpassed societal gender constraints. 

Encouraged by such transformative effects and positive changes within the community, Manisha’s parents had a change of heart and agreed to support her in pursuing higher education. This marked the beginning of a promising chapter in her life, where she could simultaneously nurture her business and embrace the educational opportunities she had longed for. 

Manisha’s case study exemplifies the impact of Microsoft’s holistic approach in supporting women entrepreneurs. By providing digital and financial literacy, access to tools and resources and mentoring, Microsoft has empowered women like her to overcome challenges, achieve business growth, and pursue their dreams. 



Entrepreneurship among women is a vital component of the overall solution. However, women-owned enterprises in India face a number of challenges, including:

  • Inadequate access to skilling: Women entrepreneurs often lack the skills and training necessary to run a successful business. This might make it harder for them to compete with more established businesses.
  • Lack of market linkages: This may be attributed to a lack of knowledge of their products and services, as well as social and cultural barriers that restrict women from accessing the market. 
  • Limited access to finance: Women frequently experience difficulties acquiring loans or other sources of funding. This might make it difficult for them to establish or grow their businesses.
  • Socio-cultural barriers: Constraints such as inadequate access to skilling, lack of market linkages, limited financial access, and societal biases represent substantial hurdles for women entrepreneurs. These barriers impede their long-term viability and ability to innovate.

Moreover, the digital divide exacerbates these challenges, making it difficult for them to leverage technology for business growth and success. Therefore, addressing these challenges is essential to unlocking the full potential of women entrepreneurs.



Microsoft’s CSR Program stands as a shining example of a holistic approach to bridge the digital divide and support women entrepreneurs in India. Recognising the significance of digital tools as a leapfrog intervention in economic empowerment. Microsoft aims to support women micro-entrepreneurs by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to thrive in the digital age. 

Initiated as a pilot program targeting 5,000 women entrepreneurs in rural India, with the goal of providing them with digital and financial literacy skills as well as the capacity to effectively operate, manage, and develop their enterprises. 



Using a blended support model, Samhita’s partnership with Microsoft has aimed to address barriers and strengthen the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem across 10 states by focusing on the following key areas:

  • Digital and Financial Literacy (DFL): Capacity Building Sessions were conducted to enhance women entrepreneurs’ digital and financial literacy. These sessions covered topics such as concepts of banking, insurance, and using digital tools such as mobile devices, internet, social media, email, and awareness of e-security and safety.
  • Digital Bookkeeping Tools: Women micro-entrepreneurs were introduced to user-friendly digital bookkeeping tools that streamlined their financial processes. By using the tools, they were able to improve accuracy, enhance cash flow visibility, and make informed decisions based on real-time data. These tools, built on Microsoft Azure, provide flexibility so that they can be used both online and offline, ensuring accessibility even in areas with limited internet connectivity. 
  • Performance-linked incentives: To encourage and motivate digitization in the first phase, high-performing women entrepreneurs or those with progressive engagement were rewarded with incentives. 
  • Handholding support: To promote sustained use of digital tools, and follow-ups for additional resources or support.



The first phase of the program successfully trained 5000 women entrepreneurs in digital and financial literacy, and provided them with access to user-friendly digital bookkeeping tools. These efforts yielded the following achievements:

  • 44.1% of participants continue to actively maintain digital account books for their businesses.
  • 62% of women began tracking their borrowing and lending by the end of the program as compared to only 27% at the start of the program. 
  • The number of women tracking inventory, banking operation, and payments increased by 10%, 14%, and 19%, respectively. 

A significant proportion of women entrepreneurs were able to digitize their bookkeeping practices, and were also able to obtain small formal bank loans because of these efforts. These included women entrepreneurs from various cohorts such as artisans, street vendors, dairy farmers and tailors.



In the second phase, the program has been scaled up to support an additional 5,000 women entrepreneurs and it includes multiple interventions, in addition to digital literacy:

  • Access to Finance: Access to formal financial resources remains a significant challenge for women entrepreneurs, which was addressed by facilitating access to credit and connecting women with financial institutions. By building relationships with banks and fostering partnerships, the program enabled the participants to secure financial resources. This support empowered them to invest in their business, expand their operations, and achieve sustainable growth.
  • Social Protection: By unlocking relevant government schemes and services, women entrepreneurs were able to leverage them to access funding, business development resources, and market opportunities. This strategic approach propelled their enterprises forward by providing them with the necessary support and resources to overcome barriers.
  • Mentoring and Peer Support: Through mentorship, these women entrepreneurs received valuable guidance, industry insights, and access to networks, enabling them to make informed decisions and seize new opportunities. Additionally, the program created peer support networks that fostered a sense of community, allowing women to share experiences and learn from one another.



