“Woman Power Shahnaz Husain”

On International Women’s Day, we not only celebrate women and their achievements, but also take stock of what we have gained and what still remains to be done. Woman empowerment is the most important aspect of this day. To me, woman empowerment means self-reliance. For this, financial independence is important, because it gives confidence and strength. In order to equip the woman to be financially independent, education and vocational training are imperative. Of course, times have changed and women have made a mark in every field. But we still have a long way to go. Mindsets have to change. In fact, the woman herself has to realize her own strength as an equal member of the society.

I believe that whether a woman is educated or not, she wants to be respected and treated equally. That is inherent in her nature. She has the right to establish her own identity and realize her own dreams and ambitions. Knowing and understanding their rights is important for women empowerment. In her book "My Truth" Indira Gandhi quotes Tagore’s play Chitrangada, where the heroine Chitra tells her husband, "I am Chitra. No goddess to be worshipped, nor yet the object of common pity to be brushed aside like a moth with indifference. If you design to keep me by your side in the path of danger and daring, if you allow me to share the great duties of your life, then you will know my true self."

There is no doubt that the gender equation in all fields of professional life is a reflection of the gender equation in our society and social life. I always find it so incongruous. We have female foeticide on the one hand and the new age woman on the other, who has made a mark in every field, including the corporate and business world. The fact that the girl child is not wanted shows that we have failed to make the entire society aware of what is good for its own survival. In the metro cities and urban areas, the status of women has improved, but, the percentage is so small that it cannot make a great impact.

The importance of the girl child is crucial to woman empowerment. We must educate the girl child and pay attention to her fitness and good health, teaching her the values of the quality of life, as well as the importance of a purpose in life. Every girl child should have access to education.

This will contribute towards making a better world. In fact, early in my career, I began to focus on woman empowerment and vocational training for women and physically challenged girls. I encouraged women to open salons in their own homes in a small way, so that they could have financial independence and yet be close at hand to care for home and family. I believed that if women are encouraged to go out to work, and their husbands encourage them in their mission, the family can benefit from the earnings of two members. The quality of life of their children would definitely improve, not only in terms of education, but also good health. This holds even more relevance in rural areas.

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 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."

We must realise that changes cannot come from outside and by force. It has to come from within the society. Although we still have a long way to go, on this International Women’s Day, I salute the independence of spirit that women have been expressing during the last two decades. It tells us that we are going in the right direction. I feel sure that in the coming years, we will see the unleashing of woman power.

Long ago, I had written, "A woman was created to blossom and bloom, in her own colour and fragrance. 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. Let each woman redefine her place in the world, giving it her own colour and fragrance, making this world a much better place."