A poignant tale of determination and intertwined destinies of a woman’s resolve and a man’s continued support unfolded itself on the Outlook Speakout platform last week. With her head held high, Renu Khator—the chancellor of University of Houston System and president of University of Houston—rendered a journey of four-and-a-half decades in such simplicity that it possibly did not reflect the audacity of a young woman to hold onto her dreams and the trials and tribulations she underwent in the years gone by. As her husband stood up in the audience to a loud cheer, she glowed on stage for she shared her glory with a partner who believed in her.
For a lady from a Hindi-medium school in Farrukhabad, who pulled out of Allahabad University with a Masters course disrupted by marriage, Renu held onto the possibilities of a better future with the belief that education will set her free. That she has been heading an academic institution of repute for over a decade in the US reflects not only her grit but also talent honed by the test of time.
However, what she symbolises for yours truly is the age of women-led development. A McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report assesses India’s possibility of boosting annual GDP by $770 billion till 2025 if the administration continues its policy support towards gender equality. Such exponential economic growth is estimated if women’s participation in our labour force is enhanced by just 10%.
One of the measures proposed by MGI to ensure gender balance in the corporate sector is to provide policy support to working women after childbirth. Such a measure is reflected in the 26-week paid maternity leave benefit announced by the Modi government, a right which set straight many a wrong done in our corporate history.
But what about the women confined to household chores? MGI estimated in its 2015 report that if the unpaid work of Indian women were to be measured as GDP even at minimum wage rates, its estimated contribution to economic growth would be $300 billion. There are some who may snigger at such an approach but no one can deny that when it comes to basic instruments of quantifying Human Development Index , women are at the very core of life-altering statistics.
And statistics tell us an empowering tale. Bhagyalaxmi is a celebratory nomenclature that we wear with pride. However, what was significantly absent in our nation was access to financial instruments women needed to boost their individual economic prowess. Since 2014, over 16.42 crore women have received individual financial identities in the form of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. Even sceptics would agree that the 9.81 crore MUDRA loans given only to women is a hallmark not only of their individual entrepreneurial resolve but also a case in point for financial emancipation through policy intervention.
To say good governance only endowed benefits to the working women but forgot the stay-at-home mom would be a great injustice. The nationwide acceptance of the success of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and provision of clean cooking fuel to over 5.5 crore poor women finds a place of pride in international deliberations which have time after time highlighted that cooking on gas stoves not only saves women from the drudgery of collecting firewood, the hellish smoke from earthen chulhas, but also gives them spare time in a day to pursue other productive activities. What tugs at my heart though is an acceptance by Yasim Ali Hague, UNICEF’s representative in India, who said: “Heartening is the four-fold decline in the gender gap in survival of the girl child over last 5 years.”
The fact is, from the womb to being the chancellor of a university, women survive many odds. They may at times fail or flounder but they never give up. And that’s what makes me a proud member of the creed of Indian women. Ours is a creed which provides sustenance to family, feeds the soul of humanity and gives hope for the future. Speaking of future, there were some at the Speakout session who wanted the baton of hope, of resolve, given forward to the young present there. I for once said ‘No’; for each woman has her own race to run, each girl has her own dream to live, each child has her own monuments to build.
We will never tell the little ones that success comes to all, for failure is the mother of achievement. But what we can resolve is that every time they find themselves on the edge of despair, we will share the glorious tales of women and their struggles gone by and in those stories we hope they find fortitude, they find victory, they find themselves—for they are...we are the Creed of Women.
(The author is the Union textiles minister)