November 2016 – Has a women’s role changed?

Sunita Behl

This month we asked you to share whether you believe a woman’s role has changed in society and the wider world. We hope you enjoy reading our contributors views on how different their life is compared to previous generations, the influence of the internet on empowering women and why they believe, despite progress, the challenges women face still have a long way to go.

In December we are running a special issue dedicated everyone who has contributed to GRIT during 2016. If you have suggestion for a topic that you would like to see in GRIT next year please drop us a line at

Thank you for your continued support.

Sunita Behl

The web has given women a louder, stronger voice

By Sangeeta Haindl, Serendipity PR and Media Consultancy and Board Member of the UK Women In Enterprise Task force

During the last ten years the world has stepped into a new era – ‘the digital age’. This ‘inter-connected’ technology revolution, has empowered all, giving us more opportunities than ever before. However I believe this is the age of female empowerment; ‘the divine feminine’ where the web is giving women all over the world a louder, stronger voice.

The web has enabled us to showcase real inspirational role models who are making a difference, giving us the confidence to do things that we never thought we could. New research shows that there are now more women entrepreneurs than ten years ago and that the rate of female entrepreneurship is higher in many African countries than it is in Europe and the US.1

But sadly there is still a long way to go with equal pay and diversity issues; in many ways it is still a man’s world and this certainty hasn’t changed in the last ten years! I recently had the opportunity to interview Cherie Blair. When I asked her ‘Do women need to be more like men to succeed?’ her reply was heartening. She said “I’ve met many successful women who have achieved great things without needing to imitate men. Recent research from Ernst & Young shows that women business owners are outperforming their male counterparts in the number of jobs they create, while data from Chile shows women to be the safer bets for bank loans over their male counterparts.”

So, I am hoping, now with the prospect of having more female world leaders than ever before around the negotiating table, there will be better deals for women, creating a real force for rapid change and heralding in new opportunities and better roles models for girls…showing us all that, whatever our age or background, we can indeed have it all!

In fact, right now, there are some women in the world who are already showing that if women can stand equally alongside men at home and in the workplace, where we share responsibilities and everything is not just seen as ‘women’s work’ then our burden is less loaded and more harmonious.

To me this last thought sums up whether a woman’s role has changed… 83-year-old Mother lives in the lower ranges of the Himalayas and she now has the power to text, search and connect with the world online. She said to me a few months back, “I feel a thrill of excitement of what I can find online; I feel relevant and empowered, I am not a dusty old woman sitting in a corner, like my granny used to be.” That, I think, is progress.

Reference: 1. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Annual Review 2014. CNN

A man’s role needs to change too

By Nazreen Visram, Director, Head of Citizenship, Corporate Banking, Barclays

A woman’s role is changing, particularly in western societies. Access to quality education has opened the doors to more opportunities, raised attainment levels and created a number of visible role models that inspire us to reach our goals both personally and professionally. More women are exceling in their careers whilst balancing family life. However, the biggest change is that women now have to play multiple roles that demand even more of our time – wife, mother, daughter, friend, colleague, leader, mentor, entrepreneur……. the list goes on.

My mother was a single parent, who worked extremely hard to provide my brother and myself with a good education. Despite the hardship we faced growing up she raised us as equals with strong values. We both contributed to domestic chores and household bills. We were given the same opportunities and gender was never a barrier. For this I am truly thankful as her resilience and determination that has helped shape the way I think and approach situations both at home and work today.

However, challenges for women still exist, and there is still a long way to go before we are considered as equals to our male counterparts. Having additional responsibilities mean that there is constant pressure to be the best at everything we do. Life becomes a juggling act. We strive for perfection and are really hard on ourselves if we don’t achieve it. Coupled with cultural stereotypes as to what a woman’s role ‘should be’ means that we always have to go that extra mile to prove we are more than capable of succeeding.

