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Is this the age of women?

Far from the glitz and glamour of GES 2017 is the real India where women are either threatened to be beheaded or are placed on a pedestal; this gap must bridged first.

 Shutapa Paul |  2017-12-01 15:17:52.0

Is this the age of women?

Discussions surrounding women empowerment and increasing their participation in the labour force has been gaining momentum, and with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) organised jointly by India and US in Hyderabad this week, the need for more women entrepreneurs has been the talk of the town. With the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 by the World Economic Forum (WEF) placing India firmly at the 108th position out of 144 nations, the GES' focus on women was welcome. The summit's theme of 'Women First, Prosperity for All' resonated all the way from Hyderabad to the rest of the world.

As a fledgeling woman entrepreneur, I felt hopeful listening to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of an impending basket of goodies aimed at a helping hand towards us women folk. PM Modi said that in the coming days there would be a special initiative to promote entrepreneurship skills among women and foster mentorship to provide a fillip to economic growth. There are indeed lessons to be learnt from the US where the number of firms owned by women has increased by 45 per cent in the last 10 years, while 8 in 10 new women-owned businesses have been started by minority women. Over 11 million American women own businesses and contribute over $1 trillion in revenue, and provide almost 9 million jobs. However, in developing nations, 70 per cent of women bosses of small and medium-sized businesses have been denied access to capital, with almost $300 billion annual credit deficit for women entrepreneurs.
We do need all the support that we can muster to break the glass ceiling, push open the boardroom doors and take our rightful place in the world. Greater participation from women would mean providing equitable opportunities to all. It would also mean enabling increased penetration of education and making available vocational training to Indian women. A safe and gender-conducive work environment would also boost the number of women who step out of their homes to earn a livelihood. Working graveyard shifts or remaining in a job even after having children should be facilitated. Most importantly, it is time to bid adieu to regressive mindsets.
In a recent column, I had mentioned that it is imperative that we shatter all stereotypes in order to bridge the gaping gender divide in India, and that this onslaught would have to be led both by men and women. It is heartening, therefore, to see the PM leading the way and hopefully, others will also take up the cudgels to encourage their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters to work, build, and create. India sent a strong, progressive message to the world as PM Modi spoke of the intrinsic role played by women in India. He invoked Shakti, the goddess of power, spoke of Gargi, the ancient philosopher, mentioned the valour of warrior queens, Rani Lakshmibai and Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, and hailed the achievements of Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, and Sania Mirza.
It all looked so peachy at GES 2017; timed perfectly with Ivanka Trump's changing ensembles. But I wonder if Trump Junior had a chance to hear about the otherwise crappy week that women in India have had. We have very few 'good' days, but the irony of this week was startling. While women were being encouraged at GES 2017 with the PM himself showing the way, every kind of right and freedom awarded to Indian women was grotesquely flouted in the country in the same week.
While India's first female Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj waxed eloquent about the confident strides taken by the nation, and PM Modi spoke of the eminence of women in India, protests against actor Deepika Padukone and her film, Padmavati continued. The BJP's Haryana leader Suraj Pal Amu had earlier thought nothing of announcing a Rs 10 crore bounty to be presented to anyone who would behead Padmavati's leading actor, Deepika Padukone. This week, the Supreme Court freed Hadiya from her parents' custody, only to send her off to study, completely disregarding an adult woman's wish to be with her husband. Also in the same week, a news report said that rape videos in Uttar Pradesh continue to be circulated unabated; louder the screams, more the price of the videos.
Maybe Trump Junior did not hear of these cases that shows either the dichotomy or hypocrisy of India or perhaps both. This too is India; far from the glitz and glamour of the stage, the real India is where filth gathers and festers, proving to be obstacles to a woman's progress. The nation is caught between threatening to behead us and putting us on a pedestal; this is the chasm that we must bridge first.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur)

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