Sunday, December 04, 2011

Women empowerment - a myth?

The past three weeks have been busy. We had a National Seminar on “Women empowerment and Microenterprise” and we had an amazing woman as the chief guest on the opening day of the seminar. She is a retd. IAS officer, a former Vice Chancellor and is now an active core group resource person with the University Grants Commission. She is currently involved in giving managerial training to university teachers. That she symbolized women empowerment was one thing but for a person with such an impressive profile she was so simple and down to earth that I understood that there was truth in the Tamil saying ‘niraikudam thalumbadu’ that roughly translates as – water will not spill out if the pot is filled to the brim. And can you believe that the lady is around 78/79 years? She came all the way to Jamshedpur from Kerala for the seminar and the entire college became her fans. She is now in great demand with many others wanting to invite her for functions at their establishments.

That said, I wish to share some interesting points brought up at the seminar.

Mrs. Padma Ramachandran, the lady who was the chief guest, admitted to herself feeling a little vulnerable at times despite the fact that she is much better placed than many other women in terms of empowerment. She recalled that the cab driver who drove her from Kolkata airport to Howrah station was perhaps a little drunk and was driving erratically. And she did feel scared about her safety and suddenly felt a little uneasy and wondered what she would do if something happened to her on the way- even a small accident? She quoted someone known to her as saying that when women organize functions there is a lot of color and no substance. She advised us not to stop with organizing the seminar and submitting a report. Take it forward and do your bit to help women in your area to stand up for themselves was her message.

Her words made me think hard. Women empowerment is very much like the elephant in the story of the four blind men. There are so many angles to it and each one perceives it the way they want to. There were a few male research scholars/lecturers who presented their papers. There appeared to be a welcome shift in the attitude of men and we had speakers among them who supported the need to empower women. A paper on the empowered status of muslim who had property rights, control over the mehar amount given at the time of marriage etc. was particularly interesting. I wondered if the community allows them to exercise the right accorded to them.

Another question raised was why a woman’s income is called supplementary - Why not complementary?

There was another interesting story about a gentleman whose wife would wash clothes and ask him to dry them out on the terrace. Earlier he would throw furtive glances around him and make sure that no one was watching him drying clothes. Today he proudly looks around and makes sure that the neighbors definitely saw him in action!

Another point that came up was from our bank manager who spoke on micro finance. While he agreed that women were more credit worthy and took care to repay bank loans, they were often restricted in their endeavors due to lack of education. He quoted the example of a vegetable vendor – a woman – who took 15 minutes to calculate that ten 5 rupee coins amounted to 50 rupees. She was convinced only when another vendor – a man – confirmed that the manager had indeed paid her fifty rupees. His talk emphasized the need to provide basic education to women before encouraging them to handle small enterprises.

On the whole the seminar was an enlightening experience to me. I particularly liked the point made by the DC of East Singhbhum who was the chief guest for the closing ceremony. She said that women were already efficiently managing finances and running the household. They are psychologically equipped to deal with adverse conditions that befall the family. All that society needs to do is to awaken the inherent inner strength and help women develop it.

Finally my own conclusions –

  • Women can only call themselves empowered if they are included in decision making processes at home.
  • Women need to play a supportive rather than a detrimental role in establishing enterprises run by fellow women.
  • Women need to have spending rights. I do not mean spending the husband's money. I talk of the money they earn!
  • While one claims empowerment as a right it is also a responsibility. Society in general is quick to criticize the efforts of a woman. She would have to develop a sense of accountability instead of hiding behind her man at the slightest criticism. Admitting failure is no insult. Remember failure is a stepping stone to success.
  • Women need to trust themselves before expecting others to have faith in them.


Anonymous said...

yes,but i also know that strong women have unhappy marriages.

Hip Grandma said...

anon:It is not as if strong women always have happy marriages. It is the way women handle unhappy marriages that helps decide whether they are empowered or not.

Ape said...

Anon, as if weak women have happy marriages. A marriage is told happy only when both the partners and the children are happy.

Anonymous said...

weak women do things to please the husband/society and kill their liberated selves.or let's put it this way-men require specific things from women,and a woman yields to it in the name of love.

talk of a woman who earns so much more or the one who initiates sex,such women have no takers.or men,on the outside pretend to be liberal with these women but cannot handle need delusions of narcissism and a woman who can feed it-all in the name of love.

Cocktail Party said...

Not all men can handle a strong woman..And if a man can, there is nthg like it:)

Tassu said...

I'm glad to know you were a part of the seminar.Its nice to know there are educated people out there who understand women and their needs.

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
Thanks for your inputs. In my opinion there is nothing like woman or male empowerment. A woman cannot feel empowered unless she is accorded the respect and status she deserves and the men around her are the ones that see to it that she is recognized and appreciated. As the first step her family has to start appreciating her role in the family. If she is nagged and criticized, no amount of power she may be granted due to her education/ position would make her empowered. On the other hand if she is respected by her family particularly by the men around her she would feel empowered even if all she does is to decide on the menu for a meal.