Microsoft’s program has provided valuable lessons for scaling up and replicating holistic support models for women’s entrepreneurship. There are two key lessons that have emerged from this program:

  • Customisation: It is essential to address the specific needs and contexts of women entrepreneurs. By tailoring interventions, organisations can effectively address the specific requirements of women entrepreneurs, increasing their chances of success.
  • Partnerships: Collaborations with financial institutions, government agencies, and community organisations create a comprehensive ecosystem of support that helps in offering assistance and guidance to women entrepreneurs in their businesses. 


These lessons serve as valuable guidelines for organisations aiming to develop impactful programs for women entrepreneurs, and Microsoft’s Program stands as a testament to the effectiveness of such an approach. Ultimately, when organisations combine tailored approaches with strategic partnerships, they can create an environment for women entrepreneurs to thrive.

This article was editorialised by Ayushi Bhatnagar and Evans Rebello.

The Need for Partnership: Empowering Women-led Businesses through Collaboration


In this series, we delve on the key lessons from the Samhita -Collective Good Foundation (Samhita-CGF) and Microsoft Project on how to empower women entrepreneurs through digital financial literacy and build a stronger framework for the second iteration.


Women Entrepreneurship: The Indian Landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic had long-lasting devastating effects on the Indian economy, especially when more than 75% of small-scale livelihood families, who were into jobs like farming, construction and owned shops/stalls lost their ability to earn their daily wage income. But it also inevitably encouraged a new wave of women entrepreneurship, as the women, who were traditionally homemakers, realised that they could utilise their basic skills to make masks and other products and generate money, and decided to take on the mantle to run their households for the sake of survival through those tough times.

This wave of change quickly transformed women entrepreneurship into a fast-growing sector, and as of 2022, there are more than 13.5 million women-led enterprises in India. But they still attribute to only 20% of the total entrepreneurship in India. There is much more that needs to be done, and that can happen with the help of digital and financial inclusion. Financial inclusion can be considered the basis for enhancing the economic growth and empowerment of a particular country, and is a core need when thinking of establishing any entrepreneurship. This is even more imperative for women, as they lack the financial independence that is naturally granted to men in a patriarchal society. This is in different forms as outlined below:


  1. Socioeconomic and Cultural Barriers: There are many women who still end up handling a second shift model, where they are expected to handle both their businesses and homes simultaneously. 63% of women prefer to work from home for the same reason. This restricts their ability to expand their businesses, as they are not able to give in more time to establish it.
  2. Lack of Access to Funding: Women entrepreneurs usually tend to depend on immediate family, friends and relatives for financial support to start up and establish their business. Due to lack of financial literacy, many women do not even know how to be able to handle their own bank accounts. As a result, even as of 2022, even with 85% women who have bank accounts, there is a 37% gap in funding for women enterprises.
  3. Low level of awareness of government schemes: There are a variety of social security schemes provided by the Government of India like financial inclusion, insurance and direct benefit transfers (DBTs)which help to safeguard the future of Indian citizens, irrespective of gender, age, religion or class. However, a majority of women are not aware about them because it is not a topic that comes up in general discussions with other women.

All of these factors play a significant role in determining how women-led businesses are able to flourish in the Indian market.


Financial and Digital Empowerment of Small Women-Led Businesses

In order to recognise the need to bridge the gap between women entrepreneurs and digital financial mechanisms, Microsoft decided to empower 5000 women through their pan-India scale-up project with Samhita-CGF. These interventions included:

  1. Provision of access to government schemes and services: The women entrepreneurs were made aware about the schemes provided by the Government of India, broadly covering financial inclusion, insurance and direct benefit transfers (DBTs). They were educated about eligibility criteria, and were provided with hand-holding support in procuring the scheme related documents, and the post-application process.
  2. Advanced entrepreneurship training: The women were trained on the MeraBills digital bookkeeping app, on topics like retaining a bank account, cash flow management and how to use the digital banking services. Additionally, they were taught financial planning. The entrepreneurs were also provided training the marketplaces to sell their products.
  3. Mentoring and capacity building to help other members with their existing skill sets: The entrepreneurs who were provided with the advanced training were also moulded to become mentors to the other women in the cohort.
  4. Enabling credit for their respective businesses: Samhita-CGF got in touch with the banks and non-banking financial companies to create a criterion for the beneficiaries to be connected to the right financial schemes that suit their business. The information included the process of loan disbursement, and how they can return the money in the signed period of time.