So what needs to change? Well, I once read that the biggest career decision you can make is the man that you marry, and this is now truer than ever. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. It requires collective responsibility and therefore the role of men is changing to, and needs to. I don’t think I would be able to do all the things I do, or would have achieved what I have, without the support of my husband. We share family responsibilities, run the household together resulting in a marriage that is very much based on a partnership, respectful of each other’s careers and ambitions. More importantly this sets a strong, positive example to my son, in the hope that one day he does the same for his family, and that this will then transcend from generation to generation.

As parents, I do believe that this is where we can have the strongest influence. We can facilitate the change in mind set that is required so that our children do not have to face the challenges we have had to encounter, in order to achieve our goals.

Finally, it is important to recognise that globally, there are still so many women who do not have the same opportunities as we do. We all have a key role to play in making a difference, no matter how big or small, through mentorship, campaigning, collaboration and empowering others. This is our duty and our privilege.

The only constant in life is change

By Dr.Sandra Garcia Martin, Cosmetic Dentist, BDS

In my spiritual path I have learnt that there is only one constant in life and that is change. Due to the constant change of technological advancements, education opportunities and society upgrades I have been blessed with so much more while growing up compared with my ancestors. For example my grandmother couldn’t vote, have her own bank account or even travel on her own just because she was a woman!

I believe women have grasped more opportunities and confronted more challenges. We have learnt to dance with the pressure that comes with these situations and it has become the social condition. With social media and the growth in movements supporting gender equality, today we are exposed to more stories to learn from and be inspired by. Women can pick and choose role models and promote themselves and their skills, generating a great boost to our confidence.

There will always be pressure on us to succeed and we will still battle for the right to be portrayed for what we really are and not just for our boyfriends, our bodies or the contents of our wardrobe. But the most important thing is that we learn to be a little better every day so we can co-create a better reality for all.

Women today are less afraid of leadership. For the first time in the history of the United States, a woman is the front-running candidate for the presidency. So I think it’s safe to say we’re breaking through some major career barriers.

But is it really possible to manage both career ambitions alongside a happy family life? Of course, why not!! I believe it just takes more planning and less improvising. You always need to balance things, and having a partner that has the same core values of equality that you have makes things much easier. If we want to be good wives, mothers and professionals, whilst still having time for ourselves, we need to plan everything ahead and divide the tasks equally. I strongly believe everything in life is possible if you work hard for it and never stop dreaming, because all dreams can come true. So yes, it is possible to have it all.

Who defines a woman’s role?

By Rita Chowdhry, Savran Coaching and Consultancy

A woman’s role in society has undoubtedly changed over the past few decades. Going back generations it is clear to see that women now, more than ever, have higher expectations laid upon them by society.

In my grandmother’s generation, the woman’s role was solely to provide support to their husband, enabling him to go out and achieve his goals. In my mother’s generation, the role continued to revolve around the children and the duties at home, however, they began to want to achieve something for themselves. The women of my generation strive to have it all; the happy family life and the perfect career, and looking good whilst maintaining these. However this is a struggle and we are often hard on ourselves if we can’t achieve this. These are the issues that many of my female clients want to address. I feel that moving forward to my daughter’s generation, the pressure is even greater to excel in all areas. There are less restrictions by society, and therefore fewer barriers and obstacles in them achieving what they want.

The modern-day woman faces a dilemma: if we don’t work we feel a loss of self-esteem and confidence; this is something that I have seen in many clients. Even if they are intelligent, beautiful women they see themselves as “worthless”, especially when their children are grown up and their husbands have achieved their success. The role for these women is defined by society and their relationships.

On the other hand, women with high-flying careers can also feel this sense of emptiness; if they choose a career over children they are defined by this choice. We don’t need to look any further than the recent female politicians who ran for the leadership position of the Conservative party. Andrea Leadsom suggested she was better suited to be Prime Minister because she has children. She said “I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country.” However, an article in the Telegraph stated that remarks such as these, “reveal how childless women are still viewed with innate suspicion”. This demonstrates the challenge modern women face, as the contemporary women’s role is expected to simultaneously take on different forms: the career-orientated achiever, the diligent housewife and the caring mother.

