Pre-budget expectations from the Union Budget 2022: Women entrepreneurs need more incentives for female-led start-ups

Will the Union Budget 2022 be able to meet the expectations of women entrepreneurs? SME Futures spoke to a few of them to know their viewpoints.

Incentives for Women-led Startups Needed-Women Entrepreneurs Expect From Budget 2022

As the Union Budget 2022-2023 is around the corner, every Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) entrepreneur has certain expectations and an optimistic perspective. They are expecting an expansion in the PLI schemes, GST rationalisation, simplification in taxation and incentivizations for start-ups from it.   

However, the women entrepreneurs of the nation are expecting much more. They expect incentives, additional funding and encouraging schemes for women-led start-ups, along with a fair, gender-balanced allocation of funds for the funding of their start-ups. This has been almost stationary and close to 5 per cent of the total budget, since its introduction in 2005. The gender budget was 4.8 per cent in 2005-06 and fell to 4.7 per cent of the total budget in 2020-21. However, last year the gender budget fell to 4.4 per cent of the total budget. Women entrepreneurs are expecting this figure to be higher this time.  

In our earlier reports, we had reported how unequally women-led businesses got affected by the destructive storm of COVID-19 in the past two waves.  

According to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) research, women entrepreneurs in India have been far more drastically impacted due to the pandemic as compared to those from the other countries in this region, with two-thirds of them chalking up their recent business closures to the pandemic. The recovery, however, has not been so slow, and the Finance Minister (FM) of India, Nirmala Sitharaman provided them great relief by granting them a tax holiday for the year 2021.  

Fortunately, women entrepreneurs today make up roughly one-third of all growth-oriented entrepreneurs in the world. And the established business ownership rate for women is 5.6 per cent, representing one in three established women globally, reports GEM. 

Now, our women entrepreneurs are relying on a budget led by another woman and hope that their expectations will be met. SME Futures interacted with a few women entrepreneurs to know what exactly they are expecting from the Union Budget 2022-2023. 

Promote economic independence and entrepreneurship 

This year, Indian women entrepreneurs hope for a budget that is more responsive to women’s needs and that budgetary allocations to policies and programmes are done via a gender specific perspective. 

Sanghamitra Singh, Senior Manager—Knowledge Management and Partnerships, Population Foundation of India feels that in order to promote economic independence and entrepreneurship among women, there is an urgent need to invest in programmes, saying, “Those programmes will facilitate women’s and girls’ access to formal and non-formal education, skill and business development programmes, access to the market and their transition to paid work.” 

Talking about how COVID-19 has affected women, she added, “The pandemic has differentially impacted women across every sphere, from health to the economy. Their participation in the workforce has already declined. With a vast majority of women employed in the informal sector, their economic security stands threatened with many of them being pushed into poverty.” 

Also Read: Union Budget 2023: ‘Employment generation, inclusive growth to be budget focus’

For the betterment of women, she emphasises that the focus should be on investments on extending basic social protection to informal workers and scaling up innovative approaches and partnerships for women’s economic empowerment. 

“There is an urgent need to support research and gender-disaggregated data collection to understand the barriers to women’s economic participation and the dynamics of the formal and informal labour markets,” she says. 

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Incentivise women-led start-ups  

Last year, the healthcare sector received a lot of attention in the Union Budget 2021. However, there are multiple gaps to address, such as those that are impacting female focused healthcare measures especially in tier 3 and 4 cities.  

Women in the healthcare industry expect the Finance Minister to announce measures to address this issue. Dr Namrata Rupani, Founder and CEO, Capture Life Dental Care says that there is still a wide gap in the accessibility of healthcare for vulnerable women. “Incentivising women-led healthcare start-ups and female-centric telehealth ventures will go a long way in helping women get the quality care that they deserve,” she says. 

She feels that enabling a robust healthcare system should remain the foremost priority for the government during this crucial time. 

On a similar note, another women entrepreneur and Co-founder of Humsafar Diesel Door Delivery, Sanya Goel thinks that the government needs to do much more to make this ecosystem blossom, and nurture and use the scope for employment that it offers. India has huge strength in terms of a skilled tech workforce, which only a few countries can boast of. 

“We need to enable the usage of tech applications in a much bigger way if the country benefits from them. We also need larger booster funds for early-stage start-ups or a different tax regime for them,” she says. 

Create a regulatory system for start-ups 

India’s start-up ecosystem is the third largest in the world, yet there is the lack of a formal regulatory ecosystem, feel many entrepreneurs. Co-founder and CEO of Mumbai Angels Network, Nandini Mansinghka is one of them. She is expecting that there will be provisions in the Union Budget this time to create an easy regulation system and new policies and norms for start-ups so that organisations can run their businesses without any administrative obstacles. 

She expresses, “In the last few years, the government has launched multiple policies and schemes for the welfare and growth of the start-up community. With young entrepreneurs entering this ecosystem at a steady pace, we hope that the resources, funds and capital provided by the government are easy to access.”

Initiatives to increase the number of female entrepreneurs 

In comparison to male led businesses, female entrepreneur led firms in India are still not at par.  

Tanvi Prakash, the Founder of GardenGram feels that it is imperative that women participation in the start-up system and businesses is integrated at a larger level. “The budget therefore should enable the building of an ecosystem that provides numerous opportunities and knowledge across Tier 1, 2 & 3 markets apart from the ones that are available in just the metropolitan cities,” she avers. 

