A popular saying goes, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” The saying intends to uplift the status of women in society. However, when we examine it more closely, it can not be more ironic. Why behind the man? Do we question ourselves about it? What if this woman was allowed to lead? What if we enabled her to take the first seat? We need to realize that a better way to put it is, “Every prosperous society has a woman at its forefront.”
Placing women at the forefront leads to the overall development of society. The quintessential example of this is the empowered mothers. Healthier mothers lead to healthier children; empowered women to lead to safer families, and educated mothers improve the chances of the children getting educated. Thus, it is not wrong when we say that “When you educate a woman, you educate the nation”.
We can examine the role of women in society on both temporal and sectoral scales to see how women have been at the forefront in the improvement of society, and how they are improving different sectors of the society today.
Stone age: Our ancient ancestors knew the value of educating and training women for the survival of the species. Women were required to protect the children from wild animals while the men left for hunting. This implied that women were supposed to be experts in cooking, innovating, and using weapons.
Medieval age: When women were placed as rulers, they changed society for the better. Razia Sultan, the first and the last female sultan of Delhi challenged clergy and the Ulemas. She promoted tolerance towards diverse religions and indigenous culture. Following her lead, the society vouched for prosperity for all.
During our freedom struggle: Women like Rani Lakshmibai who led our freedom struggle inspired millions to rise against the British supremacy. Placing women first in the freedom struggle led to the revival of self-respect among the masses.
In the making of Constitution: Rajkumari Amrit Kaur presented a perfect example of women-first by playing an important role in drafting our constitution, and then by leading the Health Ministry of the country. Her efforts led to the establishment of AIIMS, which is the leading medical institution of or country today and provides quality healthcare to thousands of people every year.
Thus women, when placed first, have uplifted the society in every moment of history.
Every sector in our society points to the increasing role of women in its betterment. We can examine this at an economic, social, political, cultural, and environmental level as well as in sports and science.
Economic: Economically-enabled women have decreased the burden on the sole breadwinners (men), and the increased disposable income has led to more expenditure on the social development of the family, e.g., healthcare, education, and empowerment. This is true for all economic sectors, agriculture, services, and entrepreneurship.
Agriculture: Women engaged as farm labourers have reduced the growing labour deficit in agriculture. Women leading the animal rearing have provided for the source of emergency funds at times of contingency.
Services: Around 40% of employees in the BPO are women. Women leading the Human Resource departments in IT industries have been observed as better at convincing and managing employees. Improved work culture in Indian startups is one of the hard-earned fruits of women leadership.
Entrepreneurship: Women as co-founders have encouraged gender equality at workplaces. With their improved emotional intelligence, women are more sensitive to the work-life balance of the employees. Their sensitivity towards family issues has resulted in paternal and maternal leaves, which would have been impossible in a male-dominated society.
Social: Society improves when women lead it. This is true at a family as well as a community level.
Family: Empowered women lead to better family management as they play an important role in prioritizing education, good food, and nourishment, thus leading to prosperous families.
Community: Empowered women are better equipped to fight dowry system, caste discrimination, and child marriage, thus uplifting the community.
Political: Where men are known to follow a top-down approach for improving the society by the construction of roads, buildings, etc., women have followed a bottom-up approach, thus improving the society from the grassroots. By prioritizing the resolution of issues like “water wives” and universal toilet access, they have improved the society’s worst affected sections.
At an international level, women like Aung San Suu Kyi, Sheikh Hasina, Margaret Thatcher, and Angela Merkel have proved to be the role models for all the leaders. Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has seen greater prosperity, has become capable of hosting the Headquarters of BIMSTEC and has also improved its health indicators. Malala Yusufzai has led by example and successfully pressurized the Pakistan government to work towards the Right to Education for girls.
Cultural: Empowered women have been the flag bearers of reforms and preservation of culture. Medha Patkar is one such example who has played an important role in the protection of tribal culture in India.
Environmental: Women have played an important role in environmental movements too. Chipko movement in Uttarakhand saw hundreds of women coming out of homes to protect trees. Their leadership and courage inspired the world. In recent events, African solar mamas trained in Rajasthan have been important agents in bringing renewable energy in Africa.
Sports: Where sports are generally seen as masculine activities, women like Mary Kom in boxing, P.T. Usha in athletics, and Phogat sisters in wrestling, have very well shattered this illusion. They have denounced the idea of ‘weakness’ of women and have encouraged hundreds of girls to come out and play for the nation.
Science: Not until recently, women were seen as incompetent in science and math. However, leaders like Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla broke this glass ceiling by being the first Indian women to go to space. Not only this, around 25% of the workforce in India’s Mars Mission were women. Their contributions to science testify the importance of women’s leadership in science.
While women have done well to break all kinds of stereotypes, we are still far from our goal of a women-led society. Highly skilled and brilliantly performing women are still seen as exceptions, which is not the case with men. While the government has provided for 33% reservation for women in the local government, our patriarchal mindset has invented practices like ‘Sarpanch Pati’ to prevent women from actually governing society. Even today, many educated and working women cease working under the pressures of safety and household chores. Practices like child marriage make women lose their confidence at a very early level, thus eliminating the possibility of them taking a leading role in the family.
From the current state of affairs, though, the situation seems to have started improving. The government has encouraged SHGs to promote self-employment among women. Events like the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, 2017, Hyderabad, have tried to promote women entrepreneurship. And financial institutions like the Nari Shakti scheme by SBI have tried providing financial upliftment to the women. However, until we take the responsibility of empowering women at an individual level, our goal for a better society will remain unmet.
Women’s leadership, compassion, values, care, and ethics have, time and again, bridges the chain of uplifting humankind. Their qualities like compassion, sacrifice, and adaptive nature have uplifted every field, be it political, cultural, societal, family, science, and art. It is the need of the hour that we let the selfless, caring, emotionally intelligent, and innovative minds take the lead and fulfill our goal of “Prosperity for All’.