One of the core reasons why partnerships like these are needed is because each firm has their own expertise, which can be utilised to help those that need it the most. For instance, Microsoft has access to the most innovative technological services available, while Samhita-CGF, through its REVIVE program has an understanding and expertise on financial inclusion. They also give businesses a chance to expand their particular customer base which makes it easier to reach out to more beneficiaries.

Stitching Her Business with Digital Empowerment: Meenakshi from Barmer

“Now I’m able to take money from my creditor and keep

monthly accounts of my deposits.”


Meenakshi, a 26-year-old resident of Barmer in Rajasthan has always had a strong desire to contribute to her family’s income through her tailoring business. However, managing the finances was a challenge for her, and she often had to depend on others for assistance. Her lack of familiarity with digital payments and bookkeeping made it difficult for her to transition to the new normal. Fortunately, through the REVIVE Project, Meenakshi was able to acquire the digital financial literacy skills needed to thrive.

Her story is a testament to the power of digital financial literacy in empowering women entrepreneurs. Here’s how she did it:

Meenakshi was introduced to the REVIVE Project through Pappu Kanwar, a master trainer from Barmer. She was taught how to operate the phone, use online banking, and send money using UPI. Additionally, Meenakshi was introduced to a digital bookkeeping app called MeraBills, which made it easy for her to keep track of her finances. In addition to reminders, financial reports, and budgeting, she no longer requires assistance with her finances and is independently operating her business.

Just like Meenakshi, there are several other women micro-entrepreneurs that are being connected to the digital world through skill building.



Some of the considerations for the future could be as follows:

  • Enabling online training via mobile phone: Women who participate in such cohorts usually come from a low-income background, hence have to delve into multiple odd jobs in order to support their families’ livelihoods. Enabling online training will allow more women to be able to participate at their convenience, and hence gain digital and financial literacy skills.
  • Having a women-only training: This might prove to be effective in ensuring dissemination of learnings. Additionally, personalising the experience with one-on-one sessions, will help the women to develop more trust in the process and work harder on incorporating digital and financial literacy into their livelihoods.
  • Provision of data connectivity: Teaching skills is effective only when the women will be able to practise and use the MeraBills digital bookkeeping app in their shops and neighbourhoods too. Hence, the provision of adequate data connectivity in common service centres, panchayat buildings should also be included as part of the programmes.
  • Promoting more diverse learning: Curriculum content is better understood when it is supplemented with stories, videos and activity-based learning. The trainers can be equipped and encouraged to deliver their complex ideas in a simpler manner for the women to be able to better retain the information in the long-term.
  • Associating the women with unique identification to track their progress: Women in these cohorts usually use their family’s phone numbers to register and implement the program. Creating a unique id will help to identify them as individuals, and monitor their individual areas of improvement and growth.
  • Determining an effective pay-for performance process: On achieving a particular milestone, the women were paid ₹400 to encourage them. However, money can often be seen as charity and/or insufficient for the particular need. A change in amount and more clarity on the rationale to the beneficiaries will help to make the process more efficient.

The Samhita-CGF- Microsoft program has been instrumental in changing the lives of more than 5000 women entrepreneurs so far, and the second iteration will help to take this partnership forward to benefit many more women. It is inspiring to see stories of resilience like Meenakshi, and it is our hope that many such women are able to utilise the digital book-keeping and capacity building skills and tools to further advance their businesses and live a life of dignity.


This article was editorialised by Ayushi Bhatnagar and Tanvi Deshmukh

Implementing the SDGs for Women’s Health using a Global Approach

“All countries should strive to make accessible, through the primary healthcare system, reproductive health to all individuals of appropriate ages as soon as possible and no later than the year 2015.”

In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) collectively agreed upon achieving the goal of reproductive health for all by 2015. Although universal agendas set the tone for progress in the allied areas, there prevails a significant vacuum between the implementation stages and the practice of engaging with family planning needs. The United Nations has stressed the importance of reallocation and mobilisation of financial resources.

‘Among the 1.9 billion women of reproductive age (15-49 years) living in the world in 2019, 1.1 billion have a need for family planning, that is, they are either current users of contraceptives or have an unmet need for family planning. Of these 1.1 billion women, 842 million use modern methods of contraception and 80 million use traditional methods of contraception.’   Source: Family Planning and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Data Booklet

Healthcare interventions need to recognize the local context, unique to certain cultures. the nature of health facilities, commercial outlets, and existing community-based systems. The WHO also promotes a reproductive health strategy that emphasises on strengthening the existing healthcare services to introduce new interventions in the allied areas.

