Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Women Empowerment

There is no tool for development as effective as empowerment of women.

I was invited by the Rotary club of Navi Mumbai to speak on women empowerment as a part of their Women's day celebration. Why was I chosen for the same?  I had no clue but it was a privilege that I would honour. Here is the speech,  the points that I covered in my talk. They gave me 45 minutes and that I thought was a lot of time so the long speech!

My Speech

Good evening Respected Rotarians, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you so much for having me here today. I really don’t know if I am the right person to speak on the topic of women empowerment. I see a lot of experience here in the group. What can I really tell you. I am actually honoured to be speaking here today. Infact I have been following the kind of work that you all do. Have Rotarian friends and my boss Mr. Bhuvan who was also the President last year. 

I was honoured by the Lions Club of Navi Mumbai on Women’s day in 2014. Which actually came as a surprise to me; I was wondering what did I do!The lady told me that  I was one of the 3 women honoured at their women’s day function. Sangeeta Alphonso who was the first lady in the city to head a police station. Also honoured was Professor  Archana from Saraswati Engineering college who worked for social change through plays and dramas.  She said that  they follow my work through posts on Facebook, my blogs and also my columns and they felt that I should be honoured. I was amazed! That was very humbling for me at the same time it also motivated me to take up things that were close to my heart more seriously. The dreams that I had and the vision that I carried became more real and vivid. I also discovered there was something known as social entrepreneurship.

Lets not talk about the cliché, there is inequality among men and women, gender bias, fighting stereotypes, female infanticide, dowry, domestic violence so on and so forth. We all know they exist and there is a need to not just work on them but eradicate them. Being the absolutely optimistic person that I am, I don’t want to bring them up here again on this platform.

Fortunately we come from backgrounds where these things either don’t exist or are handled or managed well. They are quite different in the lower socio economic groups where the woman holds the reins of the family, As it is said ‘jeevan ek rath hai’ she is an equal partner. She works as a domestic help brings up her children, deals with a drunkard husband and manages whatever she can the best that she can. This is not one odd incident but many such lives and stories that we see around us.
I travel across the country and love to meet and interact with people. Again the women in the villages do not get it easy. They face all things that I said I didn’t want to speak about, everyday! If there has to be empowerment it needs to be for them.

Do something for them, create employment opportunities. Do things so that they can get a good life. When you educate a girl, you empower her. She’ll have the next generations empowered. And there will be fine men and women who are supportive of each other and who respect each other.  And there certainly will not be a reason to have talks on woman empowerment!

Let’s see what people perceive empowerment as,  most of them would say FREEDOM. Freedom to do things that they like. Not having to ask or explain to anyone.
When a woman does not need to take permission to do whatever she wants to do and the society does not raise eyebrows on her choice.......that would be true Empowerment.  ‘The Right to say NO’. Letting women live the way they want to.
Women should empower each other instead of being hateful and envious of each other.

I remember a joke, if women were the heads of states, there would be no wars but only a group of jealous nations that wouldn’t talk to each other.

What is women empowerment to me?  
If you ask me I wouldn’t even like to think of men and women as being very different. They have their own set of issues to manage. Men might be stronger physically whereas women hold more of emotional strength. Every journey comes with its own ups and downs and the meandering path that it follows. You can’t question the path unless you have walked that journey. Lets speak about empowering for all, why just women alone. Isn’t it?
Let me share this incident with you, in 2001, long time ago. I had joined IHM Mumbai as a Professor. That time the government of India ran a programme called Capacity Building.  It was meant for people who worked in the Tourism and Hospitality sectors and who had no formal training.  It covered people such as taxi drivers, porters or coolies, people working in restaurants, small eateries, canteens etc. Since I was teaching Front Office, Guest relations and tourism, I did training programmes for the Coolies from  Dadar station, Mumbai, maharashtra. We met the union leaders and told them about the gropramme. We covered about 400-500 of them. The training sessions were held during the weekend where we covered a batch of 30 each day.

They attended the full day programme in their uniforms, the red shirts, badges etc. Their tea food and snacks was taken care of and they were also paid Rs. 100 as they’d lose that days income, it was some money in those day! At the end of the day, they’d get a certificate in the valedictory function.
The session covered the importance of their jobs in the hospitality and tourism sector, the moment of truth about the city that they created. How they should take pride in their work and general guest psychology. Also how they should plan their lives and that of their families.
I was not even married then, a 25 year old doing these sessions every weekend. I loved each one of them.
In one of the sessions, there was this gentleman who was 70 years old. He sat on the last bench and I saw that he wouldn’t even blink his eyes. It made me a bit uneasy but ignored it. At the time of the valedictory, My HOD Mr. Varkey was present there but he asked me only to give away the certificates. When, we called the elderly gentleman to collect his certificate. He came and touched my feet I was actually taken aback. He spoke in Marathi, he said that he had never been to a school, didn’t know how a classroom felt. He knew the Goddess of knowledge was Maa Saraswati, he didn’t know what she looked like but if she was there she would have looked like me. He had tears in his eyes when the whole group clapped for him.  Those eyes, that look on his face has remained with me, etched in my heart forever.