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She also says, “It is crucial that in the Union Budget 2022, we strengthen the support network for women entrepreneurs with the right mentorship. Additionally, due to the overarching adverse impact of the pandemic on a lot of middle-class families, a separate financial relief package should be kept aside that will be passed on to them. It would be a relief if the government incentivises kitchen gardens at home, which would not only motivate people to create their own kitchen gardens and be self-sufficient in food, but also create an avenue for people to engage with activities that are pro-environment.” 

India now has a sizable gig economy. The startup and SMEs eco-systems rely heavily on them.

Prerna Kalra, co-founder of Daalchini Technologies, anticipates stimulus for this sector in order to improve the overall ecosystem. She hopes that the government will prioritise them in the budget.

“The gig economy is made up of a large number of freelancers, short-term jobs, contractual jobs, and independent contractors. Because of the nature of their work, this sector is not entitled to the benefits provided by labour laws. They are, however, unquestionably the foundation of the next phase of the economy,” she comments.

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Women start-up centric schemes are needed  

Ravina Jain, founder & CEO of The Skin Story, a clean skincare brand anticipates a greater push to women related schemes from the Union Budget 2022.

“The government should also give a push to schemes that encourage women-led SMEs and start-ups so that they can grow in numbers. Women need holistic growth opportunities, especially in the start-up domain, and government-led institutional financial schemes and peer training and networking can help aid in the same,” she asserts.  

Talking about the gender unbalanced funding in the country, Ravina says, “There is still a significant gap to bridge, in terms of the opportunities given to women-led capital-efficient start-ups, and incentivising female-owned small businesses and start-ups can go a long way in encouraging the women in this ecosystem.” 

The right representation of women is critical 

The TV and film industry which is known for objectifying women has been under scrutiny in the past as well. Pointing out that this as a women centric issue, Radhika Lavu, founder and MD of Ellanar Films says that something should be done to set it right. 

“I truly believe that the right representation of women is extremely important, especially in an industry like M&E, that influences crores of people. The government can help women in the media and entertainment space to amplify their unique voices by enabling unifying platforms and community programs in the upcoming budget, that will mentor, encourage and financially empower the aspiring women in this field while aiding them to network with each other,” she says. 

Women’s safety in the digital world 

Cybercrimes against women are on the rise and the recent case of the Bulli bai app is a glaring example of the same. According to the National Cybercrime portal, in 2021 alone 600,000 complaints were received, including those for alleged digital crimes against women. At the same time, the increase in digital usage across the country makes it a critical issue for women.

Malini Agarwal, Founder and Creative Director of MissMalini Entertainment, Girl Tribe hopes to see this year’s budget provide support to areas having a direct impact on women’s health, safety and empowerment.

Talking about the safety of women on digital platforms, she remarks, “Initiatives to ensure that women are safe and empowered in the digital world are critical—so that they may fully participate in the new creator economy without the rampant sexual harassment and intimidation that currently inhibits their full potential.”

According to Agarwal, women in India especially in global start-up cities like Delhi NCR, always have a sense of insecurity at their workplaces as well as on the routes between their homes and their workplaces. Safety has always been their concern and has continued to be the first fear that they face when stepping out of their homes.  

Also Read: Union budget 2023: Industry leaders’ expectations from Union Budget 2023

Commenting on the pandemic’s impact on the female workforce, Agarwal is expecting that the Union Budget 2022 will be able to reverse this negative impact.

“As we already know, COVID has had a disproportionate consequence on women, whether in terms of historic declines in labour force participation or reduced access to critical healthcare resources. I hope that the Union Budget 2022 will take steps to reverse these declines, with support for women’s healthcare, education, job skilling, and family-friendly tax policies that ensure a woman never has to choose between her health, her career and her family,” she says.

Awareness around menstrual hygiene 

There are numerous companies which are working to mitigate the issues related to women’s health and hygiene. However, still in many parts of India, menstruation is seen as an irrational taboo. Entrepreneurs such as Anika Parashar suggest that the government should put more emphasis on women’s wellness – especially menstrual hygiene. She is the Founder and CEO of The Woman’s Company, which makes biodegradable sanitary pads.

“We already have a tax exemption on sanitary pads however, this could be extended to manufacturing and production as well,” she says.  

In 2018, after months of campaigning, the tax on sanitary pads in India was removed, which was set at 12 per cent under the Goods and Services Act. 

Parashar thinks that the import duties should be cut down to increase domestic manufacturing. “Further, decreasing import duties for raw materials could bridge the gap between supply and demand as well as encourage more Indian manufacturers to start manufacturing biodegradable pads in the country. There should be policy level incentivisation for Made in India products and start-ups helmed by women and for ventures that focus on sustainability and solving women’s issues,” she says.

According to her, promoting the use of biodegradable menstrual products could bring down the amount of waste produced by plastic products – a figure which currently stands at a staggering 12.3 billion tons annually.  

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Overall empowerment of women  

“I hope that the Union Budget 2022 looks at ways to make impactful changes in the lives of India’s female population,” says Ritu Lal, Senior VP & Head – Institutional Relations at Amplus Solar.  

Lal expects the budget to do more for the betterment of women, saying, “From improving nutrition and healthcare for girls, focusing on their uninterrupted education, creating workplace incentives for women employees, to the continued and speedier empowerment of rural women via schemes like cooperatives and self-help groups, skilling, and micro-financing.”  

To conclude, the clamour of women entrepreneurs for a gender-equal, women benefiting Union Budget 2022 should be enough to bring forth more policies, incentives, tax exemptions, awareness and skill-enhancing programmes for them. The budget is also expected to formulate the relevant norms and regulations that will increase the participation of women in the workforce by providing a women-friendly business environment.  

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