Women’s participation in community organisations like SHGs and other microfinance programs generates non-financial benefits, improves social capital, reduces inequality, and improves health outcomes in terms of access to maternal services. It establishes a positive correlation in the improvement in availability of SHGs and an improvement in maternal health and wellbeing. In India, several studies have found an association between self-help groups (SHGs), the most prominent model of microfinance delivery and maternal health and well-being[1]. For instance, a project in Maharashtra trained women SHG members as health workers and provided funds for health emergencies with literacy training showed a reduction in infant mortality from 176 to 19 per 1000, 40 to 20 per 1000 birth rates, nearly universal access to antenatal care, safe delivery, and immunisation and decline in malnutrition from 40% to 5%  in two decades after 1970[2]

An integrative approach (both top down and bottom up approaches) towards Sexual and Reproductive Health is critical for the purpose of better health outcomes, education and gender equality. All the 17 goals under SDGs are interconnected and they intend to drive the allocation of the global financial and human resources along with guiding nations’ policy priorities until 2030.

The SDGs must address areas pertaining to SRHR and gender equality explicitly. Without doing so, the progress in such areas will be difficult to measure and to act upon the SDGs. In other words, there are two central challenges the SDGs face with regard to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, i.e. lack of direct attention based on sexual health and lack of focus on context-specific problems in terms of meeting and improving sexual health needs. Specific targets pertaining to Sexual and Reproductive Health are as follows:

SDG 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages  SDG 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Target 3.1:  By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live birthsTarget 5.1: End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere  
Target 3.7:  By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation  
 Target 5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

In addition SDG #4, which seeks to Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all canprovide children and youth with unbiased, scientifically correct information on all aspects of sexuality. At the same time, it helps them develop the skills to act upon this information. Such education also incorporates concepts of human rights and gender equality. Research shows that programmes sharing certain key characteristics can help in promoting safer SRH practices: abstaining from or delaying the start of sexual relations, reducing the frequency of unprotected sexual activity, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the use of contraceptive options against unintended pregnancy and STIs during sexual intercourse.

Working with men and boys to challenge gender inequalities can also have a positive impact on the health and well-being of women and girls. It is also important to recognize that men and boys also have health vulnerabilities. There is a growing recognition that an improvement in the SRH of boys, an area that has largely been neglected, is crucial for the improvement of that of girls.

SDG# 17 highlights the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships for the Goals to achieve impact at scale. Better access to family planning programs has been estimated to result in almost 40% increase in women’s monthly wages, increasing women’s control and agency over finances and property, and enabling greater long-term savings. This requires engagement with collaborative partnerships at local, national, and international levels. Governments and stakeholders, including corporates, can workwith family planning organisations at national and international levels, and with local NGOs and government health services to ensure long term capacity building to address reproductive and sexual health needs of the community. This is important to address issues of high maternal mortality, poor access to contraception and reproductive health services, and high cervical cancer death rates. For instance, the partnership between USAID and the Indian government, along with private and civil society organisations has strengthened health challenges including maternal and child mortality in the country. The partnership focused on improving the reach, impact, affordability, and quality of healthcare services[3].

In alignment with the WHO, SRH action plan and its three closely interlinked goals, corporates can align their health projects with the global goals and benchmarks by:

  1. Undertaking extensive and intensive awareness programmes for adolescents and youth, enabling informed decision making and preventing and responding to sexual violence by addressing gender inequality and cultural norms from a rights-based perspective.
  2. Build capacities of local health facilities by expanding and strengthening people-centred SRH care services for the vulnerable, disadvantaged, and hard-to-reach groups.
  3. Collaborate with governments at multiple levels to exchange learnings and promote people centred laws regarding SRH rights that are capable of addressing the needs of all.

Living up to the commitment to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2030 requires the monitoring of key family planning indicators. Many SRH services, like contraception and abortion care, antenatal and post-natal care, can be provided through primary healthcare centres (PHCs). Thus, integrating SRH with PHCs for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) requires development of strategy and commitment from different stakeholders.

Information on sexual and reproductive health is important to support decision-making to advance initiatives and to develop effective programs addressing health needs. The two new tools – Handbook and Learning by Sharing Portal, released by WHO can be used by funding corporates, policymakers, programme managers, implementers, civil society and research organisations in developing coherent strategies to integrate best practices for making health systems more adaptive[4].

