Women need to get financially and economically empowered, and start believing in their abilities to become leaders, if their cherished goal of equal participation in decision making is to be achieved. This underlining refrain of panellists from a cross section of society, and a living example of women’s empowerment presented before the audience, marked a half-day seminar on ‘Women’s Participation In Decision Making’ organised by Panjab University in collaboration with the National Commission for Women (NCW) at English Auditorium of the university on Monday.
The engaging seminar was temporarily marred by an overkill attempted by a handful of students, apparently motivated by students’ politics, who raised slogans against the BJP led central government, calling it “the ‘sanghi sarkaar” and denouncing the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the context of the recent attack on JNU’s woman president and a few teachers.
Photos By : Life In Chandigarh
The handful of students, suspected to be members of the Students for Society (SFS), had apparently come prepared, with a girl student, among the first to raise her voice, carrying a placard slogan written in Punjabi to catch media attention as a lot of BJP leaders were expected to participate in the inaugural and a subsequent session.
Attempts were made by teachers and others to pacify the protesting students but when they persisted with their sloganeering they were forcibly evicted from the auditorium. The ruckus was initiated by a girl student when Haryana Vidhan Sabha Speaker and Panchkula MLA Gian Chand Gupta was speaking in the inaugural session and enumerating steps taken by the Modi government at the centre and the Haryana government for women’s empowerment.
Among other prominent people expected at the seminar, besides the panellists in various other sessions were Punjab Governor and UT Administrator VP Singh Badnore, Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher, Additional Solicitor General and former Chandigarh MP Satya Pal Jain, NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma and PU Vice Chairman Prof Raj Kumar.
Badnore and Kher could not make it to the seminar, necessitating the merger of the second session on “Political Participation of Women & Decision Making” into the inaugural session.
LifeInChandigarh.com found the overload of BJP leaders invited on stage for the inaugural of the seminar as extremely biased. Ms. Pam Rajput, Emeritus Professor and Coordinator of the seminar on behalf of the university, when contacted, was emphatic while claiming that their collaborator NCW primarily decided the prominent people and panellists to be invited.
Setting the tone for the session on “Role of Financial Inclusion in Enabling Decision Making By Women”, Pam Rajput pointed to the dismal ranking of India on the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum. The country, which was placed 108th among 153 major and emerging economies in 2018, slid four positions further to 112th position on the 2019-20 index.
The index measures the extent of gender-based gaps in economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.
Rajput informed that while India’s position in the first two parameters was extremely poor, it was shamefully placed fourth from the bottom among these 153 economies in health and survival. The only saving grace for the country was the 18th position in political participation, she added.
Moderating the discussion, Ms. Meenakshi Gupta, Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General of India, said while governments and the society needed to groom women to take up higher leadership roles, women themselves have to change their mindsets and start believing in their abilities to become leaders.
In this context, she pointed out that experience had shown that lack of education among women puts a lot of discount on their participation in decision making. So women need to give top priority to education for their emancipation in society, she asserted.
Dr. H. Srinivas, Director General, V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, Noida, informed that the percentage of women owning businesses among all proprietary establishments in the country had increased from 9.5% in the 5th Economic Census of 2005 to 15.4% in the 6th Economic Census of 2013.
He said with Jan Dhan accounts and increased availability of microfinance schemes, women, especially in the hinterland of the country, were poised for takeoff. Women entrepreneurs and self held groups now need to be encouraged and supported to scale up their businesses, he added.
He agreed with the observation that education paved the way for financial and economic empowerment of women, because as the education level goes up so does the aspirational levels of women. The bargaining power of women in their home as well as workplace increases with higher level of economic empowerment, he added.
The third panellist inspired by personal example. Revathi Roy, CEO, Hey Deedee, India’s first all-woman instant parcel delivery service, has come out of a personal crisis to help 2,000 girls belonging to below poverty line (BPL) families to not only stand on their own feet but also to help their families cross the line.
Relating her own story, Revathi wondered by Indian women most times wait for a crisis to stand on their own feet. She developed a passion for cars and driving ever since she was in her teens. Later after doing her Masters in Economics, she got married and had three male children. Her crisis started when her husband fell into a coma and remained in that vegetative state for two-and-a-half years.
During this period she faced a severe financial crisis with her bank accounts remaining out of bounds for her in the absence of joint signature of her husband. Mounting medical bills, household expenditure and education of her children left her in heavy debt. With her husband’s death in 2007, she had no skill other than her passion for driving with which to empower herself. So she decided to become a cab driver. From there germinated the idea of starting an instant parcel service.
She started enrolling insecure girls from BPL families most of whom did not know what to do with their lives. They were first trained to drive two wheelers on self financing basis and provided soft skills by a training company. Self financing of scooters followed and these girls started instant delivery of parcels. Initially orders were difficult to get because of inexperience of the company and the women, but later business picked up.
Four wheelers were added to the self financing fleet for warehouse-to-hub delivery and today Hey Deedee, which started operations in 2016, has operations in multiple cities.
The girls in her company are earning anything between Rs 18,000-Rs 20,000 a month on per parcel remuneration basis. All have debit cards and are encouraged to buy at least one white good for their homes on EMIs and maintain a healthy credit rating.
Taking a cue from her own life, Revathi wants all women to empower themselves with the skill they have, whatever it might be. They must also shed their inhibitions – ifs and buts – regarding their abilities and tell themselves that they are damn good at whatever they do best.
In the session on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Decision Making: Present Policy Framework and Challenges, panellists highlighted the challenges before women as there were strong world lobbies which were opposing reproductive rights of women. They emphasised that it is a fundamental right of women to have a right over their bodies.
Ms. Nanthini Subbiah, Asst. Prof, Dept. Of Community Health and Advisory, National Institute of Health And Family Welfare (NIHFW), pointed out that though the central government was providing sufficient funding to the state governments under various schemes for maintaining sexual and reproductive health of women, the infrastructure developed at health sub centres across states had failed to address privacy issues of women.
She also highlighted that the emphasis on institutional deliveries had thrown up various challenges for women, as, on paper, these were free, but the distant health centres and other logistical and accessibility issues were hindering desirable outcomes. In most cases families ended up making half to three-fourth out-of-pocket expenses, she added.
She also expressed doubts over quality of training being imparted in private nursing and medical colleges proliferating across the country.
While expressing confidence that the conditions in various health sub centres across states would improve with all of them proposed to be converted into health and wellness centres under the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the central government, Dr. Baljit Kaur, Asst. Director, Deptt. Of Health and Family Welfare, Punjab, felt that “abortions of the mindsets” were required in society to ensure better outcomes in sexual and reproductive well being of women. “We, all of us, have to make small beginnings in this direction. You have to be the change,” she emphasised.
Giving an example from her personal life, Dr Baljit asserted that if women want rights, they also need to be bold enough to fulfil their responsibilities. “We are two sisters. When my father died both of us inherited his property. But we also fulfilled our responsibility of performing his last rights, not leaving it to male relatives or neighbours. Many women in Amritsar later emulated this practice,” she remarked with a sense of satisfaction.
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