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Women in Leadership Forum India 2011: Day Two – Empowering Women

Shilpa Sachdev reports for on Day 2 of naseba’s Women in Leadership Forum India 2011, where most of the discussions centered around women’s empowerment in India and raising awareness of women’s legal rights in India.

Day 2 began with a powerful session on ‘Social Entrepreneurship‘ by Dr Sunitha Krishnan, Chief Functionary and Co-founder of Prajwala, who stated that it is a responsibility of all the empowered women to do their bit in enhancing the marginally weaker women subordinates in the society.

Dr Sunitha Krishnan of Prajwala

Here was a woman who spoke from her own dreadful experience of societal isolation. “I was gang raped by eight men, 24 years back. It was not the rape but the selective discrimination from the society that I suffered the most.”

Since then Sunitha has been working single-mindedly to rescue young girls and women caught in ‘sex trafficking’ and rehabilitating them to lead a normal life. She says that hardly 7% of victims get rescued.

In a shocking revelation, she stated that the women at Kamathipura have to sleep with average 35 men a day. If the victims resist, they suffer multiple exploitation, especially with them being in a totally ‘non-accountable’ relationship with their clients who satiate their angst by inflicting horrors on these marginalised women.

9 to 14 year olds form the bulk of traffic victims. The question Sunitha posed was how open are we to have these women as a part of the society? “Just because we as a society have failed to rescue a victim in time, she becomes the perpetrator of the crime. It is our duty to bring back dignity to these women and help change the perception towards them in the society.”

Sunitha observed that, apart from Andhra Pradesh, no other state in the country had a formal anti-trafficking policy. She also shared how we can take a leaf out of the model followed by countries like Sweden where they arrest the men and not the girl and put it on national news.

However, this does not address the attitude of the person. Another example she gave was of a small town in the USA where the client is told to pay a fine and attend a training program or put behind bars. The message that Sunitha hopes to get across is that silence kills.

“No government is willing to take this hands-on. We need to build community pressure. We can make a difference only in a limited way. It starts with responsible parenting. We must talk about such issues with our family. Suppression is the foremost cause of concern. Women in the corporate world could also lend their mentorship skills or other organisational skills to raise the awareness and make the fight stronger,” she states.

It was heartening to see how a few women delegates from the crowd immediately approached Sunita after her presentation, offering her help in any way possible, to make the movement stronger.

The panel discussion that followed was themed on achieving the balance between career and work. The session raised issues like gender bias at work and the discrimination against women at the corporate level.

“Policies are the basic hygiene but just because a woman will get pregnant doesn’t mean she should not be hired. Fairness is very essential,” said one of the panelists. Sharmila Banerjee, MD and Chief Mentor, Fuzion Inc Pvt, shared an episode from her earlier days when she was a journalist and her husband was forced to transfer to a Naxalite area because she did not give in to bureaucratic demands.

“That was a transitory point and I had to make a tough choice, which I did. But my husband was very supportive and that gave a lot of strength.” Uma Nambiar who was the moderator spoke about how women are breaking stereotypes and assuming key roles.

“Earlier a nurse meant a woman. I myself took a decision to become a surgeon and not a gynaecologist.” In an urban context, we look at things differently. As Sharmila rightly said, women are very repressed in the rural areas and here is where we need to perpetuate the change.

Nandini VaidyanathanHowever, in the next session, Nandini Vaidyanathan, Founder and Mentor, CARMa Venture Services, stressed that work and life are seamless and cannot really be compartmentalised.

“Work and life constitute living and hence are seamless. Over time we have lost the seamlessness because we are looking for control outside. We need to step aside of this monkey business,” she advised.

Nandini teaches Entrepreneurship and is the author of the book Entrepedia. She has mentored more than 500 people on becoming successful entrepreneurs. To cite an example, she mentored illiterate women in Afghanistan transforming them into leading exporters of ‘hijaab’.

“Women need to re-invent themselves,” she states. “They imprison themselves behind imagined walls. Woman is the least on her priority. Work life balance is inside of us. It is an attribute we need to cultivate. Reprieve comes when there is meaning in life and meaning is within you. It is time we got a mental makeover and became the master of our destiny.”

Stress management and career management were the topics discussed in the next panel round moderated by Kanika Dewan. Work-life pressures often end up leading to the danger word called ‘stress’.

Abha Banerjee noted that one must learn to break away from stress and create focus in life. “The body is the first indication that will tell you it is time to slow down. You should learn to down the people who down you. Take time out to thank yourself and most importantly, learn to say No. There are no rules to life; everything is right in a context. Use stress to grow in life.”

Filmmaker, Gitanjali Rao, took a conscious decision to work as an individual animation filmmaker. Her film was screened at the Cannes film festival. “I chose animation to get the message across with more impact. Animation is like poetry or painting and not really a war with male counterparts. In fact, this field has a lot of women directors. When you are an artist, gender bias disappears a little. In France, men and women get paid differently to do the same work; at least in India it is better that way.”

In summation, Kanika spoke about how she has suffered two slipped discs because she did not slow down when her body asked her to. “I took to yoga and meditation that helped greatly. Silence is louder than the loudest noise.”

The last session of the day was a legal session conducted by Amee Yajnik, a senior advocate with Gujarat High Court. Amee, who works pro-bono for women, gave a run down on important laws related to women.

She said that although there is reach and access, it requires serious capability to let the law help you. The judgements you see on television are just the tip of the iceberg. In the age where we are talking about women empowerment, there are still cases of dowry deaths in the country. Middle class people don’t want to approach the police.

She elaborated on some important directives by the Supreme Court for women stating that no policemen can approach a woman between 6 pm to 6 am. If he must come, he has to get a mahila (woman) police officer along.

“The laws mandated by the Constitution ensure that women will be treated equally before the law. I am all for reservation because nobody is going to come and give it to you and right now women don’t have the capability so let the law put you there.”

“In an amendment by Rajiv Gandhi, a woman sarpanch was made compulsory so there was no option, which is good in a way. A daughter can claim money from the property of the father but daughters rarely challenge the court.”

“In the 60s we got the Dowry Act that ensures that people who demand dowry be put behind the bars. In another amendment, if a woman is thrown out of the house, she can immediately claim maintenance. However, women don’t know that they are entitled to maintenance.”

“Under section 498A, if a woman is being tortured at home and if she complains, the police can arrest the family. Another law states that if the woman dies an unnatural death within seven years of marriage, you can book the family.”

The Vishakha guidelines were brought out to provide a safe environment to women at work and protect them from sexual harassment. Every corporate has to have a complaint committee and, if not, one can file a complaint.

“We have the Domestic Violence Act also, but women don’t know the laws and that is the sad part. Some who do know the laws end up misusing them, and that is the danger of having laws. The court asks to not take arrests immediately and follow complete procedures so that the law is not misused. On my part, I have tried to create an access system and a web to help women seeking justice.”

The power of information and education cannot be ignored. The day came to a close with a fun-filled session for the delegates allowing them a moment of dance and song.

The forum not only bridged the gap but also attempted to bring to light various women-related issues at a common platform for the participants to learn and imbibe. A concerted effort is just the beginning of the long journey of empowering Indian women.

© is a media partner for the 2nd Annual Women in Leadership (WIL) Forum India

Women in Leadership (WIL) Series Topics:

The 2nd Annual Women in Leadership (WIL) Forum India is a cutting-edge platform for businesswomen from all backgrounds, industry sectors and countries around the world. Amongst the delegates in attendance will be top Indian and global businesswomen, industry visionaries, leading politicians, knowledge thought leaders and entrepreneurs.

Photo source Wikipedia




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