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'Be fair to the fairer sex'
Indrani Mitra in New Delhi | January 08, 2007 19:18 IST
While the session's guest of honour was National Commission for Women Chairperson Girija Vyas, Minister of State of Women and Child Development Renuka Choudhury was the chief guest.
Among the speakers were MPs Brinda Karat and Prema Cariappa; Rajani Patil, chairperson, Central Social Welfare Board and Sushmita Ghosh, President, Emeritus, Ashoka USA. The session was moderated by Anu Aga, director, Thermax Ltd, and chairperson, CII's Women Empowerment Committee.
As Aga attempted to initiate the talks by stating 'women in Indian society are respected and glorified', Karat did not waste a minute to interrupt, "not always." That set the tone for an afternoon of interesting conversations.
As always, Choudhury's speech was direct and categorical and she cited one reason after another why discrimination against women needs to be shunned.
"In 2020, India will have the youngest productive force in the world and around that time every sixth global citizen will be Indian. Yet, it's a pity that such a growing society still holds a stepmotherly attitude towards the fairer sex," she said.
"It pains me to say that even today, women run the risk of losing their lives during childbirth. With diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS doing the rounds, we have not yet been able to guarantee lowest mortality rates for them."
"I, therefore, appeal to the NRIs to help us improve the standards of life in Indian women. The onus rests on us to assist women grow into a force as powerful as their male counterparts. It is time that we concentrate on the key issues of development for women -- survival, growth and development."
Vyas took up from where Choudhury left and she lauded the United Progressive Alliance Government for passing the Domestic Violence Bill in October 2006. Another Bill -- Sexual Harassment at Workplace -- she said would go a long way in assisting working women.
"Women are often heard to say, I don't know why we are standing on the same place in spite of walking fast," she said. Just don't let your husband tell you one fine morning that they don't need you any more."
Emancipation or improvement of women's lot, she said, depended on the five key factors -- law, awareness programmes, NRIs' contribution, Media's role and execution by the government.
The next speaker Karat was more candid in pointing out that women in this country suffer mostly because of "irresponsible behaviour of certain men. But things have to change now." The CPI-M member stressed the need to have well-formulated labour laws to take care of skilled and unskilled women working abroad, especially in the Gulf.
"These women are not only underpaid but they are sexually harassed and exploited. Hence, we need a solid framework of labour laws which would encourage women to speak up," said Karat. "The NRIs can be of great help in this respect."
Speaking on the state of women outside Indian shores, Cariappa mentioned that often it is stated, "Gender is a western concept. We don't need it in India. While saying so, we conveniently forget that India was one of the first countries to have granted women the right to vote.
"Though we have great personalities like (Congress President) Sonia Gandhi and (PepsiCo Chief) Indra Nooyi to draw inspiration from, India has miles to go in ending discrimination against women."
The last to speak on the issue was Ghosh who posed a question before the audience, "What do you need to do to change?
"Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus has shown the world what rural women in Bangladesh can achieve. India being Bangladesh's powerful big brother, there is no reason why women here can't repeat the feat of their Bangladeshi counterparts.
"If Time Magazine can go to the extent of choosing 'You' as its person of the year, I don't understand why you as an individual can't make certain used and abused notions stand on their heads," Ghosh signed off.
A brief question-answer session that followed the speeches had to be cut short because of time constraint and as a male member of the audience insisted on being heard, the moderator Aga was sharp in pointing out to him, "When a woman says no, she means it."