To me, woman is the embodiment of love and spiritual values. All that is beautiful in body, mind and soul is “woman.” On International Women’s Day, we celebrate both women and woman empowerment. We also celebrate all that women have achieved over the years. At the same time we take stock of the changes in the status of women. We find out if women are getting equal opportunities for education and health care. We ask ourselves: Is society giving women honor and dignity? Long ago, I had written, “A woman was created to blossom and bloom, in the colors and fragrance of her choice.
The way an unwatered plant becomes parched and dies, so does the personality of a woman who is struggling to break through the shackles of social conditioning, to achieve recognition as a separate individual, with a distinct identity. The change will be complete when society recognizes that it cannot benefit from preventing the emergence of the pearl from the oyster.” When I started my career, more than four decades ago, women were stepping out of their homes into the career world. They were looking for jobs that were better suited to women. But, times have changed. Women have made their mark in every field. They are acquiring professional qualifications and are no less than men in ability or intelligence.
Financial independence is so important for women. It gives confidence and strength. The woman does not have to endure and suffer in silence. But, attitudes need to change too. She has to realize her own potential and strength as an equal member of society. A woman has the strength to bring about change in the society and in her own status. When I represented India at President Obama’s Summit for Entrepreneurs in Washington DC, we had a seminar on women empowerment. Mrs. Hillary Clinton was there and she spoke on the upliftment of women in rural areas and education of the girl child.
She said the quality of life needs to improve in terms of basic health care too. We discussed that education and health care would help child mortality rates go down. In fact, I feel that special attention should be given to extra-curricular activities for girls and women in rural areas. An exercise and diet regime would help both mental and physical health. Great emphasis should be given to every mother to empower her financially and mentally, so that she can educate her girl child of her rights and also inculcate the values of good health, nutritious diet and education.
When I lectured at MIT, I also spoke on the relevance of education for woman empowerment and quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who had said, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family.” Today, I feel proud that women have achieved so much. But we still have a long way to go. Woman empowerment is not just about one day in the year. It should be an on-going process, so that each of us can focus on the areas that need change and do our bit. The woman has to realize her own potential and strength as an equal member of society.
In fact, the educated and self-reliant mothers can also bring about change in the mindset of society and teach their sons to honor and respect women. Empowerment is also about women realizing that they should embrace change. Creating awareness is so important. The work of rural women and women activists, who are working in rural and tribal areas, can be highlighted through awards and functions within the rural community itself. I feel that we need to emphasize the work of rural women who are struggling to better society and their own lives. They should draw public attention to instances of injustices towards women. They should also highlight instances where women have excelled, in order to inspire other women.
Educated women and professionals can work together to focus on issues – like literacy, learning of skills and opportunities for entrepreneurship, through kitchen and cottage industries. They can also participate in programs on social issues and health care. The “Pulse Polio” program for instance, is a successful example. Father and mother must value the girl child and give her equal opportunities. Changes cannot come from outside and by force. It has to come from within the society.
The change can be complete when society recognizes that the woman has a separate identity, her own dreams and ambitions and every right to fulfill them. To women, I also want to say – Believe in yourself and your own abilities. Keep learning. Do you dream of being successful? Don’t stop! It is important to dream. Then have the faith and courage to take the first step towards realizing the magic of your dreams. Let each woman also redefine her place in the world, giving it her own color and fragrance and make this world a better place.