A panel discussion I was part of at the Pune Lit Fest.

Make your choice, it’s your life
Reporters Name | Ambika Shaligram | Wednesday, 9 September 2015 AT 09:46 PM IST
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Banker Naina Lal Kidwai, writers — Kiran Manral, Shinie Antony and Madhuri Banerjee — voiced their opinions on what women empowerment means, at a panel discussion during the recently concluded Pune International Literary Festival 2015

Women in the workplace
The book that I put together (30 Women In Power) on 30 women CEOs, was conceived because I felt that we are not celebrating our success enough.

India has a high number of women  CEOs — heads of banking institutions, IT companies and various business facets. But when I asked colleagues who they were, they didn’t know. I thought we should allow these brilliant women to share their stories. Their stories are not about despair, but who helped them reach where they are today — fathers, husbands and mentors.

Most women, profiled in the book, are married and have children. So they have done the balancing act — between work and raising a family — really well. Another scenario emerging in the workplace, is that attempts are being made to make it easier for women to return after a break. What we do in our company is that when a high performing woman employee takes a break (for motherhood or any other reason), we keep in touch with her, encourage her to come back, give her flexi hours, or ‘work from home’ options. We have also offered six months’ paternity leave for men because their presence is required at home.

I have always been a great believer in meritocracy. But, it’s not an equal world. There are less than 4 per cent women on a corporate board. So, the government’s policy in this regard is directionally right. Reservation creates an enabling atmosphere. In Panchayati Raj too, a change has been seen. Earlier, women were propped up by their husbands or fathers. But studies have proved that now the women have come into their own and won the polls without any help. We have to make a start somewhere.
-Naina Lal Kidwai
HSBC Chairman, India

Men and women can’t be stereotyped
I wasn’t treated as ‘girl child’ and I thought that it was very liberating. In the workplace, I would like to be treated as an employee instead of a female employee; I would like to be called a writer, instead of a ‘woman writer’.

I think the idea of empowerment or an image change for women has to be from grassroots to upper echelon. I remember that the Maharashtra State Board had made changes to their textbooks, from KG level. For instance, when ‘D for Doctor’ had  to be explained, they chose the illustration of a girl doctor to emphasise the point. That was a very good decision.

We also have to ensure that men too cannot be stereotyped. For example, a man wearing a skirt is at worst ridiculed as wimp, or at best labelled as a transgender. But a woman wearing pants is considered to make a power statement. Change has to embrace both men and women.
-Shinie Antony
Writer, Co-convenor of Bengaluru Literary Festival

Marry the right man

I feel that empowerment starts with the person you marry and who is going to be the father of your child. A father has to support his daughters or at least not act as an impediment in their growth. Earlier, it was fathers who made the decision that the girl would study in a language school while the boy would be enrolled in an English medium school. Now, that’s changing, at least in urban centres.

It’s also important that when the kids are growing, there should be no gender discrimination in their mind. A girl shouldn’t think that a boy is allowed to do certain things because he is a boy. Same goes for sexual rights. A boy and a girl should be empowered to discuss and tell their parents if they didn’t like some person’s touch.
-Kiran Manral
Writer, All Aboard, Once upon a crush

Take the first step
The word ‘empowered’ means that you have a responsibility towards yourself and others. Empowerment is not just being sexually liberated and doing what you want. India has many women who are empowered and privileged, but give that up after getting married. They give up their decision-making skills or making choices like retaining their separate bank a/c, not learning to file tax returns or changing a tyre.

Empowerment isn’t just about finding a job, but taking the first step in choosing your destiny and figuring out choices that will work for you. You must put your foot down if you aren’t comfortable doing certain things.
-Madhuri Banerjee
Writer of Scandalous Housewives, My Clingy Girlfriend

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