HandbookLearning by sharing portal
A guide for planning and implementing SRH services in health benefit packages, accountability processes and measures. It highlights best practices from different countries can serve as an information resource lesson that can be adapted in different contexts. For instance, a safe abortion service in Ireland, evidence-based solution in addressing mistreatment of women in institutional deliveries in Guinea, etc. are learning lessons for strengthening SRH service delivery.Launched in July,2022, is a SRH-UHC portal for peer learning. The portal is an online repository of qualitative case studies that documents experiences of different stakeholders in integrating SRH in Universal Health Coverage(UHC) reforms. It serves as guide in developing normative tools to address SRH needs of women, adolescents, and other vulnerable communities. It features implementation stories from across the world like changing laws in Kazakhstan, partnerships for progress between governments, NGOs and the private sector in Mexico, Nepal, and Pakistan etc.

Both the tools emphasise on the importance of meaningful participation of the people affected through health policies. However, to achieve universal access to SRH services integral efforts are required from the all the stakeholders including governments and corporates that will help align the FP2030 agenda with the SDGs to provide universal access to family planning and lead to healthy lives, informed decision making and participation of women as equals in the society. 

[1] https://equityhealthj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-9276-12-36

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236956603_The_effect_of_Self-Help_Groups_on_access_to_maternal_health_services_Evidence_from_rural_India

[3] https://www.usaid.gov/india/health

[4] https://www.who.int/news/item/19-07-2022-universal-access-to-sexual-and-reproductive-health

Empowering Women through gender inclusive Sexual and Reproductive Health & Family Planning projects

Improving sexual and family health and well-being within communities starts with engaging both females and males. Traditionally, females have been the target beneficiaries for Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) & Family Planning (FP) initiatives. These initiatives complement each other towards population control, curbing the social problem of child marriage, and promoting children’s health and education. However, it is important to refocus SRH and FP initiatives on the health of family life; and that begins with the females and their male counterparts – the operative word being ‘and’.

In India, there has been an imbalance between male and female sterilizations dating back to the 1970’s. The forced sterilization of 6.2 million men at the time of the Emergency and mass protests, deepened stigmatization, and misinformation about vasectomies. The onus of SRH and FP fell on women in India[i], despite vasectomies being safer and less invasive in nature than most FP initiatives targeted at women. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 (2019-21), only 0.3 percent of family planning methods are male sterilizations, whereas 37.9 percent are female sterilizations[ii]. This stark disparity can be seen continuing since NFHS-1 (1992-93) and has only widened[iii], [iv].

Inspiration from global approaches to male engagement can be drawn, to increase the participation of Indian men in the FP ecosystem. Globally, the approach to include males in the dialogue around SRH and FP is by having SRH and FP programmes engage with males as clients, and/or agents of change towards SRH and FP. This means enabling men and boys to have healthy engagement regarding SRH and FP with their female partners, families, and communities, thereby, fostering equitable distribution of roles and responsibilities among males and females in making FP decisions. By doing so, unequal power dynamic and harmful gender norm practices, like delegating family planning as only the female’s/woman’s prerogative, are challenged and can be transformed[v].

International Commitments for Male Engagement in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights:

International commitment to involving men in reproductive health has been affirmed through various international conferences and statements, particularly the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in 1994[vi] and the Beijing Platform of Action in 1995[vii]. The ICPD Programme of Action calls for the innovative and comprehensive inclusion of men and boys to help achieve gender equality and present men primarily as allies in this endeavour. The Beijing Platform of Action reaffirms this[viii].

Programmes around the world that are engaging with males[ix]

According to a report by ICRW titled “How are Men & Couples Engaged in Family Planning? – Learnings from a Review of Programs,” there have been initiatives around the world since 2001 that have been engaging men in their SRH and FP programmes. These include:

  • PRACHAR (Promoting Change in Reproductive Behaviour in Bihar) in India from 2001 to 2013
  • SASA! (Start, Awareness, Support & Action) in Uganda from 2007 to 2012
  • Male Malawi Motivators in Malawi in the year 2008
  • CHAMPION (Channelling Men’s Positive Involvement in the National HIV/AIDS Response) in Tanzania from 2008 to 2014
  • Smart Couple in Nepal for a duration of 1000 days in 2014
  • Promoting Health – Adjusting the Reproductive Environment (Transform/PHARE) in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Iviore, and Niger from 2014 to 2019
  • Project Ujjwal in India from 2013 to 2016
  • Cyber Rwanda in Rwanda in the year 2016
  • A360 (Adolescent 360) in Nigeria, Ethiopia, & Tanzania from 2016 to 2020

How these programmes have engaged with males[x]

These programmes have engaged with men in three potential areas: as clients, as partners to women in SRH & FP, and as influencers or agents of change.

