Women all around the world are walking on the path of economic freedom. Modern women are articulating issues of glass ceiling, equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment, social, political and cultural empowerment. Women are making strides and moving forward speedily and evolving. The terms “me too” and “time is up” are some of the most recent phrases that have surfaced in the United States to zero-in on the situations involving sexual misconduct. Women are defining their new roles and re-inventing themselves.
Empowerment is what has become the focus of women’s emancipation world over. Some of these terms may appear at times cliché, however, they do articulate the issues that need to be explored and not hushed. Gone are the days when topics such as suffrage – right to vote in the late nineteenth century – and the phrase ERA – Equal Right Amendment – were discussed academically only. The issue then was for women to have the right to vote and stand for an office. At present not only are women are voting in elections, they are contesting for offices and also winning.
Women have come a long way. In the Indian American community, we have several shining examples of progressive women holding positions of power. Senator Kamala Harris from California, Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal from Washington state and Ambassador Nikki Haley from South Carolina. Recently, many South Asian women have felt encouraged by these inspiring women in this changing political landscape and are contesting for local, state and federal offices.
In India, the slogan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – “Beti Padao and Beti Bachao” – articulates the issue of women needing better opportunities economically as well as requiring protection. In primitive societies, a family structure had gender defined roles. Females were assigned the role of nurturing and males for providing physical safety and economic support. This model is now getting caught up in the inevitability of change. In India, the Supreme Court had given a judgment on the “Triple Talaq” practice as “unconstitutional.” This practice is a violation of gender rights and gender equality.
In most economies, with the advent of technological advancement and availability of means of communications, the entire planet has been linked and opportunities to make a decent living are available to both genders and women are availing of those opportunities especially designed to empower them by the government and society.
Women are assuming modified or different roles than previously assigned by the society. They are reinventing themselves. More and more women are stepping out of the confines of the homes and the walls of separation of gender based roles are gradually coming down. Women are of the opinion that it is vital for them to control their own destiny. Also, the realization that more than one wage earner is needed to support the spiraling needs of the family. What is worth noting is that there is a greater degree of acceptance of this change in society.
This societal change is quite obvious if you watch some old black and white era Bollywood movies and presently featured movies and sitcoms, where there is a sea change in the stories explored. Old B-town movies were centered on tragedies of unwed mothers and widows bearing the brunt of attacks by family and rejection of relatives. Presently, movies are made where women assume the responsibility of raising kids independently. They have broken situational barriers. Not only are women accepted as a single parent, they are also adopting kids while in a single status. Movie star and former winner of the Miss Universe pageant, Sushmita Sen, has adopted two daughters and is still unmarried. The society has accepted her desire to be a mom as long as she can provide for her daughter’s well-being.
Another example from the Hollywood arena that comes to mind is of Mindy Chokalingham, an actor, writer and producer of the television program, “The Mindy Project.” Better known by the name Mindy Kaling, the actress had starred in the famous television sitcom, “The Office,” previously. She is mom of a baby girl, Katherine Swati, and the name of the father has not been disclosed yet and she is not married. Obviously, women have been breaking the mold of their legacy.
Oprah Winfrey, who recently made a speech while accepting her life time achievement award at the Golden Globe award night in Hollywood, said that the issue of sexual misconduct goes well beyond the entertainment industry. She noted that the issue “transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.”
Women have indeed come a long way. In some ways, they are having it all, they have combined family and work life successfully. Indra Nooyi is well known in the business world as the CEO of Pepsi Co.; in academia is Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston; Nisha Biswal, president of the U.S. India Business Council; and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress. Another name worth mentioning here is of Chanda Kochhar, managing director and chief executive officer of ICICI. She is widely known for her effort in shaping the retail banking sector in India. These are just a few of the names that are well-known for their achievements and powerful status.
Recently, Air India reported a long flight of the air craft from India to U.S. This was historic in nature because it was staffed by all women. It used to be that the pilot was always a trained male professional and air hostesses were all female but that has changed also. There are women pilots and few male stewardesses.
Women have been driving motor-driven bikes and three-wheelers in India and even buses and trucks recently in the United States. The gender-gap is closing. There was child support and alimony for the spouse in divorce cases. Now men are seeking support while going through a divorce in situations where women are making more money than the male in the family – sort of a traditional role reversal.
On the other side of the spectrum of empowerment, there are a few voices that are loud and clear speaking about job displacement, strain in family life and extreme exhaustion and “burnout.”
Our society defines the term “success” when one is earning a big salary, owning a mansion and fleet of cars or a private jet, and heading a business features on Fortune 500 company list. As more and more people are coming to realize, there is far more to living a truly successful life than just earning a bigger salary and amassing wealth. Our relentless pursuit of traditional metrics of success and empowerment has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, and erosion in the quality of our relationships. These are some societal issues of defining success and pursuing empowerment that one needs to explore for one’s own well-being and liking. There are opportunities for both genders to empower themselves and others, but the definition of empowerment may be different for different people.