Levels of Women Empowerment


A common feminist refrain

“We don’t need anybody to give us power. It was always ours. Just eliminate the roadblocks.”


True that! But are there still some women on the fringes who are not aware of what they can do or create? I use the word ‘some’, because I suspect the number is more than ‘a few’.


It is such a wide, differentiated mass out there. How does one decide who needs what? How does one address different segments from a common platform?


The negative response and trolling is usually a result of not reaching the right segment.


Let me delineate a few levels of empowerment as I see it.


  1. ELITE WOMEN


These are educated, capable women who excel at what they do, but do not get the right opportunities, for they are a minority in the corridors of power.


They are not able to fight the well-established “boys’ clubs” and make a place for themselves.


A popular misconception is women are too soft to take certain decisions, and may not fit the bill. The need is to play a certain job role and deliver results. It is not about being an advocate of women’s rights.


On the other hand, when they do take tough decisions, they may be criticised by the sisterhood.


A level playground soon turns into a battleground between two sides fighting for more control and playing the blame game.


What needs to be remembered here is that individuals do have their strengths and weaknesses and accusations should not be gender-based. A woman CEO of a bank and her husband got embroiled in a corruption case. It does not mean that all women CEOs are corrupt or manipulated by male bosses or husbands. It is just about an individual. It could have been a man in her place.


A woman’s performance will be judged on the same parameters as men, but attribution of failure to he her gender is not fair. Supporting other women is not unprofessional. Men have done it for a long time, and have built power centres with the club mentality.

2. MID-LEVEL PROFESSIONAL WOMEN


They struggle to balance motherhood, families and a demanding job.


At times, they choose to opt out and be a stay-at-home wife and mom, if finances permit. By all means, they have a right to do so and not be derided for their decision. They have not betrayed their profession, or ‘wasted a seat in medical college’. They’ve just made the best choice under the circumstances.


Some do feel frustrated about not reaching their full potential, professionally or financially. And these are the ones who need better daycare facilities, support with domestic chores and empathy at work.


Organisations need to create slots and a growth path for part-time talent.


A lady in a metropolitan city took the initiative to train women to become cab drivers. It became a safe channel for late night women commuters. Why can’t similar initiatives be taken up in corporates for different functions?

3. WOMEN WHO LACK AWARENESS OF THEIR OWN POTENTIAL OR OPPORTUNITIES


There are so many who’ve grown up with pre-defined roles. They are told their life will move within defined boundary lines, and they never make an effort to venture beyond.


The real loss of potential happens here.


A classmate of mine was married off when she was in the ninth grade. While preparing for our matriculation exams, we learnt that she has been blessed with a baby boy. I guess she was a year older than us, but yet only 16. And this happened in a suburb of the financial capital, Mumbai, not a remote village.


We lost touch. I do not know if she managed to study further or develop her singing talent. Or if she is lost in the crowd of un-glorified housewives and mothers?


I recall another polio-stricken girl - good looking and scoring good grades in school. An unemployed lad from the village agreed to marry her, in return for a job and accommodation in the city being arranged by her parents. She was grateful for ‘being accepted’ despite her physical handicap. All my efforts at injecting my feminist fervour in her met with a cold response ‘this is not acceptable in our community’.


A high-ranking bank officer from a so-called lower caste could not find a groom matching her status in her community, but refused to look beyond. The argument was that her father was a social activist fighting for community rights, and she cannot betray his cause. I wonder what kind of cause was is it to block her happiness. I hear she died of cancer in her forties. Maybe the conflict between different roles got too much to handle.


The effort needed is to unblock mindsets, before removing barriers on growth paths. They need to identify their own talent, visualise their growth path and then set out to achieve it.


The battles they fight along the way or support they attract will be the same as many others on the path. But getting on that path is important.


Coaching programs can be offered, but they need to come on that platform first.

4. WOMEN WHO LACK EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITIES


At this level, social initiatives are needed to provide platforms for education and paid work.


Mindset coaching and a level playground for growth are the next step.


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