Put Women in Driver’s Seat and You’ll See the Progress: Usha Jha

Usha Jha, President of the Bihar Mahila Udyog Sangh

There is an urgent need to understand the importance of empowering women beyond Patna, Usha Jha, President of the Bihar Mahila Udyog Sangh (BMUS) says while she discussing women’s participation in Bihar’s industrial and factory sectors, sharing her own experiences right from 1991 to date, in this freewheeling chat with Education Post’s Prabhav Anand.

Question QYou completed your early education from a government school in Bihar’s Purnea district. What are your thoughts on the school education of girls from government schools?

Well, you see, everything changes with time, which is the rule of this good world. So, back when I was in government school, the learning environment was such that if it remains the same today, it could be very beneficial for everyone. In the field of education, we should always strive to be at the forefront.

If we look at the condition of our government schools now, the education we received back then, up to the seventh grade, still seems to be the foundation that’s serving me even today. For every subject, there used to be dedicated teaching hours, unlike the personal training courses prevalent today. In our time, we had to put in effort for everything. Let’s talk about the village school in Purnea. At that time, it followed a strict routine; there was one hour for each subject, and we even learned to use the spinning wheel, producing thread from it. We didn’t differentiate between boys and girls.

Moving on, we had daily prayers in school, instilling a sense of patriotism. Do you know the preamble to the Constitution? We used to recite it daily. Unfortunately, many people lack this basic knowledge these days. Some people say government schools are being improved, and if that happens, it could be a game-changer. But, the key is having dedicated and trained teachers. If we can bring back that pattern, it will certainly help. But the situation is critical right now.

We’re making an effort in our village, where we are educating about twenty boys. They attend regular school but we provide additional tutoring. We believe that as long as we can control it, we will continue to ask ourselves, “Why not?” We are also educating girls in Patna. There, we have established a pattern, and about twenty boys are coming there as well. Slowly but surely, we are making progress.
So, you see, education has evolved over time, and it’s up to us to shape the future. It’s a work in progress.

Question Q

What challenges do women entrepreneurs typically face in Bihar, and how do you think these challenges can be addressed?

Well, you see, there’s no denying that women often face unique challenges. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is the mindset prevalent in our society. There’s often a lack of belief in women’s capabilities when it comes to earning and business ventures.

Moving beyond that, I’d like to share an example from our organization, Bihar Mahila Udyog Sangh. Despite starting with limited capital, we have developed efficient systems and are now earning more than some male counterparts within our households.

One important challenge is that women entrepreneurs are often not taken seriously. Despite achieving higher turnover and providing more employment opportunities, we are sometimes still stereotyped. People might think, “Oh, they must be involved in crafts, sewing, or similar activities,” without recognizing the potential of these ventures.

Another important resource is human capital, and we work together to provide support. Sometimes, women entrepreneurs face difficulties in dealing with banks, and we offer them guidance. We encourage them to open current accounts, which are often necessary for availing government schemes.

Change is happening, but slowly. Society is gradually becoming more accepting of women’s roles in business. The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, forced many to adapt to working from home, and women excelled in this environment.

Challenges persist, such as the initial need for capital and the occasional stock-related issues, but we believe in perseverance and providing a helping hand. We have seen women excel in fields like printing and painting, which have created employment opportunities.

Times are changing, and women are becoming more aware of their capabilities, with social media playing a significant role. They are realizing that they can contribute to the family income and economic growth.

Basically, challenges remain, but there is a growing awareness and willingness to overcome them. Women entrepreneurs are a valuable resource, and their active participation can lead us from being a developing country to a developed one.

Question Q

The digital divide and the lack of technological resources are significant issues. How are you addressing this digital divide to assist women entrepreneurs?

Nowadays, as technology sweeps through every industry, it’s essential to understand that there is a bit of a gap among women, especially in rural areas. When we talk about awareness regarding technology, there is still some room for improvement, particularly in villages where technology isn’t discussed as much. This poses a challenge for women entrepreneurs in rural areas, who may not have easy access to technological resources.

So, how can digital devices help women entrepreneurs bridge this gap? We have been working on spreading awareness about these resources. While it’s true that many rural women regularly use platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and even Instagram for personal reasons, they might struggle when it comes to more complex digital tasks.

To tackle this, we aim to simplify technology and provide training, especially in rural areas. By opening digital classrooms in villages and offering training sessions, we hope to empower women with the skills they need. We have seen that once women overcome their initial apprehensions, they can utilize technology effectively.