The programmes provided the men space and support for one-on-one interpersonal communication or small group interaction in the form of:

  • Counselling in person/hotline,
  • Couples/family counselling – specifically with the female partners to encourage joint-decision making,
  • Peer education via community motivators/male community activist, and
  • Community theatre that showcased aspirational family communication around SRH and FP. 

Some programmes employed the use of social media and digital online and mobile phone tools that encouraged participants to:

  • Connect with age-appropriate services,
  • Think about fertility desires,
  • Talk and actively participate in discussions & openly raise concerns with SRH/FP provider or counsellor, and
  • To be confident in sharing about employing or changing family planning methods with family and friends.

A couple of key recommendations by ICRW to consider for including males in SRH and FP Programmes:

  • Develop peer support networks between the participants as well as with community motivators/activists. These networks should be intended to thrive post the end of intervention as participants could continue dialogue on these sensitive issues and have a constant support system to reflect and continue progress towards healthy sexual and reproductive & family planning behaviours such as HIV/STI prevention, contraceptive use, physical violence, domestic chores, and parenting.
  • Being mindful of the need of anonymity and requiring a safe environment free from backlash and negative implications to consume information about safe sex, sexual intimacy, other sensitive family planning topics.  

Other sensitive family planning topics could include sex education, sexuality education, pre-conception risk assessment, infertility, genetic code, anatomy/physiology, psycho-sexual problems, healthy emotional relations & responsibilities, assisted reproductive technologies[xi]. “…engaging men and boys in FP may improve FP outcomes for men, boys, women, and girls, as well as challenge harmful forms of masculinity that prevent men from fully participating in their own RH. Addressing gender dynamics has the potential to influence a host of factors that impact the health and well-being of men and women across the lifespan, including couple communication and decision- making about fertility desires and FP and shared responsibility for their family’s health and well-being.” – USAID[xii]

[i] Kaushik, Ashutosh. (2022, July 11). Man should be equal partners in family planning. Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/ht-insight/public-health/men-should-be-equal-partners-in-family-planning-101657511573064.html

[ii] International Institute for Population Sciences. (n.d.). The national family health survey 5: 2019-2021. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. http://rchiips.org/nfhs/NFHS-5_FCTS/India.pdf

[iii]  International Institute for Population Sciences. (n.d.). The national family health survey 4 (nfhs-4): 2015-2016. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf

[iv] International Institute for Population Sciences. (n.d.). Key indicator for India from nfhs-3: 2005-2006. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf

[v] (1995). Beijing declaration and platform for action. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/pdf/BDPfA%20E.pdf

[vi] United Nations Population Fund. (2014). Programme action of the international conference on population development. https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/programme_of_action_Web%20ENGLISH.pdf

[vii] (1995). Beijing declaration and platform for action. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/pdf/BDPfA%20E.pdf

[viii] United Nations Population Fund. (2014). Programme action of the international conference on population development. https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/programme_of_action_Web%20ENGLISH.pdf

[ix] Sahay, A., Joseph, J., Prashad, V.P., Yadav, K., Jha, S., Vachhar, K., Seth, K. (2021). How are men and couples engaged in family planning? Learnings from a review of programs. International Center for Research on Women. https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ICRW_How-Are-Men-Couples-Engaged-in-Family-Planning_LearningReview_Feb.2021.pdf

[x] -Ibid.

[xi] Wikipedia. (2022, November 19). Family planning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_planning#Assisted_reproductive_technology

[xii] Office of Population and Reproductive Health, Bureau for Global Health. (2018). Essential considerations for engaging men and boys for improved family planning outcomes. USAID. https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1864/Engaging-men-boys-family-planning-508.pdf

Inclusive Health of Women: Building a case for corporate engagement with Sexual and Reproductive Health

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged the planning capacity, efficiency, effectiveness, and preparedness of the global public health systems. With increased socio-economic insecurities in low and middle-income countries, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was stalled. The United Nations has forecasted a $2.5 trillion annual financial deficit to fulfil the SDGs, which has been compounded by the pandemic. Given that we are in an era of transnational governance, where companies, civil society, international organisations, and governments play interconnected roles in standard-setting, supervision, and enforcement of welfare policies and programs it is the responsibility of all the stakeholders in the health ecosystem, including the private sector, to collaborate and strategize how best we can do our part if we are to make progress on our shared goals and targets. This view is reflected in Goal 17 (Partnership for the Goals) of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims “to mobilise, redirect and unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources”.

In 2013, India became the first country in the world to make Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandatory for eligible corporations in India. In doing so, it acknowledged industry as a key change agent and recognized the critical need for utilizing the skills and resources of the corporate sector. Through 2014-2021 CSR spending has been a crucial enabler of development services. Education and health were the highest recipients of support, these being the basic needs of most India’s underserved populations.

