Optimal utilization of resources is the cornerstone of economic grow-th. There is no resource more important than the nation’s human resource. Half of which is comprised of women. However, when it comes to offering equal opportunities for women, none of the employment sectors measure up to the task, be it the government or public sector. The issue gets even more pronounced in developing countries where the barriers that keep women away from being a part of the workforce are even more rigid and complex. Developing nations, like ours, need to go that extra mile to create an environment that supports their growth. To become an equal-opportunity nation, we have to ensure a positive fillip to women’s integration into the mainstream; mere provisions of equal opportunities may not be adequate. The equation is simple: If we don’t integrate women into the workforce, we are essentially compromising with the growth of the nation’s GDP. A study by the International Labour Organisation points out that of the 131 countries with available data, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation. That’s an alarming figure and one that deserves the attention of the entire nation. Like the laser focus on improving our position in the global ranking of ease of doing business, this too necessitates collaborative efforts from the entire nation. This is certainly not an issue that the governments alone can address. Lower participation in education, archaic social norms and single-handedly managing household responsibilities without much support from the male partner, are all factors that restrict active participation of women at workplace; unavailability of adequate opportunities only compound the problem. Equitable accessProviding women an equitable access to the job market holds a special significance in their empowerment. This is particularly true in the rural population. There are enough empirical evidences that suggest that financially independent women invest in their children’s education, health and overall development. This triggers a virtuous cycle where an entire generation gets access to the power of knowledge, healthcare and human development indicators; this in turn develops the spirits that fuel growth. Investing in the economic development of women goes a long way in shaping the society’s socio-economic fabric. One of the most sustainable investments in women’s empowerment is through creating entrepreneurship opportunities. This calls for a 360 degree approach with a robust legal framework, conducive social system, family support and non-discriminatory rules that unleash women’s entrepreneurial spirits. Financing is critical but not sufficient to get this moving. Education, exposure, awareness and rise of positive role models are encouraging women to indulge, take risks and become financially independent and their own bosses. In recent times, there have been a few inspiring success stories of women entrepreneurs who have broken every possible barrier and made a mark. From ethnic-wear brand Biba’s Founder Meena Bindra to Founder of vermicomposting tool provider Vivam AgroTech, Nirmala Kandalgaonkar, these women have proved that they mean business. Bindra started off when her sons had grown up. She then decided to turn her passion for designing clothes into an enterprise. With a loan of Rs 8,000 that allowed her to buy some fabric and hire a tailor, Bindra set out to give wings to her dreams. Today, Biba is a market leader in affordable ethnic wear! On the other hand, Kandalgaonkar grew up in a small town in Maharashtra. Falling back on her science background, she developed controlled-environment products for soil engineering using earthworms. Her company now works with several corporations and self-help groups on bio-gas projects. These are the stories that middle class women can easily identify with and their successes have the potential to inspire many. An entrepreneurial framework will require focus on micro, small and medium enterprises and creating an eco-system that minimises the hurdles and helps in driving businesses. Besides basic skills development, women should also be trained in management skills, provide mentorship and counselling in the initial stages and most importantly, be encouraged to hone their decision-making abilities. The government’s focus on startups can also unfetter the latent entrepreneurial talent of women. It is good politics and good economics that we invest in women entrepreneurs. They are not just one half of the population, they are the better half!Ishteyaque Amjad is Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications, Coca-Cola India & South West Asia This article was first published in Deccan Herald. Click here to read the article.