View from India: Women Power

As the Yuletide spirit kicks in, it’s time to acknowledge individuals who have stood out for their sparkling integrity. Friends, I’ve put together a host of women who have made news this year with their achievements. It’s not just the proverbial glass ceiling that they have shattered; these women have followed their heart’s calling and made their own path as they enter unexplored and challenging bastions.

Debjani Ghosh, former managing director of Intel South Asia, is set to be the first woman President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM). As of now, the apex software body has named her as President-Designate, as Ghosh will succeed R Chandrashekhar after his tenure completes in March 2018.

According to a Nasscom press release, the Indian IT-BPM industry has been a growth driver for the country and is today a USD $150bn sector, representing multiple sub-sectors. Moreover, the intersection of digital technologies across every business provides a great opportunity for the industry to achieve its aspiration to reach USD 350 billion by 2025.

The NASSCOM President along with the industry leadership will continue its mission of driving a holistic agenda which supports emerging technology areas, digital solutions, intellectual property(IP) driven software products, Internet economy, innovative start-ups, engineering R&D, global capability centers, omni-channel customer solutions, domestic technology and digital acceleration, reskilling and more.

This year, the soft-spoken articulate Nirmala Sitharaman made the news, as she was appointed the country’s first full-time woman defence minister. With this, she has joined the league of the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and has surpassed many senior party colleagues in the Cabinet.

Unusual as it seems, but a mother-daughter duo made the news this year as they plan to circumnavigate the planet in a microlight. Capt. Audrey Deepika Maben, India’s first microlight flying instructor, will embark on an aerosport adventure with her 19-year-old daughter Amy Mehta in February 2018. The duo will fly across 21 countries and spread a crowd-funding campaign for the ‘WE! Udaan Scholarship’ to champion, enable and empower underprivileged Indian girls across the country who want to fly.

This extraordinary feat has been put together by Social Access Communications in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, and leading Hindi entertainment channel, Colors. The effort, entitled ‘WE! Women Empower,’ is by, of and for the girls and women of India and is the first of its kind.

The Infosys Science Foundation (ISF) has announced the winners of the Infosys Prize 2017. Now in its ninth year, ISF 2017 has honoured Researchers and Scientists representing diverse fields such as engineering and computer science, humanities, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physical sciences and social sciences. Three of the six winners are women. Although two of them are based out of the country, they are of Indian origin.

For example, the engineering and computer science category is represented by Prof. Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, director at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata. Prof. Bandyopadhyay’s scholarly record in algorithmic optimisation scores highly for its impact on biological data analysis. Genetic markers for breast cancer, the determination of co-occurrence of HIV and cancers and the role of white cells in Alzheimer’s disease are her insightful discoveries.

In the humanities section, Prof. Ananya Jahanara Kabir, professor of English literature, King’s College, London stands out for her explorations of historical elements - conceptual, social and cultural - in colonial modernity and for her subtle and insightful ethnography of cultural and political life in Kashmir.

Another winner, Prof Yamuna Krishnan, professor, department of chemistry, University of Chicago, has brought laurels to the physical sciences segment. She is acknowledged for her ground-breaking work in the emerging field of DNA architecture. Each prize carries a gold medal, a citation and Rs 65 lakh award, which will be given at a ceremony in Bangalore in January 2018.

All this seems appropriately timed as ‘Women First, Prosperity for All,’ the theme at the recent 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) highlighting the many feats of our women. The country has also opened out streams of avenues for women’s empowerment and hence revenue generation.

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew attention to the Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency Ltd (MUDRA) Scheme that aims to provide easy finance of up to Rs 1 million for entrepreneurs. Since its launch in 2015, over 90 million loans worth Rs 4.28 trillion have been sanctioned. Of these, more than 70 million loans have been sanctioned to women entrepreneurs.

Almost 300 million bank accounts with deposits of over Rs 685 billion have been opened through the Jan Dhan Yojana. This brings the un-banked sections of society into the formal financial system. Of these, 53 per cent accounts holders are represented by women.

Modi reiterated the fact that women’s empowerment is crucial to development. The statement has been backed by examples of women scientists who have contributed to space programmes, including that of the Mars Orbiter Mission. Another highlight is that three out of four oldest High Courts in India are now headed by women judges. In India, we have constitutionally provided for not less than one third of women representation in rural and urban local bodies, ensuring women’s participation in grassroots level decision-making.

Let’s hope that many more such initiatives are introduced by the government for women across all walks of life to come out of their shells, voice themselves and find their footing in society.

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