Yale panel finds women’s role changing in India

By Arun Kumar

New York, Sep 27 (IANS) The role of women has been changing in India over the recent past, and although there are still many challenges, the trend is positive and encouraging, according to a panel of women leaders.

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That appeared to be the consensus of a panel on ‘Women and Global Leadership ‘ presented by Yale University in association the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) at Yale club here Tuesday.

Naina Lal Kidwai, CEO, HSBC India, quoted a study according to which a large percentage of men in India prefer working spouses. She said that this reflects the change in middle-class urban India. The change is also visible in micro-finance where women-based self-help groups have empowered millions of women.

Indira Nooyi, Chairman of the Board and CEO, PepsiCo felt that multinational companies were creating an environment for women and that Indian companies must follow suit. For India to grow, inclusive participation, or women’s participation, in the workforce is an imperative.

Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of Arghyam Trust, said one should look at the positive side, as there are now 1.4 million elected women panchayat (local self-government) leaders and the gender gap in primary school enrolment has reduced. There will be dramatic improvement in participation in the next two decades.

Actress and social activist Shabana Azmi said that India lives in several centuries at the same time and women reflect the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious India. Challenges such as maternal mortality, female foeticide, and adverse gender ratio persist and not enough is being done to tackle these issues.

The panellists said there must be accountability on spending of government funds and better administration. While women are turning wage-earners, their lives are still burdened by domestic duties.

Talking about the image of women in films, Azmi said that although more women had taken up work in direction and production, the stereotype image of women continues to be reflected in films.

Kidwai said there was optimism about the trend and the challenge was to make the trajectory deeper, stronger and steeper. She felt that women needed to push themselves out of their self-imposed glass ceilings.

Azmi said that society is patriarchal and women have a major role to play in shifting perceptions on power. Both Nooyi and Kidwai pointed to the special programmes for recruitment of women in their respective companies.

Nilekani said that more and more women at the grassroots are being empowered and that young girls had different aspirations now.

The discussion was moderated by Margaret Warner, Senior Correspondent, ‘The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’. Linda Koch Lorimer, Secretary and Vice President, Yale University, who introduced the panellists, noted Yale University’s long linkages with India that dated back to 1670.

In his concluding remarks, Tarun Das, Chief Mentor, CII, said that women faced greater struggle in life and were therefore more evolved. The agenda now should be to work on the Indian man.