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‘Women have to disrupt society to bring about change’

On International Women’s Day, Apeejay Stya University hosted a virtual panel discussion in which female dignitaries spoke about work-life balance for working women

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According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum, India ranks 140 out of 156 countries. In 2020, it ranked 112 out of 153 countries. Highlighting such stark figures, Dr Pawan Sharma, former secretary, National Law Commission, talked about the status of women in India in her keynote address at a virtual seminar organised by Apeejay Stya University on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The seminar, on the theme ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’, was jointly put together by Centre for Liberal Arts, IQAC and National Service Scheme.

Held on March 8 every year, International Women’s Day originated in the early 20th century from the labour movements in North America and Europe. It came to be recognised globally following its adoption by the United Nations in 1977. “International Women’s Day celebrates solidarity above class, creed, structure, and community. We celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness against biases and prejudice and take necessary actions. The aim of this day is to create a gender-neutral society,” said Dr Sharma while addressing the gathering.

The seminar was opened by Professor Vimala Veeraraghavan, Dean Academics, and Emeritus Professor, Apeejay Stya University, who urged for the need to “break the mindset regarding women”, dispel stereotypes and prevent discrimination to promote a more inclusive society. “Women are equally responsible to improve upon their status and work shoulder-to-shoulder with men,” she emphasised.

In the inaugural address, Professor Raj S Dhankar, Vice Chancellor, Apeejay Stya University, pointed out how the equal participation of women is crucial to ensure optimal utilisation of all human resources, which, in turn, can foster sustainable growth of a nation. “Gender equality is a great leveller and would certainly contribute to peace and harmony. Gender equality is a great enabler for sustainable development. It has been proved time and again that women have a higher degree of compassion, sense of purpose, commitment, and sacrifice. When you put all these traits together, it makes for a better leader.

“We have to go to the bottom of the issue to see how gender equality can make a great difference. We as a country have to make the best use of all human resources and have to motivate people. Let us resolve to improve gender equality across sectors—states, institutions and families—for a better tomorrow.”

At the core of gender inequality, however, lies unequal access to resources and opportunities. Corroborating her argument, Dr Sharma shared ample data to show how women lack opportunities for the cultivation of their abilities. Lack of access to adequate healthcare facilities, nourishment, education, etc, are some of the major obstacles that women face. Not to mention how a woman is vulnerable to harassment and discrimination, in some form or the other, right from infancy to old age, which increased further in the pandemic, as shown by various reports. Some important government schemes have also been formulated for the protection and upliftment of women, she said. “Women don’t have to be aggressive; they have to be assertive. We have to keep focusing on women solidarity. Take responsibility for your own upliftment and be confident. Establish your autonomy in the family and society,” Dr Sharma added.  

A panel discussion was held as part of the seminar on the topic ‘Working Women: Work-life balance’. The moderator for the session, Professor Sanjay Ahirwal, Dean, School of Journalism and Mass, Communication, ASU, said, “Women have to disrupt society to bring change… Work-life balance is an equilibrium state. The actual term first appeared in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. Studies show that more than 95 per cent of India’s working women are informal workers with no social protection. India’s female labour participation is lowest in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries.”

The panellists for the session included Dr Meera Shanker, Director, SNDT Women’s University, MumbaiProf Suhas Shetgovekar, Department of Psychology, IGNOUMs Anjana Nath, CPO, Apeejay Education SocietyDr Anupama Diwan, Dean, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, ASU and Dr S K Roy, Dean, School of Management Sciences, ASU.

Dr Roy said, “No society can be uplifted without empowering women. I have witnessed myself that women are better decision-makers. Involving women in day-to-day operations is crucial. It is the responsibility of not just individuals but employers to help women achieve work-life balance.”

Dr Shanker attributed the gradual improvement in women’s conditions to their determination and courage, education and increasing family support. “If they are not getting their dues, they will not just sit quietly. Women are not taken seriously most of the time; they are taken for granted not by bosses but by colleagues is what I have found from research. This becomes quite a frustrating situation for women. Despite hindrances, they are coming ahead but we have to change society as a whole.

“There is no time for disengagement for women. Women have been trained to serve the family first. Similar training should be given to the male members of the family by parents, school, and so on.”

Prof Shetgovekar added, “Families are encouraging. Yet society has certain expectations as far as working women are concerned in terms of handling their familial and work responsibilities. This perspective towards working women needs to change.”

Professor Diwan also spoke about how women are no less capable than men and are achieving success in their respective fields.  

Ms Nath said, “Work-life balance is more about responsibility vs life balance. When I am not working, I am actually working for my family. I am fulfilling responsibilities everywhere. How you prioritise is what is going to make a difference. We want to be treated, judged and assessed for what we are. We should appreciate, leverage our ecosystem and use whatever we have to build our competence.”

The seminar ended with a Vote of Thanks by Prof Varuna Tyagi, Deputy Dean Academics and Deputy Registrar(A), Apeejay Stya University. To honour women’s contributions,  ASU also felicitated three women from adjoining villages and five women employees who help clean and maintain the university campus.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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