"Digital India has largely been about empowering women, especially those in common service centres. We want women to come into technology startups; we want more women to be skilled in electronics manufacturing; we're talking about more technology helping women's livelihood. It's a sharper and deeper focus," she said.
A 1982 Kerala-cadre IAS officer, Sundararajan has a rich history of not just supporting but also furthering women's rights. One such example is the Akshaya mass eliteracy project, which she conceived and implemented.
"Women do need slightly differentiated strategies to reach them; they need much more promotion," she said. "In startups, they've not been able to access the same level of funding. They've not had the same opportunities; they don't have the same market access; they don't have the same mentoring; they don't have the same cutting-edge exposure to new technologies."
The ministry, spurred by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is looking at ways to make new technology opportunities available to more women, Sundararajan said.
In the next three-four months, every startup mentoring team in government-affiliated incubators will have women mentors, the first point of contact with an incubator will be a woman and venture funding teams will have greater orientation towards women, she said. The idea, she said, is to make women the new normal in an obviously male-dominated domain.
While warning against tokenism, Sundararajan said the government will seek to highlight women achievers from village level entrepreneurs to technology services and startups.
Her eyes light up when she mentions some of the remarkable work she has seen women doing through or with technology from a woman running a health spa aggregator to a business correspondent in a remote village in Andhra Pradesh, who delivers old people's pensions in a village by 6 am because she understands the anxiety that follows a pension day, and the woman whose portal helps people match donors with non-governmental organisations through technology.
Sundararajan's efforts come amid lingering social perceptions about the role of women that indicate there is still a long battle to be fought. A recent study conducted by Development Economics and YouGov on behalf of Facebook found that four in five women in India want to start their own business but have not been able to do so because of family responsibilities or commitments.
These issues do not come up in the government's discussions with the industry associations to the extent they should, Sundararajan said. "There I blame the women.We are so used to not demanding anything; we internalise a lot," she said, underscoring the extent of the challenge she is addressing.
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