The COVID 19 pandemic however reshaped the CSR agendas in India. The pandemic set in motion an interesting trend – while there was a greater overall focus on health for all, women’s health was subordinated due to the immediacy and urgency of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Source: CRISIL CSR Yearbook 2021

One of the most severely affected areas of health, during the pandemic was and continues to be in the domain of Sexual and Reproductive Health, and Family Planning. For instance, access to contraception and reproductive healthcare has been greatly hampered while several countries were under a state of lockdown, due to very low mobility of people and services. The lockdown also had a disproportionately negative impact on women, due to its gendered manifestations. As per the UNFPA report, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic prevented 12 million women from accessing contraceptives, leading to 1.4 million unwanted pregnancies. In addition, COVID-19 related school closures and economic poverty have led to more sexual abuse, early child marriages and early pregnancies.

While India with its oldest family planning programme in the world has made progress, several gaps remain. Therefore womens’ health must be located in an intersectional analytical framework, which acknowledges women’s different experiences and identities. For instance, women, transgender and gender non-binary folks who are subjected to racism, ableism, and other forms of marginalization, discrimination, gender-based violence, sexual abuse and socio-economic exploitation have been exposed to such instances at a greater intensity, which has been further aggravated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, globalisation has considerably influenced the nature of relationship and shared responsibilities present between business and society whilst the gender composition of such workplaces has witnessed a significant shift. Women currently make up a significant proportion, if not the majority, of the workforce in several industries. Therefore, there is a need to adopt standards and practices, in alignment with the changing gender composition in the workplace.  These changes necessitate inclusive Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and other industry initiatives can help attain SDGs 3 (healthy lives and well-being for everyone) and 5 (gender equality and empowerment).

Sexual and reproductive health, and family planning is a cross-sectoral investment which impacts all the 17 goals of the SDGs, directly or indirectly. A collaborative and alliance-based approach can prove to be fruitful when the key stakeholders invest directly in fields such as education, reducing child marriages, sexual and reproductive health, and family planning, using an intersectional lens, as these sectors have a multiplier impact resulting in greater economic and social returns.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Family Planning is an opportunity for India Inc. to ensure systems change and make a lasting difference at the grassroots. Some potential areas of engagement are offered below,

  • The National Family Health Survey 5 reported several gains for women’s health in India. However, some gaps remain. The need for family planning has declined among married women (15-49 years) across all states and Union territories except Meghalaya. This unmet need can be key to improving the maternal mortality record of India as well as to ensure child health. Further, according to the latest National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021) only 9.5% men used condoms but 37.9% of women underwent sterilisation. While the fertility rates have reduced in India, access to contraceptives and modern family planning methods remain patchy and were mostly virtual in the Covid 19 phase. It is key to a variety of development goals and is an opportunity for corporations to diversify their CSR agenda through comprehensive programmes on women’s health and engage with men as partners in change.
  • ESG provides a sustainable and long-term strategy to leverage opportunities and invest in behavioural change among the large number of youth employees across the supply chain. In addition, engagement with ESG ensures competitive advantage for both donors and recipients. The mandatory reporting format of Securities and Exchanges Board of India (SEBI)’s Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (BRSR) requires corporates to report on 9 different sustainability parameters. The immediately relevant principles for the SRH and (Family Planning) FP sector include:
    • PRINCIPLE 3 Businesses should respect and promote the well-being of all employees, including those in their value chains
    • PRINCIPLE 5 Businesses should respect and promote human rights
    • PRINCIPLE 8 Businesses should promote inclusive growth and equitable development
  • Adopting an alliance model presents an opportunity to bring together resources and knowledge of different stakeholders.  India’s Condom Alliance established by SHOPS Plus in 2019 and Samhita’s REVIVE Women@Work coalition may be considered as an innovative model that is actively engaging with multiple stakeholders with a focused agenda and messaging that resonates with all stakeholders. The Condom Alliance, is a collaboration of market leaders such as DKT India, HLL Lifecare Limited, Janani, Population Health Services India (PHSI), PSI India Private Limited, Reckitt Benckiser, Raymond Group, TTK Healthcare Ltd, undertakes campaigns like ‘Break The Wall’, ‘The Birds & Bees Talk’ and ‘ConSenSuality’ aimed to remove the mindset barriers while delivering adequate and effective sexual education to Indian youth. The REVIVE Women@Work a $15 million blended finance platform, supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), Omidyar Network India, British High Commission New Delhi and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) continues to support the revival, resilience and growth of India’s informal economy.

