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EMPOWERMENT

Women to the fore

 

The ultimate truth is that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world
TSI | Issue Dated: July 15, 2007
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Women to the fore Archana Dalmiya

Member, Congress Party In Nehru’s immortal words, India has a tryst with destiny.

Its population of a billion people is its most potent strength.

With their enterprise, savvy, and skills, they are striding surely and not so slowly onto the world’s stage.

Yet, imagine what could happen if all of India’s people and above all women were truly empowered?

If women had the confidence to demand the quality of infrastructure and services they rightfully deserve, from education and health care, to the foundations of power, water and transportation, they could unfurl an economic and social force so powerful that it would dramatically alter the face of India.

The Chinese say that women hold up half the sky. Yet, women and girls often have fewer opportunities and more than half of India’s women cannot read or write. Empowering women can give them greater choice in determining how many children to have and when to have them, reducing fertility rates, and leading to well-nourished and better educated future generations.

Yes, some Indian women are empowered, a miniscule fraction and the difference between those empowered and those not, is as stark as black and white. We are often fed with glossy reports of Indian women who have achieved great success in the cut-throat world of business. These women do us all proud and are a source of tremendous inspiration for other women who want to break out of gender definitions.

India today is a country where women are becoming more prominent. Not just in politics - the country’s dominant political party, the National Congress Party, is, after all, headed by Sonia Gandhi, a woman who is very powerful on the world stage-but in big business too. Women are fighting long-standing prejudices and are working their way to the top of companies or starting their own businesses breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. However, women in India, a country that prides itself on being a traditional society, still face enormous pressure to conform to social mores. More often than not, the hurdle of conforming to traditional roles within families poses as much of a barrier to businesswomen in India as the still-too-thick glass ceiling at companies. Though women have made great strides in the corporate world in the last three decades, women from all income groups are still too often discouraged by family members from having careers that infringe too much on family life.

A handful of businesswomen in India, including Lalita Gupte, Kalpana Morparia, Anu Aga, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Simone Tata, have quietly broken through the barriers of social conformity to become successful entrepreneurs and professionals. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw started one of India’s first biotech companies. Lalita Gupte and Kalpana Morparia run India’s second-largest bank.

Simone Tata built one of the first indigenous cosmetic brands, Lakme which gave serious competion to foreign brands. There are others.

Why are some women doing so well in India? One reason: the country’s long history of valuing education. So women who achieve academically are seen as smart and savvy. And it ordinarily doesn’t hurt to come from moneyed or an entrepreneurial family either, especially when you’re trying to start a business. Unfortunately this is what we haven’t been able to provide. Education the basic stepping stone towards empowerment.

At the cost of sounding churlish I beseech a reality check. The difference between black and white is stark. Even as we celebrate a woman President alongside are reports of female foeticide of the most horrific kind. Reports of a gender balance which is askew, in a country where girls are snuffed out at birth and even before. Reports of all kinds of gender discrimination, emotional and physical abuse, abound.

Yes. We are taking strides in the right direction. Yes, some women are torch bearers who will lead us into the light. Yes, the government is taking huge steps towards empowering women. Yes, more and more women are benefiting.

We all have to introspect and face the truth and realise fast that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

With Sonia Gandhi as our leader and now Pratibha Patil as President we can hold our heads high. Who better than a woman to empower women?
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017