SOCIETY
 


flashback 2006
A FAIR SHOW
The year 2006 brought a frenzy of activity in political and social life, and business and personal spaces. It was thumbs up for women in many spheres and a case of ‘still working at it’ in others. Vimla Patil on the ups and down that women of India experienced

T
he year just gone by has not only been eventful but also brought a huge number of victories for Indian women. 
Designer Ritu Beri made a splash worldwide with her creations; Indira Nooyi broke all real and imagined ceilings to become the CEO of Pepsi; Sunita Williams did India proud with her space odyssey; and Naina Lal Kidwai, CEO of HSBC, continued to inspire millions of target-setters
ROLE MODELS: (From left) Designer Ritu Beri made a splash worldwide with her creations; Indira Nooyi broke all real and imagined ceilings to become the CEO of Pepsi; Sunita Williams did India proud with her space odyssey; and Naina Lal Kidwai, CEO of HSBC, continued to inspire millions of target-setters

 





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flashback 2006
A FAIR SHOW
The year 2006 brought a frenzy of activity in political and social life, and business and personal spaces. It was thumbs up for women in many spheres and a case of ‘still working at it’ in others. Vimla Patil on the ups and down that women of India experienced

The year just gone by has not only been eventful but also brought a huge number of victories for Indian women. It also brought heartbreak when thousands of innocent women and children were killed in mind-boggling terrorist attacks all over India. But as is usual, 2006 had two distinct sides to it. On the positive side, Indian women made globalisation a reality of their lives when business — especially glamour, fashion, accessory design and entertainment — took them well beyond the shores of India to make a mark in the international market.

Designer success

From Ritu Beri, who began the year by showing her fashion collections in Paris and other fashion capitals of the world, to Queenie Dhody who exhibited her exclusive jewellery in the heart of Saudi Arabia, women designers notched up impressive achievements. In the year, there were at least four Fashion Weeks – and each brought into limelight ever-new women designers who made their mark in the fashion industry, whose turnover now is estimated at more than Rs 2000 crore.

Additionally, several women designers showed their work in the best of Bollywood films, and provided trousseaux to celebrities all over the world taking the Indian marriage market to an unprecedented turnover of more than Rs 3000 crore. Not to be left behind, jewellery designers also notched up great advances and set a trend where large jewellery dealers displayed their exclusive collections to give their business an upward swing. Among these were Maheep Kapoor, Poonam Soni, Shaheen Abbas, Neelam Kothari and many other glamorous celebrities. All in all, the fashion, jewellery and designer accessories industry saw an unprecedented high mostly because of the contribution of women.

Making a mark

This year will also remain memorable for two women — one an Italian but naturalised Indian and other an Indian, but naturalised American — joining the exclusive Forbes Club of the 100 most powerful women in the world. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress, was ranked the third most powerful woman in the political arena. Indira Nooyi, who was appointed CEO of Pepsico, was ranked 28th most powerful woman in the world in August 2006.

Another high came when Sunita Williams left for six-month odyssey to space earlier this month. After Kalpana Chawla, she’s the second Indian woman who got selected for NASA space mission. Yet another Indian woman – Kiran Desai – won the Man Booker Prize in literature for her novel The Inheritance of Loss.

Bank on target

Finance and banking, business and industry saw the rise of women who now occupy positions of power and influence on the projected growth of the Indian economy. In banking, Naina Lal Kidwai of HSBC, Chanda Kochar of ICICI, Lalita Gupte of ICICI and others made a great impact. In industry, Kiran Shaw Muzumdar, CEO of Biocon — a company she built up from scratch — was named the richest woman in India. Also Sulajja Firodia Motwane, Joint Managing Director of Kinetic Honda, was named among the most successful businesspersons. Women occupied some of the most powerful chairs in education, business, entertainment and the product and service industries.

Act against abuse

In the political area, Indian women were overjoyed to have the Parliament bring the Domestic Violence Act of 2006. The new law is being seen as a huge step that could bring relief to millions of abused women in India. The Act gives women – wives, mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, daughters (natural or adopted) and even live-in partners – the right to demand this justice. It gives them protection against physical, verbal and sexual abuse and the right to shelter and economic freedom. This act, though too recent to be judged on its effectiveness, at least recognises the problems faced by a whopping 70 per cent of the Indian women, say legal and social activists.

Women also succeeded in their protests to bring justice to two women – Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal – who had been killed brutally by hi-society men and the courts had earlier acquitted the killers for ‘inadequate evidence.’

Grassroots input

Further down the ladder of political power, Indian women in the far-flung rural areas too have proved their mettle. Reports say that more than one million Indian women function in local self-government bodies today. The crowning glory of this political process has been that at least some rural areas have good water, good schools and healthcare. Women’s groups called Bachat Gats have been formed, making village moneylenders irrelevant. Countless NGOs function at the grassroots to bring self-reliance through small businesses. A great achievement of 2006 was that on Republic Day, more than one thousand women sarpanches only in Maharashtra raised the National Flag and were honoured for their contribution to the betterment of rural society. It is to be noted, however, that women’s participation in the process of governance in local self-government bodies promotes their role in politics but it does not involve them in the process of changing or forming new legislation.

Plight of girl child

The UNICEF State of the World’s Children report in 2006 stated that a whopping 7000 girl children die every day in India because of sex determination tests and killing of female foetuses. The report said that though the pre-natal diagnostic procedures prohibition law was passed in 1994, Indians in the richest states like Punjab and Haryana continue to kill female children. Today, as against the global sex ratio of 954 girls to 1000 boys, India has 882 girls per 1000 boys. Not only are girl children killed before birth, they are also neglected so badly that thousands die before they attain the age of five.

The report said that Indian and China, the fastest growing economies of the world, have more boys than girls at age five. Even the surviving girl children continue to lack education, good nutrition, healthcare and maternal care. Many girls continue to be married off around 15 because of superstition, social stigma and poverty. The legal age for girls to marry is 18, but this has not been implemented on a noticeable scale and a high 45 per cent of Indian women are married long before they are 18 even today. Early childbirth – rural Indian women have their first child by the time they are 19 – kills more women.

Quota for women

The other disappointment that women faced in 2006 was the continuous obstruction to the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill (which is languishing in Parliament since 1996) granting them 33 per cent of seats in the state and Central Assemblies and upper houses of the government. A powerful lobby of women is building up nationwide to campaign for the passage of the Bill the next year, but most political parties have their objections to the passing of the Bill.

However, 2007 is yet to unfold and it is hoped that it will bring more power, justice and equality to women and they continue to go from strength to strength. 

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