Women make up almost half of India's 1.2 billion population, yet their economic potential has been largely ignored. Now, economists say women could hold the key to the future growth of Asia's third-largest economy.
Indian women can add $2.9 trillion, or 60 percent to annual GDP, by as early as 2025, if allowed to participate in the workforce on an equal basis as men, according to the 2015 McKinsey Global Institute Report.
"Women's empowerment is an absolute economic no-brainer...Empowering women boosts economic growth. For example, we have estimates that, if the number of female workers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP would expand by 27 percent in India," Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in September. India's economy grew at an annual rate of 7.4 percent in the September quarter.
Yet female participation in the labor force is a low 24 percent, according to the McKinsey report, and Indian women's contribution to the economy is the lowest on a global scale, at 17 percent.
"There is an entire population and skillset that is missing from the workforce. Why is it ?" asks Ankita Vashistha, CEO of the 1 billion rupee ($15 million) Saha Fund that invests only in ventures run by women or which produce services and products for female consumers.
Huge leakage of talent
Gender inequality, a lack of education and childcare facilities, social pressures and rising crime in cities are all cited as reasons for women opting out of the workforce.
Limited financial inclusion, with women getting less than 10 percent of all loans granted, along with a preference for a male child and rules such as the ones that mean a woman needs to get her husband's signature for even a car loan, have all contributed to women being left behind in the Indian economy, say experts.
Manju Taneja, a 42-year-old who asked that her real name not be used, has an MBA from the top ranking Indian Institute of Management but has not worked for the past 10 years. She gave up her job when she had her first child and today spends most of her time looking after her three children.