Women should not be defined by society and its idealistic expectations of the perfect woman. They must establish their own definitions, working out their own values in order to achieve happiness and a balance in the real world.

So, can a woman manage both career ambitions alongside a happy family life? I recently interviewed Nicky Morgan MP, the former cabinet minister for Education and equalities minister. I have much admiration for women who enter politics and have young families. Nicky’s son was only two years old when she was elected as an MP and, together with her husband, has faced several challenges bringing up a young child while dividing their time between two cities.

What evidently works in Nicky’s and many other families, is if both men and women are flexible, open-minded and supportive of each other’s role. It all comes down to being SAVVI: being self-aware and identifying each other’s strengths and passions and taking on roles that utilise these. This may mean both parents are working and paying for childcare and help to run the house.

It’s important that we all work out what makes us happy, what our strengths are and how they can be best used. Women should not succumb to pressure from society to have to do it all, or to be restricted to do certain things because of gender stereotypes.

Society’s attitude towards women must change

By Debashree Mitra Singh

It was 7am aboard the Howrah Rajdhani Express. At 15 I was a young traveller eager to learn, to hear the locals, to taste the delicacies and see new landscapes. We were headed towards Kolkata from New Delhi. I was joined by my parents and seven year old sister on our way to visit relatives and looking forward to our big planned family trip to Shantiniketan.

We were four hours away from the end of our 17 hour journey when my Mum told me to wash up before the breakfast trolley arrived. I climbed down from the top bunk and glanced through the corridor which led to the toilet. It seemed empty. No one was about.

The speaker sounds “Dhanbad” and we halted at a platform for 5 minutes. My Mum quickly ushered my Dad to lead me to the toilet whilst she looked after my sister. Freshened up, I stepped out. The bogie door was open and I could see the platform. My Dad asked me if I was okay to go back to my seat while he used the washroom. I told him not to worry and smiled.

I peered out to see the platform but instead felt the hands of a strong grip. I looked up and could clearly see a name engraved on the badge of a man wearing a pantry staff uniform. He was about 5”11 tall, bulky and dark complexioned with piercing eyes.

“Aajao (come now)…want to see outside? I will show you”.  He closed the heavy push- open door shut tightly behind me. I couldn’t see anyone around me. I couldn’t hear anything except his voice near to my ear. I looked down and saw my feet struggling two feet off the ground. I kicked and thrashed and hit him with whatever strength I could gather. I felt helpless and began to cry.

The corridor door opened and before I could scream, he put me down and fled. An elderly passenger came out.  I was sat near the door like a jumble-sale puppet but quickly got up trying to look like I was fine. My chest felt numb and hurt so much that I could hardly make my way towards the door and our berth. “Where are you wondering off to!?” my Dad’s voice came from behind me. I jumped and held him tight as we walked back to our seats.

That was it! Life was supposed to return to normal for me after that as if nothing had happened. I did not feel safe and was not able to talk about this at the time. In fact, I did not speak about the incident until many years later.

Today, two years after the frightening crime of the 23 year old woman who was gang raped in a moving bus and died from her injuries thirteen days later I write this and wonder if after all these years Indian society’s attitude towards women has changed at all?

I feel ashamed of being an Indian and can connect with all women going through any form of molestation in their everyday lives and keeping silent about it. I have had innumerable encounters throughout my life and in my eyes, there are no laws and no system in place in India to tackle this feat.

Looking back, I still live with the haunting trauma of past incidents. As women if we want change we need to be strong. We need people to take us seriously. We need a platform where we speak out freely about our encounters and a society who will listen and take stronger actions rather than playing the blame game or brushing everything under a carpet of hope.

This carpet is so heavy with hope today that it is in desperate need of replacement with a transparent sheet of truth and justice. Only then can the attitude towards women in India and other parts of world, their role and how they are perceived in wider society be changed.

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2016 GRIT Topics

DECEMBER – Looking forward to 2017
What are your big hopes and plans for 2017? What will you change or how will you make a difference? Please share your proud moments, memories and achievements of the past year and your hopes for the New Year.

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