I have conducted a lot of training programmes for over 15 years now, for my students, Management trainees, corporates, banks and many more but nothing has replicated that feeling. That incident also gave a direction to my life and what I wished to do some day. I shall share it with you all what I intend to do. Empower people though enriching training. Making the youth from villages, from the lower socio economic group, who don’t get many opportunities, employable by giving them skills in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors. That is empowering to me.

Let me share a few more stories that I feel have created opportunities especially for women. They are finding a place for themselves even in male dominated professions, you see them playing on the field, T 20 cricket is for women also. They are flying planes and even taking combat roles in the defence forces. Driving an auto rickshaw or even a train. You name a job and there is a woman doing it!
You gave them the opportunities and they found wings and soared so high!

Let’s focus on stories of social entrepreneurship where a few individuals both men and women have empowered other women to financial independence. I believe once a person becomes employable he or she understands the importance of what it’s to be on their own, they start valuing education, they value developing skills and their mind becomes more progressive. It is said that when you educate a woman you educate an entire household and also the future generations. That is empowerment!

I wish to speak about Shikha and Anurag Jain, who are both civil engineers,  founders and CEO of Neev Herbals, they have created livelihood for rural women in Jharkhand from where the ingredients are sourced for their products.

Shree Mahila Grah Udhog that makes Lijjat papad and other products created employment opportunities for women that all of us are aware of.  

Amazon has launched women only delivery stations in Chennai and parts of Kerala. This has created opportunities for women to work, even if they have household responsibilities they can take up work during their free time. This has been received with so much of appreciation and hope by the women there.

Cowdung cake patties, ‘gobar ke upale’ first made in Allahabad village and now sold all over the world. That has created opportunities for women in the villages.
Making incense sticks from the residual remains of the religious functions such as flowers, wood etc. is another means of recycling and reusing thus also creating employment.
Sindhutai Sakpal a social activist who works for the orphans and empowers them. Makes their tomorrows better! She gives them hopes of brighter future.
The farmers especially in Vidharbha or Marathwada that faces drought regularly, commit suicide, but what happens to their wives and children left behind. The wife cannot do it, why? She brings up the children on her own. Opportunities have to be created for them.
A lady who lost her husband from there started making bags to support her and her children, she got others from the streets, taught them bag making free of cost and now it has become an industry. They found their own calling and have created a support group. That has been their story of self sustainability.
Puremart is a venture of my sister Rajani and her husband Sahil Verma based in Jammu.  They source authentic products from the state and make them available throughout the country through their online portal. Creating employment there and giving the local farmers true value.
Mithil Pitre, who runs homestays Onest, Oceanopearl and resorts Nakshatra in the Konkan region of Mahrashtra, has trained women from the local area working at his properties.

There are numerous success stories around us; we can certainly contribute to many more. That’s when we’ll feel truly empowered and doing something worthwhile with our lives.

 My personal quote will be,
A successful woman is the one who built a strong foundation with the bricks others have thrown at her.

Thank you.

Ps. Some pictures are taken from google for representational purposes, with due credits.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

My random thoughts on relationships.

I get a reminder from a follower of the blog that I hadn't written anything of late. I am just an emotional writer, I do it when I feel like and love to share happy, cheerful moments. This time I am certainly not following that trend but addressing something that affects all of us. 
Me being a person that most find approachable and share their worries or things that are bring in stress in their lives, I wish to bring that up today. I am no authority on the subject but have heard quite a few stories coming to me as the student counsellor and also the ladies who generally share those incidents with me. This was weighing on my mind and finally here its on the paper and on my blog! Some of you may not agree with me but its just a point of view.

I have lived almost four decades, seen and observed things around me; most of them happy, positive and optimistic but there are also things that deeply hurt me. Just the other day I met a couple of my friends in the ladies group. After the exchange of pleasantries and hugs we started catching up with each other. Something that really stayed on my mind was the personal relations that we shared, spouses, children, office and the friendship that we had. Relations are so tricky and absolutely difficult to understand.I remember a friend who was so dynamic, vivacious girl always leading the pack suddenly she had become just the opposite...I was wondering what must've happened to her self confidence? She displayed such poor self worth even amongst the girls she grew up with . We got talking and what I heard really saddened me. 

It's an irony that the more time we spend with an individual more flaws are we exposed to, somewhere we tend to overlook the better qualities that once were a part of that friendship or the relationship.Rather than this becoming a platform for understanding and improving what existed between individuals in a relationship, we unfortunately are looking for every opportunity that can pull the other person down. Infact the spouses are referred to as the better halves, essentially meaning that the other person is better than you. Isn't that a meaningful way to look at the significant other person in your life?        

Time should actually heal and seal the bond, its so unwarranted for when its just the contrary. 
When one needs to explain and prove all the time ....that's not a healthy relationship, where there is no open communication its a disaster in the making. An atom bomb ready to explode!. When one feels that he/ she is not a priority but just an option that's the biggest insult to the person's self esteem. It is said that we get just one life so why not make it the best that we can. One should live and not just exist, if something doesn't allow you to be who you are and what you value why not work out a solution.... giving up is certainly no way! 

Motto when it comes to relationships Let there be more comedy than drama!
Live as if there's no tomorrow! .... be your own cheerleader!

PS: Pictures are taken from Google for illustrations, with due credits, if anyone has any objection, kindly let me know they'll be removed promptly.