This Her Circle Luminary is moving forward with all guns blazing towards one ultimate objective, the economic empowerment of women. A path thats full of challenges manifesting through gender barriers in conjunction with cultural structures and mindsets. Driving transformations of this magnitude, right from the grassroots level is a difficult feat, but shes a powerhouse of motivation, theres no stopping for her. Meet the dynamic changemaker, Suhela Khan, a social scientist by profession and currently the country program manager, womens economic empowerment at UN Women.In conversation with Her Circle, Khan digs into the deep-rooted patriarchal constraints that have been normalised by societal structures, and the ultimate objective of driving transformation through economic empowerment, one woman at a time.Breaking Stereotypes Gender BarriersI was in conversation with a group of women in Bihar once, and to our question about violence, most of them giggled and laughed saying that it is ok to receive a few slaps and that it is their destiny, recalls Khan when asked about barriers she has faced in her journey. Enabling women with the tools to recognise and challenge discrimination has been one of her core strategies so far. On a positive note, I also witnessed that when women become aware of their identity as right-bearing citizens and understand how patriarchy and patriarchal systems govern their lives, they act for themselves and for their communities. I cant ever forget this image of a group of tribal women all clad in sarees playing football, with men spectators surrounding them, as an expression of their confidence to address discriminatory norms restricting womens mobility and choices, as a part of one of our projects 10 years back, Khan reflects. Driving transformations at large scales comes with its own set of challenges, but shes ready to battle them out through gender training with the community. One more example is of women from manual scavenging communities being at the forefront to counter and voice against the historical injustice and discrimination they and their communities have faced as a part of another project that I managed, she says.Hailing from a middle-class family in the small city of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, Khan believes that my parent's investment in education and equal access to opportunities enabled her to recognise that a lot needs to be done for and with women in her community. I saw my role in the development sector and like every other development sector professional aspired to work with the United Nations because the institution strives to bring an impactful change in the lives of people, she says.Positive change at any scale acts like a booster. What are some of the achievements that she is proud of? Well, the answer is simple for her - impact. When I look back and reflect, many things make me feel happy and proud. For example, creating community assets in the remotest areas of Gujarat to ease womens drudgery and unpaid work burden, positively impacting the lives of over 150,000 women from rural and marginalised communities through strengthening their economic agency, leading engagements with the private sector at the highest level to empower women at the workplace, marketplace and communities as well as supporting the government in their mandate of gender equality and womens empowerment.Access is the KeywordAccess is the keyword here and a factor that has been keeping women away from employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. At UN Women, Suhela and her team are constantly working towards enabling this access. In my interaction with women from diverse backgrounds I have learned that even well-educated women tend to lowball their capacities and belittle themselves despite their talent and skills. For women from marginalised backgrounds, irrespective of their educational status, major challenges are around fundamental aspects of their identity as citizens and economic agents, despite their active contribution to productive activities, she states. When opportunities are created, they should be accompanied by an enabling environment so that women are able to claim and reap their benefits equally. This means that issues of gender bias and stereotypes, glass ceilings and sticky floors, violence and disproportionate burden of care work need to be recognised and addressed through conscious strategies, she further adds.As per Khan, the focus, therefore, has been on strengthening womens capacities to appreciate and act against these gender barriers while at the same time working with communities, employers and businesses, government as well as financial institutions and investors to adopt a gendered approach to facilitate womens access to decent employment and entrepreneurship opportunitiesSupporting Women EntrepreneursOne of the major challenges faced by women entrepreneurs according to Khan is the lack of access to information and this is true also for women entrepreneurs who are no longer operating on a small scale as well. Under one of the EU-funded WeEmpowerAsia programme led by Khan, over 2,000 micro, small and medium women entrepreneurs were provided access to networks, markets and finance. We operationalized UNs and NITI Aayogs Investor Consortium platform to enable women entrepreneurs to strengthen and pitch their ideas to investors. Recognising that there exist a few established platforms for corporates and women entrepreneurs to connect, collaborate and co-create to learn from one another and gauge the potential for future collaboration, we created the Industry Disruptor, which is the first-ever platform for women entrepreneurs with responsible businesses to be a part of value chains of major brands in the textile, homeware, and lifestyle sectors, says Khan.Her Primary Focus For The Next DecadeKhans role enables her to meet and partner with strong and capable women, diverse and like-minded people who motivate her to continue to play her part and contribute. As a leader for change, her primary focus for the next decade is on accelerating womens equal access to economic resources and opportunities because this is a true game changer for women, communities, and nations.Is there gender equality on the other side of the tunnel? We still have a long road to travel. Despite many significant gains, women do not have access to equal opportunities and resources. With every new pandemic, calamity, war, or crisis situation and even advancement in technology, it's women who are impacted in ways that leave them more vulnerable. What is needed is that womens rights are at the center stage with prioritising zero tolerance for discrimination against women and girls at homes, in communities, in workplaces and institutions, states KhanKhans Message for Those Who Want to Make a Difference in Their LivesAt a personal level, Khan believes that her work has deeply impacted her. I got a deeper understanding of how patriarchy works which also helped me made sense of my personal experiences. I was also able to learn about my own unconscious biases. She says.Suhela is inspired by her mother who has stood by her side, heard her out, and placed her trust in her. She has one solid message for every woman who wants to be self-reliant and make a difference - You have it in you. You are not alone. Place the blame where it lies and dont be way too critical of yourself.