It’s essential to recognize that technology isn’t something to be feared; it’s a tool that can empower individuals to achieve more. As we work on initiatives like Digital India, it’s crucial to ensure that rural women are not left behind. By providing them with digital literacy and tools like UPI, Google Pay, and Paytm, we enable them to participate fully in the digital economy. This inclusivity is vital for bridging the digital divide and fostering economic growth among women entrepreneurs.

Question Q

Many adult women are literate but lack higher secondary education. Do women themselves hesitate to pursue education in their 30s or beyond, or are there other obstacles?

It’s true that some women express concerns about resuming their education later in life, wondering what they’ll learn or if they’re too old. However, this hesitation stems from a lack of encouragement and societal norms.

In my own experience, I started my education recently and am eager to learn. Education was traditionally confined to studying by the book, but what truly matters is understanding concepts rather than rote memorization. It’s essential to nurture a learning environment at home. When parents treat their daughters’ education with equal importance to their sons’, real progress can happen. This applies whether you live in a village or a city; the disparity persists, and it’s a significant issue we must address.

To combat this, we’ve been working diligently. Even those who have minimal knowledge can make progress with the right support. At my organization, we provide our staff with opportunities for learning, helping them overcome barriers to education.

So, the problem you mentioned does exist, but there’s a growing awareness and desire to change this narrative. We need to focus on improving primary education and ensuring girls’ attendance, implementing punishments for absenteeism when necessary. Society is waking up to the importance of education for all children, and we’re moving forward. We must emphasize that slogans like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao alone aren’t enough; we need real, tangible change.

Question Q

In a previous interview, you mentioned that women are often more effective than men in managing start-ups. Can you share some examples from your organization, Petals Craft, to illustrate this point?

Absolutely! It’s a fact that women often excel in management roles, and we’ve seen this in various aspects of Petals Craft. While we shouldn’t see this as a competition, it’s worth recognizing that certain qualities come naturally to women and make them effective managers.

Starting with education, women tend to be more organized and proactive, traits that play a vital role in business. We all know how women efficiently manage their households, and these skills easily translate into managing a startup effectively.

In our case, we specialize in handcrafted products, particularly handcrafting scarves. Our growth trajectory showcases the effectiveness of women in leadership. We have consistently maintained a low graph of errors and inefficiencies, ensuring the quality of our products.

When we compare our organization, primarily operating at the micro-level, with larger factories or corporate offices, we employ thousands of artisans. These artisans, predominantly women, multitask seamlessly. They work from the comfort of their homes, effectively managing both their work and family responsibilities.

This is just one example of the success women can achieve when provided with opportunities. We’ve received numerous inquiries from women interested in joining our workforce, inspired by our journey. It’s not just about monetary turnover; we measure success in social terms as well. We’ve made a lasting impact on the lives of many women, empowering them to contribute to their families and communities while excelling in the business world.

Question Q

From 1991 to 2023, you and Petals Craft have embarked on a remarkable journey. What are your insights into women’s participation in the industrial and factory sectors?

Indeed, when you place women in the driving seat, progress is inevitable. Women’s active participation is essential, not only in the industrial or factory sectors but across all domains. It’s about empowering women and creating awareness.

In recent times, we’ve witnessed the importance of women’s participation in politics. To make meaningful strides, women must be politically engaged. We can no longer rely on criticizing governments from the comfort of our drawing rooms. Instead, we need to actively engage in politics, support strong candidates, and contribute to the formation of effective governments.

The key takeaway here is that progress is achievable in every sphere of life. Whether it’s industry, politics, or any other sector, women have the potential to drive positive change. It’s high time we recognize and harness this potential to build a more equitable and progressive society.

Question Q

Many important organizations in Bihar are centered around its capital, Patna. What challenges are there in the decentralization of the female workforce and their work?

Yes, we see growth happening in other areas as well. Those associated with organizations like the CIA and BIA have become active, especially in terms of education. Knowledge sharing among these members is vital.

Regarding government training institutes in Bihar, while they attract a considerable number of women, the challenge lies in guiding them through aspects like marketing and accessing raw materials. There’s a growing focus on establishing systems to address these issues.

In our time, such systems were lacking, but now we’re working to expand them, particularly in fields like handicrafts, reaching out to rural areas. It’s essential to foster what wasn’t present in our time.

When it comes to organizations, it’s not just about the high-profile individuals in Patna. It’s about a collective effort. Our organization, Bihar Mahila Udyog Sangh, used to primarily focus on education, but now we’re extending our reach to rural areas.

If the rural economy isn’t robust, the urban economy won’t thrive either. The work we do in rural areas is primarily carried out by women.

In summary, decentralizing the female workforce and their work involves addressing challenges in education, marketing, raw material access, and extending support to rural areas. This collective effort is crucial for a thriving economy beyond Patna.


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