Women take up new challenges
For Ritu Kumar, wife of a successful doctor and mother of a grown up son, life has taken a new meaning at the age of 50.
"After watching and hearing about women making a successful career, I too decided to venture out at an age when in the normal course the thought of my son's career and marriage would have been preoccupying my mind," said Kumar.
Today Kumar runs an upmarket boutique selling readymade garments and is happy to have taken up the challenge of competing in the world of business.
With changing times, more recognition is being accorded to the ability of women to run business, including sharing responsibility of family businesses, said Neera Misra, who runs a business consultancy cell called Make a Difference.
"From women coming to get advice on how to get started, I have been noticing an encouraging trend of husbands bringing their wives to learn how to share responsibility or even run a separate office. More couples are coming to discuss ideas.
"There seems to be more respect for their wives' intelligence and capability," added Misra, who is on the governing body of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO).
The trend of multinationals employing large number of women and promoting them to positions of responsibility has helped to change the perception, said Misra who has several interesting cases to narrate.
Not the least is of Ashok Manwani, a wholesaler and dealer of plastic novelties and brassware who has decided to rope in his wife to help with business expansion, complete with a new office.
On an average at least two new cases come to Misra's cell every week for counselling.
The winds of change are not being noticed only among urban women but also in small towns and villages.
"Women seem to be going in the right direction. During my encounter with women in villages, particularly in the panchayats, I find they now know how to handle power. They are no more proxy for their husbands, which makes all the difference," said Namita Gautam, director of the Sheela Group of industries and treasurer of FLO.
On the negative side, Gautam is distressed by reports of corruption seeping in, with some women misusing their power.
On the whole, Gautam is encouraged by the fact that more and more women are seeking employment. With the government permitting overtime and night shifts for women in factories, she hopes that civic authorities would provide better transportation and street lights and industries would take care to protect the interest of female employees.
According to a study done for the U.N. Development Fund for Women (Unifem) by Preet Rustagi, a fellow at the Centre for Women's Development Studies, the number of women making a mark in the political arena is definitely more than men.
"More women are making a mark particularly in the panchayats. There are currently around one million women representatives in the village councils.
The number of women voters has also increased and the winning rate of women standing for elections has been found to be better than men," said Rustagi.
Rustagi's study revealed the literacy rate of Indian women has gone up by 15 per cent between 1901 and 2001.
"The number of girls appearing for school board exams has gone up by 36 per cent, with a better pass percentage than boys. The study reveals that given the opportunity, girls would do better than boys if allowed to study further," said Rustagi.
On the employment front, Rustagi said the number of women seeking jobs has gone up, particularly in the informal sector where they are unpaid or their work is still unrecognised.