Empowering rural women’s economy   

It was reported yesterday (15) that a provision of Rs. 15,000 million has been allocated from the 2022 Budget for a programme to establish a home shop network for female entrepreneurs. The objective of this programme is creating one female entrepreneur in every village, and it will be implemented through the provision of entrepreneurship guidance and also the initial capital. One major part of this programme, according to the Cabinet of Ministers decision announced yesterday, is identifying aspiring female entrepreneurs from rural families. 

The Government’s plan appears to be a progressive and timely one, especially in a context where rural communities that constitute a considerable segment of the country’s agricultural community are being pushed towards destitution due to several factors including the infamous organic fertiliser plan. If implemented properly, it will not only result in economic benefits, but also social benefits, because this programme targets rural females who rarely receive opportunities to improve their skills and convert their skills into economically profitable endeavours and thereby uplift their status in life as female leaders. At the same time, through government intervention and support, which the Cabinet has promised to provide, this programme will open doors for rural females to expand small-scale projects they have already initiated.

However, as much as the said plan is an attractive one, for the people and the country’s economy to benefit from it, it has to reach out to people at the provincial level, and discussing their concerns in this regard must receive special attention. Unlike in the case of the Government’s organic agriculture plan, this initiative must be based on the people’s needs, concerns, and capacities, and it is one of the best ways of ensuring that this programme will bear fruit. 

We cannot also forget the fact that most programmes launched by governments focus more on initiation, and less on continuation and the sustainability of projects. With regard to programmes relating to entrepreneurs, especially, there needs to be a proper plan to ensure that those selling goods or services have a suitable and an adequate clientele and a market in their regions or in places that female entrepreneurs can reach, or, at the very least, there needs be an assurance that the Government is prepared to ensure that their goods and services reach potential clients and customers.

Most importantly, this programme should be an investment from which both the citizens and the national economy can benefit, not just another relief programme which starts and ends by providing some money to the people and holding a launching ceremony.

In addition, it should also be noted that these are long-term programmes that take more than one government’s tenure to result in actual change, and regime changes should not affect this programme. This is, however, an extremely complex situation, because new governments almost always see flaws in programmes implemented by previous governments and tend to correct them the way they see fit.

However, Sri Lankans are living in an era where promises, plans, and discussions no longer mean concrete action. There are plenty of examples to support that claim, the most well-known ones being the Government’s plans and promises to buy the turmeric grown in Sri Lanka, ending the rice and other essentials mafia, making essentials available for all citizens at concessional prices, giving jobs to unemployed graduates, and controlling inflation. Therefore, the actual implementation of this programme can be identified as the most challenging part, and it should include not only funding, but also the sharing of information and knowledge, and the proper distribution of resources, discussions, and also attitudinal changes necessary for aspiring female entrepreneurs to successfully contribute to the economy. 

Implementing this programme the right way can actually change a lot for rural communities, females, and the national economy, and the benefits of this programme will go beyond more than one generation. More action and less talk is the key.