Against all odds
Women in India, irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds they hail from, have exhibited indefatigable spirit in overcoming challenges to achieve big for the country
The theme of the International Women's Day, 2022 is breaking gender bias and reducing stereotypes and discrimination to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. As we recover from a raging pandemic where waves after waves have dealt a body blow to our lives and livelihood, let us ponder over the devastating effect the pandemic had on women and weaker sections. There is no denying the fact that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on everyone's life, but it has been especially hard on women. Globally, the pandemic had a regressive effect on gender equality. In India, a recent report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University reveals that during the first lockdown in 2020, only seven per cent of men lost their jobs, compared to 47 per cent of women who lost their jobs and did not return to work by the end of the year. Women fared even worse in the informal sector. In the following year, between March and April 2021, rural Indian women in the informal sector accounted for 80 per cent of the people who lost jobs.
Moreover, during the lockdown, women's share of unpaid care work increased by nearly 30 per cent. Traditionally, women in India spend a large part of their day doing unpaid care work at home, compared to men. On an average, they spend 9.8 times more time than men on unpaid domestic chores and 4.5 hours a day caring for children, elders and the sick. We need to act fast to arrest this trend and take remedial measures to improve the social and economic outcomes for women.
If we leave the grim picture aside, International Women's Day is also a day when we take stock of the achievements that women have made in the past years — the tremendous efforts made by them around globally to pursue their dreams, to seize whatever little opportunity they could lay their hands on to improve their position. In our country, there are many inspirational women who have taken large strides in their chosen field through sheer hard work, grit and determination. These women are role models for young girls aspiring to achieve their goals. Today is a day to salute these famous as well as the unsung women who have made their mark in society. Let us look at the contributions of the following incredible and inspiring women.
Falguni Nayar: Falguni, an investment banker, left her job and jumped on to the start-up bandwagon when she was 49. She is the founder and CEO of the beauty and lifestyle retail company Nykaa. The company is now worth more than 6.5 billion dollars and she is one of the rare breeds of Indian women entrepreneurs who have hit the billionaire's mark. But the initial days were tough. The head of operations of Nykaa quit when orders started pouring in, but Falguni doggedly carried on, learnt to dispatch parcels, put an ERP system in place and fixed the problems one by one. Eventually, when Nykaa reached the required metrics, she launched an IPO and is now counted as one among the top 20 richest business persons in India.
Hima Das: Nicknamed as Dhing Express, Hima is a sprinter from Assam. She won the silver medal in the 4x400-m mixed relay at the Asian Games 2018. Thereafter she won the 400-m final at the World U-20 Championships 2018 held in Finland, clocking 51.46 seconds and becoming the first Indian sprinter to win a gold medal at an international track event. She won gold in many track events in Poland and Czech Republic as well. Hima's parents were farmers. Though she was a natural athlete, she was born in abject poverty. She did not have proper training equipment or professional tracks to practice, yet her single mindedness and determination saw her through as she fought against all odds and became a successful sprinter.
Sania Mirza: The professional tennis player from Hyderabad has won many championships throughout her career. Known for her powerful forehand, she ranked world number 27 in singles before she bid adieu to singles in 2013. She was ranked world number 1 in doubles in 2015. Winner of six Grand Slams and innumerable other tournaments, she recently declared her intention to retire from professional tennis. Born in a middle-class family, Sania started playing at a tender age of six. Tennis is an expensive sport. In the early days, the expenditure for her training was financed by a sports company that provided some financial relief to her parents. The unstinted support of her progressive parents is a key factor behind her success. She had talent but what set her apart was her stamina and persistence.
KV Rabiya: Recipient of this year's Padma awards, Rabiya is a physically challenged social worker from Malappuram, Kerala. Her contribution to the Kerala State Literacy Campaign in Malappuram district in 1990 had been exemplary. She lost mobility due to polio but that did not deter her spirits. She channelled her energy into launching a literacy campaign in her village where she enrolled students from all age groups. The Government of India, in 1994, awarded her the National Youth Award, acknowledging her contributions to society. She was awarded Padma Shri in January 2022. She faced poverty, debilitating disease and many other hardships in life but she rose above them and made literacy her mission.
Tulsi Gowda: A 72-year-old environmentalist from Karnataka, Tulsi was conferred Padma award in 2020 for her immense contribution towards conservation of trees. Gowda, regarded as an encyclopaedia of forests, belongs to the Halakki indigenous tribe in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. She has planted thousands of saplings over the years. She has the unique ability to identify mother trees and extract seeds from them for regeneration. Born in poverty, this passionate environmentalist derives immense joy from nurturing trees.
Malti: A state-level hockey player in Lucknow, Malti was married off in her teens by her parents. Years later, leaving behind an abusive husband and an unhappy marriage, she came back to her parent's house and tried many odd jobs. Staring abject poverty in the face, she was at her wit's end when she was picked up and mentored by an NGO named Humsafar Trust and became the first female e-auto rickshaw driver in Lucknow. She worked extremely hard and created a better life for herself and her son. Her son made her proud when he was selected as a state-level hockey player.
Tessy Thomas: Known as the 'Missile Woman of India', Tessy is the first woman to head an Indian missile project. She joined the DRDO in 1988 and has played a pivotal role in India's missile development programme, particularly in the making of the long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Agni-V. Tessy has broken the glass ceiling and through her capability and diligence, she has made her mark in a male bastion.
Avani Chaturvedi: She became the first woman fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force to fly solo the aircraft MiG-21 Bison. The MiG-21 Bison is known for having the world's fastest take-off and landing speed of 340 kmph. By breaking all stereotypes, Flight Lieutenant Avani has walked the less trodden path and proved her courage and competence.
All these women come from diverse backgrounds, have different educational qualifications and disparate income levels but these super achievers have one thing in common — the passion and commitment to their goals and the ability to work hard. Taking on adversity as a challenge, they broke all stereotypes. Doff your hats, dear readers, to these amazing women on the International Women's Day!
The writer is a former bureaucrat. Views expressed are personal