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From 1997 to 2017 — the journey from kitchen to boardroom

Sharika Nair
9th Mar 2017
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As another International Women’s Day came and went, HerStory spoke to ten successful women to hear their views on the changes in the status of women in Indian society.

From watching Doordarshan to HBO on our televisions, shopping at kirana stores to supermarket chains, eating out at chaat stalls to dining at KFC or Pizza Hut, some immense changes have come about in the last two decades. Nostalgia paints a rosy hue on the memories of those days, but then, as they say, nothing is as constant as change. And change can be good too.

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As another International Women’s Day came and went, HerStory spoke to several successful women to know their views on the changes wrought over 20 years in the roles and status of women in Indian society.

Meha Bhargava, Founder, Styl. Inc

In the last 20 years, women have empowered themselves in their personal as well as professional lives. I feel happy to see that women are fighting their biggest fears within the society and emerging stronger than ever. They have proven that they are as strong and successful as men in every sector. Now even the families have started believing in them and provide the support needed to turn their dreams into reality.

Meghna Sarogi, Founder, StyleDotMe

I feel women have a stronger position in society now. At one point women were just supposed to take care of the house, but the scenario has drastically changed. The kind of opportunities and platforms we have today makes me believe that the status of women is taking a front seat but we still have quite a way to go.

Dr. Shikha Sharma, Founder, Dr. Shikha’s Nutri Health

Earlier, even working women weren't career-focused. They were not dreaming for themselves. All their efforts were focused towards their family, husband, and children. But today they have more aspirations and they are finding support from their families. More women are genuinely empowered today.

Aneesha Dalal, Senior Dance Instructor, Shiamak Davar International

I think women have always played an important role in every field. The one major change I notice is fearlessness. Women are strong enough to make independent decisions and have the strength to follow their dreams. I don’t think women need to prove themselves — their capabilities and achievements speak for themselves.

Priya Mohan, Co-founder & Executive Director, Vidyartha

I was born in 1981. Of course, things have changed — I remember my mother working 18 hours a day, managing home, cooking, shuttling us between classes, and being a journalist. The progressiveness my father showed towards me was not the same with mom. It was assumed that kids and home duties were better handled by the mother. In my case, my husband and I share all responsibilities equally. In that sense, at least some of our generation has definitely moved away from the biases of the past.

But in many ways, it’s so sad to see so much misogyny — once in a car ride across Ghaziabad, UP, I noticed a man openly beating a woman and it struck such a raw nerve. I think India is living in two parallel worlds – a) rural areas largely retaining cultural backwardness and b) some urban places leaping forward in women empowerment. The core or the nucleus for both segments is HOME and any change should begin there.

Recently, I drew so much inspiration from Arunachalam Muruganatham, also called the ‘sanitary pad’ man — the guy who did everything in his power to create low-cost sanitary pads for women and if one reads about his struggles, there was a lack of support, not just from men but from the women in his home as well. That is why I say — any change towards women empowerment begins at home and the man and woman should work towards it, for the guy beating his wife would have drawn inspiration not just from seeing his father beat his mother but also from the fact that his mother probably remains silent when he abuses his wife, in some cases even encouraging the same.

The question I ask myself is that for all the wonderful 'teach your boys to respect girls’ campaigns, how much is trickling down to the rural areas and low-income groups? Who is carrying the communication in a manner that is impactful and understandable to them?

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Swati Biswas, CFO, Landmark Leisure, and Bharatnatyam exponent

I would say we are living in a beautiful era, where I have myself witnessed the changes. However, the changes have not happened automatically — millions of women, including myself, had to do our bit to be a part of the journey to make the change happen. Work culture has become more enhanced by women, by bringing a balance between work and personal well-being.

I also feel that the glass ceiling for top management is more accessible and acceptable now. And men are becoming less insecure with women as their leaders.

Beena S. Kothadia, Talegaon Vehicle Plant Quality Manager, General Motors

I can definitely see that the world is changing for women. However, women still need to fight for their equal rights and stand up boldly in a male-dominated working environment. We still have a long way to go in India for women to have respect and safety.

We can see increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life. Over the years, women have made great strides in many areas with notable progress in reducing some gender gaps. On the one hand, women are climbing the ladder of success, but on the other, are mutely suffering the violence inflicted on them. As compared to the past, women in modern times have achieved a lot but in reality, they have to still travel a long way. The Indian woman has to make her way through all the socialised prejudices against her, and the men yet have to accept the women to be equal participants in the country’s way forward.

Dr. Kamini Rao, Milann Fertility Centre

We are definitely more vocal today. Be it our right to vote or our right to dream, we see more and more women coming out to speak up for what they want in life. This wasn’t how it was earlier. While there are women fighting for each other, what we need to see is men also march along with us. This isn’t because we need the support of men to be heard. This is because men finally need to come out of their shells and raise their voices to support women. In the fear of being called feminists, most men hide behind their walls, silently protesting.

The status of women is surely positive but it doesn’t end here. In fact, what we have achieved today should be considered just a beginning. There is a larger change that we need to see and that change can stem from anywhere. Everybody needs to do their bit for each other.

There is a certain charm about being fearless. Being fearless in the dreams you nurture, taking the roads less taken, following the gut, and achieving goals, should be considered an exciting way to approach life. I make sure this spirit is instilled not just in my children but every life I touch as both a doctor and a responsible woman.

Dr. Sabitha Ramamurthy, Founder & President, CMR Jnanadhara Trust

Two generations have gone by in the last two decades. In 1997, when we started out, women who were homemakers pushed their daughters to study, and they are doing very well in society today. Awareness regarding providing education and opportunities to young women has increased dramatically, even in tier-II cities. I feel good about the change and how the status of women has risen today.

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