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.