As a way forward, Samhita-Population Foundation of India proposes the Stakeholder Alliance Creation for Collaborative Impact (SACCI), a multi-stakeholder alliance of policy makers and practitioners, private sector, civil society organizations, and institutional funders in furthering the significance of autonomy, freedom and choice for women and young girls, whilst ensuring better, affordable, and quality healthcare services for the citizens through various milestone policies.

Women Micro-Entrepreneurs

COVID – 19 has disproportionately affected women, owing to the compounded effect of generally earning less, saving less and holding more insecure jobs. While women’s participation in the labour force has been in steady decline for more than a decade, the livelihood impact of the pandemic has put 4 out of 10 women out of the workforce. In addition, their situation is made much more complicated by additional factors. One of the major issues is that poorer women entrepreneurs face significant barriers to accessing livelihoods assistance and capital due to factors such as little or no credit history, lack of collateral, etc.

Despite women entrepreneurs’ excellent repayment records when running micro–businesses, they are not often graduated to larger individual or business loans beyond microfinance programs. Thus the share of women served declines as microfinance institutions diversify or transform into banks. Women are less conspicuous in programs with larger loan sizes that could support higher levels of business development. 

Financial institutions can proactively and profitably engage with women entrepreneurs as clients. Reports demonstrate successes where this has been achieved in ways that benefit both the creditors and their expanded female clientele. Understanding the depth of the problem, REVIVE was built to offer comprehensive solutions by partnering with three different organisations: Arthimpact Digital Loans, SEWA, and Chaitanya. 

One of the areas of its focus has been on providing returnable grants to 569 micro-entrepreneurs in the customer network of Arthimpact Digital Loans (Arth), an NBFC which provides collateral-free credit solutions to small enterprises, farmers and micro-entrepreneurs. 96% of the cohort supported by REVIVE are women entrepreneurs engaged in a wide range of occupations including agriculture, dairy, handicrafts, catering and small restaurants, tailoring, grocery stores, e – rickshaws among others. They are spread out over 7 districts in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Depending on their needs, the entrepreneurs were provided with either of:

  1. Zero-cost working capital support in the form of a returnable grant of INR 20,000 / 30,000 over a 1-year tenure or 
  2. For entrepreneurs requiring bridge financing during the devastating second wave of the COVID – 19 pandemic, zero-cost working capital support in the form of RG of INR 5,000 over 9 months but with a generous deferment period of 3 months

Another area of interest to REVIVE were initiatives of SEWA: RUDI – Rural Distribution Initiative, a production company owned and managed by small-scale women farmers, and Kamala, a food joint, providing nutritious dishes to its customers using millets and fresh produce procured directly from farmers. As the pandemic soared, the sales at both RUDI and Kamla sharply fell. The only way to revive the situation was by providing working capital to the entities to resume/accelerate the business operations. In view of the situation, Samhita/CGF supported SEWA in setting up the ‘Livelihood Recovery and Resilience Fund’:  a returnable grant of INR 25,42,373 lakhs (after TDS deduction) to support the end-to-end production process of RUDI and Kamala.

In addition, REVIVE is currently working with Chaitanya India, an organization at the forefront of the micro-credit movement for underserved women to provide affordable finance in the form of zero-cost returnable grants to 125 women in Vasai and Mankhurd areas of Mumbai. The women are engaged in a series of occupations from fruit/vegetable vending and selling fish (Vasai) to beauty services, tailoring, jewelry making, snack making, etc. (Mankhurd). The women have received access to finance amounting to INR 15,000 / 20,000 depending on their occupations and would have to repay on a monthly basis over one year. Chaitanya India’s model for financial support is actioned through a strong grassroots network of SHGs and clusters which are federated to provide financial services and training.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power launches Women@Work

USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during the launch event of the U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment, announced the Alliance’s first initiative: Women@Work.

As a member of the US-India Alliance, Samhita-CGF will develop a coalition of businesses, philanthropies, and other stakeholders to drive the economic recovery and resilience of low-income women workers and small entrepreneurs, and enable them to grow and thrive.

Women@Work is an initiative by the USAID-funded REVIVE Alliance, one of the largest private sector and philanthropy-led alliances in India, which is helping to facilitate a long-term recovery of the informal sector workers whose livelihoods are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN Women launches Unstereotype Alliance’s India Chapter

Today, the Unstereotype Alliance launches the India national chapter with a coalition formed to tackle harmful stereotypes advertising with support from EU funded WeEmpowerAsia Programme. The Alliance will center its work in India on broadening the representation of women and girls in non-traditional roles in advertising with a focus on women returning to the workforce..