Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia
The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed significant growth in global e-commerce sales. As a result of pandemic regulations, such as lockdown, social distancing and the enclosure of in-person workspaces, people are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technologies and businesses. In fact, retail e-commerce sales surged to approximately $4.9 trillion in 2021 worldwide. Projections have stated that this figure could increase to $7.4 trillion by 2025. The boom in e-commerce has been particularly salient in South Asia, where the e-commerce sector saw nearly 600% growth. Such conditions gave many entrepreneurs unprecedented opportunities. Most notably, women entrepreneurs in South Asia have used these opportunities to not only realize their own visions but also to educate and inspire others to create tangible change. The following are three women entrepreneurs in South Asia proactively giving back to their communities:

Maheen Adamjee

Maheen Adamjee is the founder of Dot & Line, an education startup originally set to provide at-home tutoring to Pakistani students. As the pandemic hit, however, Adamjee saw the opportunity in e-learning and rewrote the startup’s business plan to offer online tutoring sessions. Dot & Line is now a successful international online learning platform that matches students with certified tutors.

Adamjee exemplifies entrepreneurial creativity and resilience, turning the COVID-19 pandemic from a risk factor into a business opportunity. She has since participated in #OneSouthAsia Conversation, a series of online events that offer a platform for discussing ideas for regional cooperation in business, and reached more than 5,000 women through this medium. During these conferences, Adamjee shared many practical tips she extrapolated from her own experience, including specificities on transitioning from in-person services to online services.

She further noted the cultural and financial barriers that prevent Pakistani women from starting a business. In addition to telling her story as a source of empowerment for other women entrepreneurs, Adamjee pointed out that the digital economy allows women to overcome tariffs and trade barriers to exploit new consumer groups across national boundaries.

Ayanthi Gurusinghe

Ayanthi Gurusinghe is the founder of, a B2B platform enabling small buyers and sellers of a variety of products to connect with each other, according to the World Bank. Gurusinghe, like Adamjee, identified the rapid growth of e-commerce as an unparalleled opportunity for trading across borders.

Hoping to help other women take advantage of this opportunity, Gurusinghe launched training courses on to educate enterprising women business owners about international markets. This way, she is encouraging more women to trade products across Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

Sairee Chahal

Sairee Chahal is the founder of SHEROES, an online community for women that offers career advice, job leads, training, legal advice and a free counseling hotline based in Bangladesh and India. The community operates in Bangladesh and India, among other countries. The site experienced enormous success during the pandemic, with its membership increasing from 16 million to 22 million.

Chahal also participated in the #OneSouthAsia Conversation series. During the conference, she noted the policy changes that needed to occur to support and empower women entrepreneurs. Not only would this be beneficial for the women business owners, but this would also offer enormous economic growth for the countries in question. In particular, Chahal noted that the government ought to reform discriminatory laws and policies, provide funding targeted toward women-owned businesses and create school textbooks that show women in a variety of careers.

In addition to using these women’s stories as inspiration for more women to tap into the world of e-commerce, the above-mentioned women entrepreneurs in South Asia are acting to create tangible change in their communities, whether by advocating for policy change in regional conferences or providing free guidance through their business platforms. Through their efforts, as well as the efforts of many other similar-minded businesswomen, the pandemic-induced boom in the digital economy could significantly increase women’s access to the business sector in South Asia.

– Emily Xin
Photo: Flickr

working women in india
Women in India are most often confined to social norms that affect their participation in the workforce. Marriage, motherhood, vexed gender relations and patriarchy are the most prevalent norms confining women to the domestic sphere. Working women in India — especially working mothers — subsequently suffer from guilt and social stigma in this restrictive isolation.

Working Women in India

Working women in India are made to feel guilty for choosing work as a priority predominantly by patriarchal prejudice. Even though women make up nearly half of India’s population, their economic potential has been put on the backburner. If women were to join the workforce, India could hold the key to the future growth of Asia’s third-largest economy.

According to the 2015 McKinsey Global Institute Report, Indian women can add $2.9 trillion, or 60 percent, to annual GDP by as early as 2025 if they are allowed to participate in the workforce on an equal basis as men. Another study indicates that 48 percent of women drop out of the workforce before they reach middle management positions due to marriage or motherhood.

Per the 2017 World Bank report, female labor force participation in India fell from 34.8 percent to 27 percent. At present, women contribute a mere 17 percent to the country’s GDP, well below the global average of 37 percent.

Distribution of Value and Gender Equality

Women in power have proved time and again that they make good leaders and put up a tough fight for men in every field. However, only 27 percent of Indian women are currently in the labor force. According to a report, women perform 9.8 times the amount of unpaid work than men in India.

If unpaid work were to be measured similarly to paid work, it would contribute almost $300 billion to India’s economic output; “but the current measure of GDP does not assign a value to housework, therefore it becomes imperative to bring women to the workforce to accelerate economic growth,” say experts to a website called The Wire.

It seems certain that bringing women into the workforce helps in the growth of GDP. Women in the 95 countries analyzed in this research generate 37 percent of global GDP today, despite accounting for 50 percent of the global working-age population. This global average contribution to GDP masks large variations among regions.

Gender parity in India plays a huge role in bringing women back to work. India’s record on the gender parity is so bad that it is even below that of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the poorest regions of the globe. Working women in India have to break away from the social and gender barriers to create a new wave of empowerment.

Only if the gender parity reduces can India be a potential country for economic growth. A study suggests four areas that help reduce gender gaps: education level, financial and digital inclusion, legal production and unpaid care work.

Hurdles Faced When Women Return to Work

Social norms and a patriarchal society hinder women from workforce participation. Women face social taboos and guilt, and mothers are made to feel guilty if they prioritize a career. The society considers that a woman’s first priority is to take care of her child, husband and the house.

Due to such beliefs, women have less confidence and self-doubt to step up into the workforce. Break for their marriage or motherhood leads to less pay, and maternity leave hinders their ability to move up the corporate ladder.

Company and Government Initiatives

Several workforces have women-friendly offices which enable mothers to work while they have children. Several workforces have crèche facility within office premises and work-from-home policies.

India paves the way in maternity leave, though, with its Maternity Benefit Amendment Act which grants paid leave time to 26 weeks.

Organizations Helping Women Rejoin the Workforce

  • JobsForHer: A job portal for women who are on break and want to rejoin the workforce. Top companies from tech to industries to media houses offer job opportunities specifically for women. This organization helps in mentoring women to return to work and provide skills and confidence training.
  • SHEROES: An organization which provides corporate and flexible job opportunities for women. SHEROES has built a community of working women and works to help them come into contact with their own mentors and resources. The organization focuses on helping women seeking a career along with maintaining a work-life balance. The community gets access to career resources while SHEROES Mentors engage actively to help women attain career success on their own terms.
  • HerSecondInnings: Helping women find a job is not enough; female professionals have to be empowered at all levels. Or at least that’s what HerSecondInnings believe. Over 2,000 women have been accessing this portal for job options as well as for coaching to help develop skills as well as better understand labor options. There are e-coaching sessions as well, which women can attend online. HerSecondInnings also helps organizations improve their diversity and inclusion programs. These improvements include diversity and inclusion assessment surveys and women leadership programs.

With steps and organizations like these, the future of female empowerment and getting women in the workforce in India is bright indeed. Time and effort will demonstrate how one of the largest nations in the world will work to enter into a new wave of gender equality.

– Preethi Ravi
Photo: Flickr