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For ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, it’s important to take women along: Jahnabi Phookan, FICCI FLO

For ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, it’s important to take women along: Jahnabi Phookan, FICCI FLO

NEW DELHI: Jahnabi Phookan recently took over as the national president of the women’s wing of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) FLO that is, FICCI Ladies Organisation. In an e-mail interview she discusses the impact of Covid-19, lessons for women, how women participation can increase in technology and more. Edited excerpts:

You are taking over as president of FICCI FLO at a very challenging time. What will be your priorities?
It’s a humbling experience to take over as the National President of the association at a very challenging time though my association with FLO goes back to the year 2007, right at the time of the inception of the Northeast chapter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as one the worst healthcare crisis of the century with no immediate cure in sight. It has put the entire world into a slowdown but it looks like India handled the situation relatively well as of now than other big and developed countries. This crisis has impacted the life of every section of the society and especially the poor and daily wagers. Our major priorities will be working towards the sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment of women in rural areas. FLO is commissioning a multi-state field study on COVID-19 impact on women’s livelihood in key sectors, the study will include their current situation, challenges faced by them and recommendations or solutions from the district level to the union government.

Some of our recent initiatives are:

  • FICCI FLO and Women on Wings have signed a MoU. The goal of this collaboration is to increase livelihood opportunities and growth of women artisans engaged with the selected organizations.
  • During this lockdown women are the silent sufferers. We are seeking a partnership with the Ministry of Petroleum, Natural Gas & Steel for skilling and upskilling of women in rural areas.
  • We are working closely with the government and our parent body FICCI to overcome these challenges to the best of our abilities.

Covid-19 has caused all round disruption, with salary cuts, job losses and so on. What specific initiative should be taken to help women workers and entrepreneurs at this time?
The economic impact of this crisis is huge and has hit sectors in big way; it’s going to have a snowballing effect across the length and breadth of economic activities. We are in constant touch with relevant government ministries for the skilling and upskilling of the women migrant workers. For an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, it is important to take the women along. As a business chamber working towards the goal of inclusive growth, FLO’s focus is on the role of women in reviving the economy and making India self-reliant. We believe that economic empowerment of women is the most viable solution to integrate women to the developmental goals of the nation.

We have created an MSME fund to help women in the micro and small businesses to cope with and rescue the economy. We are also partnering with social enterprises like Women on Wings to focus on identifying and supporting to work primarily with rural women in sectors such as agriculture, food processing, eco-tourism, textiles, handicrafts, waste management and non-timber forest products (NTFP) and related upstream activities and NTFP.

What would be your advice to women? What lessons can they draw from the Covid-19 crisis to better equip themselves for the future?
Women are the backbone of society and have always played a positive role in shaping our society and this time around also our women entrepreneurs and professionals will have a greater responsibility in crafting the future by constantly involving themselves in learning newer skills and technology. Women are not only growing professionally but as the caregivers to their family, they have to reinforce the importance of health and hygiene at the family level and hence act as multi-taskers. There is undoubtedly no one else than a woman in a home who can be the harbinger of cleanliness and hygiene.

It’s the reality of today that a big migrant population has moved back to their small towns and villages and this is expected to be an ongoing phenomenon for some time to come in our society. Women being the silent sufferers, this brings up a unique challenge of giving employment opportunities to such a large population, FLO is joining hands with many organizations to work towards creating job opportunities for them. We are working closely with various sectors for the skilling and upskilling of women in rural areas. We are also working together with BIMSTEC countries for creating an enabling environment for women’s economic empowerment starting with Myanmar on 12 June 2020.

You have done lot of work in the North East and also instituted an award — Iconic Women of North East. Do you plan to take some of these initiatives pan India?
Northeast always remained in my heart and it has reflected in my work over the years. Our grassroot initiative Konyak, showcases a curated collection of designs from artisans, across the NE. Konyak helps artisans and weavers learn, adapt and stay in sync with the latest in designs and techniques in order to garner a regular source of income. The platform effectively combines the textile initiative with a tourism model making it a successful case study that has also been adopted by the state of Meghalaya.

This is one such example, India is a very perse country and we can surely replicate such models in many other parts of the country.

Despite several initiatives over the years there are very few women entrepreneurs particularly in technology related ventures. How can this change?
With COVID-19 there is an increased use of technology across masses. It has brought equalization in the society. This will lead to an exponential growth in the use of technology for conducting business. We will see new level of women empowerment in the society in the coming decades as more and more women are coming into the Centre stream of economy across various sectors like IT, financial, e-commerce etc. which will also increase the productivity of women.

Fields like technology research, biotechnology are seeing a lot of women participation. With equal academic qualifications in hand, there should be a non-discriminatory clause at workplaces to enable deserving women candidates to prosper. We have tied up with India’s best incubators to provide the opportunity to the young and budding entrepreneurs and providing them with an environment that will shape up their future and give them the platform to grow.

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