Women entrepreneurs open their heart on The Bridge Dashboard
In the wake of International Women’s Day, The Bridge organized an exclusive webinar that advocated ideas for gender equality. Distinguished social entrepreneurs and corporates discussed various barriers and opportunities on empowering women
A report by Karan Bhardwaj
Continuing with its tradition of organizing stimulating events and discussions, The Bridge celebrated International Women’s Day with a special discourse on Women Entrepreneurs: Challenges and Opportunities. Ace policy-makers, social enterprisers, opinion makers and media personalities assembled online and shared individual journeys and ideas to excel.
Gender Equality, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been at the centre of The Bridge endeavours. “There have been countless stories of ordinary women who have made extraordinary contribution to the society and have carved a niche for themselves. There are many more women who have tremendous potential but all they need is an opportunity and support,” said Seema Jairath, Founder, The Bridge, in her opening remarks.
Rakesh Srivastava, Former Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, graced the occasion as the chief guest and lauded The Bridge initiatives. “I’m happy that The Bridge is playing the role of a catalyst between the NGOs and the private sector. They work closely with social sector ministries such as Ministry of Women and Child Development, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice& Empowerment, Ministry of Education and others. Through all the government ministries and the NGOs associated with The Bridge, I’m confident that various schemes would reach many more women and they will be encouraged to take up good work,” he said.
Srivastava also highlighted several reforms he led during his impressive career in the bureaucracy. He emphasized on the impact of schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, making POCSO Act stronger among several other success stories. Panelist Manju Katoch hit at the basic stereotypes that young girls continue to face. She stressed upon how policy-makers, government and parents will have to work in a convergent manner to create an atmosphere conducive for gender equality. “There are schemes viz girls get education for free, even get incentives like laptops and bicycles to join schools. But what do you do when their institution is headed by an individual who doesn’t even believe that boy and girls require separate rest rooms. How would a girl manage when she hits puberty?” she lamented.
Film-maker Madhureeta Anand deliberated her inspiration behind creating an app called Phree. It’s a mobile application that lets users rate streets, buildings, roads or neighborhood areas according to safety. People can write their experiences and share why they felt unsafe at a particular location. Anand, who was attacked by a random fellow a few years back in a public place, was more worried about her teenage daughter. She believed that an app like Phree was a necessity that ‘would alert anybody in advance about the safety of an area.’ She said that the app, which she developed with the help of her friend from Silicon Valley, would help not only women but also transgenders and even men who wander solo.
Nutritionist Ishi Khosla spoke about her journey of starting her successful food venture, Whole Foods India, which produces and retails healthy food and operates several health cafes. “I was an obese child and chose to heal myself through food. When it happened successfully, I decided to learn nutrition and help others. I realized people were not able to benefit from my advices as there was hardly healthy packaged food in the market. So I took it upon myself to produce healthy food cafes. It started with one hospital and corporate and became a chain,” she said. Khosla also launched ‘The Celiac Society’ for Delhi in 2006 to spread awareness about celiac disease, a condition caused by wheat intolerance.
Gurmeet Kaur, a seasoned ombudsman, said she had never faced discrimination in her personal and professional life but many surveys that she conducted in her professional commitments made shocking revelations.“There are many findings. Like there’s less participation from women in senior and middle management roles. Women would come with unconscious biases that harm their productivity. A lot of women took hostile work environment and sexual harassment in their stride because they have seen it happening and find it ‘normal’. They would accept victim shaming and rather resign than speak up,” she said. Gurmeet said it is important for companies to “invest time, energy and money in grooming employees on the concept of professional co-existence.”
The panel also heard voices from eminent men who are making efforts to make the world a better place for women. Rakesh Jinsi Precedent SOS Children’s Village said they have a module on character building for children to respect women. “Our whole concept revolves around mothers who head the family of the adopted children,” he said. His desire is to create an atmosphere where a woman can take independent decisions in her best interest.
Nixon Joseph President and Chief Operating Officer SBI Foundation frankly admitted his transformation from being a patriarchal champion to a believer of equality. His own prejudices were challenged by his wife who demonstrated that women are not a lesser gender. He proudly shared that he makes sure that there’s no gender-related discrimination in his organisation. “In our Foundation, women represent more than 50 per cent of workforce. For SBI Foundation Youth for India Fellowship programme, we selected 100 out of 12,000 applications. In those shortlisted, over 75 are young girls. These girls are willing to go to the remote areas of India to bring change. They are courageous, daring and passionate,” he said.
The discussion drew to a close with Monica Joshi, Consulting Editor, The Bridge, giving a vote of thanks. All the panelists were felicitated with ‘Certificate of Honour’ by the chief guest.