ET Women's Forum: Necessary to upgrade skill sets of rural women & girls and give them a neutral platform

There is no formula for empowering and mentoring women.

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(From left) Osama Manzar and Kanta Singh
The Economic Times Women’s Forum 2019 took forward the mission that it launched last year — to collaboratively and urgently build a sustainable culture of empowering India’s half a billion women — through a scintillating day of conversations and debates about encouraging greater participation and reducing gender inequality in every sphere of life, work, and play.

Understanding the issues that are proving to be barriers to empowering women and providing relevant solutions will be the key to creating new leadership with the right skill sets, said women leaders.

Thought leaders driving several successful initiatives for women through organisations such as Facebook and SEWA Bharat as well as international forums like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that a deep dive into women-centric issues is required to put together a set of solutions that will ultimately create impact on the lives of women.


“There is no formula for empowering and mentoring women. You need to learn what the need is. Unless we understand the problems, we cannot come up with solutions,” said Sanchita Mitra, national coordinator, SEWA Bharat, in a panel discussion on New Leadership: Skilling and Mentoring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs.

Sanchita Mitra
Sanchita Mitra

She recounted her experience when she started visiting girls’ homes to understand the reason behind low response to one of SEWA’s initiatives. As she puts it, the programme could not have moved ahead without a granular understanding of the baggage and barriers. According to Kanta Singh, gender lead, UNDP, information is the first key barrier as women and girls don’t always know the right sources to get it from.

“Empowerment will be knowledge and skills-driven and that’s where we are working,” Singh said. We need to understand what their aspiration and dreams are… We will fail our girls, if we don’t act now.”

Experts agreed that the need of the hour is to upgrade the skill sets of rural women and girls digitally as that would provide a neutral platform for information exchange. While rural women may be able to handle phones, they find it difficult to work with computers.
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“It’s a challenge, but also is an opportunity,” Singh said.
Ankhi Das
Ankhi Das

Ankhi Das, public policy director for Facebook in India, South and Central Asia, appealed to delegates at The Economic Times Women’s Forum to participate in the company’s mentoring programme.

“We are mentoring tribal women in five states of India, we seek more women to join this programme,” she said, adding that 10 Indian states account for 83% of the country’s indigenous population. “Of this, we would be working in five states, including Maharashtra, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal with 25 mentors—100 girls spread across these five states.”

SEWA Bharat’s Mitra believes the organisational support has been a major help in building confidence and mentoring women through her programmes. “Community approach is much better than individual mode. The process may be slow, but proves to be effective,” she said.

ET Women's Forum: Shikha Sharma, Diana Hayden, Aditi Mittal Reveal How To Prioritise Oneself
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Eminent women suggest what you should do to put yourself first.

In pic from left: (Shikha Sharma, Diana Hayden, Aditi Mittal)

Eminent women suggest what you should do to put yourself first.In pic from left: (Shikha Sharma, Diana Hayden, Aditi Mittal)

Shikha Sharma, Former MD, Axis Bank

My advice for women has always been, ‘Believe in yourself.’ Do not overcompensate by being aggressive or being like anybody else. You never win by playing someone else’s game. You only win by playing your own game. So, play to your strengths. Make sure you are learning every day.

Shikha Sharma, Former MD, Axis BankMy advice for women has always been, ‘Believe in yourself.’ Do not overcompensate by being aggressive or being like anybody else. You never win by playing someone e..
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Diana Hayden, Miss World 1997

To put yourself first, you need to change your thought process. It’s all in your head and that’s where it starts. Understand and truly get self-confident. You need to treat yourself well. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Diana Hayden, Miss World 1997To put yourself first, you need to change your thought process. It’s all in your head and that’s where it starts. Understand and truly get self-confident. You need to tre..
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Namita Thapar, Executive Director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals

We need to learn to be a bit more selfish. We always tend to put others before us and I think we need to take the time out to pamper ourselves. Whether it’s going to the salon or going to watch a movie, do certain selfish things and schedule it. And also, choosing the right man to marry is important. While you can use your head and heart for other decisions, I would recommend going with your gut for this one.

Namita Thapar, Executive Director, Emcure PharmaceuticalsWe need to learn to be a bit more selfish. We always tend to put others before us and I think we need to take the time out to pamper ourselves..
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Namrata Joshipura, Founder, Joshipura Designs

Never feel guilty. As working women and mothers, we do our best. When my daughter was much younger, I would often feel guilty that I’m either in the office or when I was with her, I would feel guilty about not being in the office. Today, I feel I gave my child, my home, and my work as much time as each needed. I did and am doing my best.

Namrata Joshipura, Founder, Joshipura DesignsNever feel guilty. As working women and mothers, we do our best. When my daughter was much younger, I would often feel guilty that I’m either in the offic..
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Rashmi Shukla, ADGP, Maharashtra Police

If you want to maintain a balance (between work and life), be mentally prepared to accept responsibilities. In my case, I had tremendous support from my late husband. What is important is to know your limitations. Once you know your limitations, they can become your strengths.

Rashmi Shukla, ADGP, Maharashtra PoliceIf you want to maintain a balance (between work and life), be mentally prepared to accept responsibilities. In my case, I had tremendous support from my late hu..
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Aditi Mittal, Comedian

Women are often conditioned to think that the needs of others come before their own. So, put yourself first. We normally put other people first at the cost of ourselves. Like the emergency mask on the flight, you need to put yours on first before you help the child. That’s so you can breathe enough before you empower the child.

Aditi Mittal, ComedianWomen are often conditioned to think that the needs of others come before their own. So, put yourself first. We normally put other people first at the cost of ourselves. Like th..
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Fawzia Koofi, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan

The first thing is setting goals for yourself. And the second thing is to stay committed to what you believe in. Often for women, it’s not easy to stick to what they believe in and what they want to achieve. During times like these, you need to keep your focus.

Fawzia Koofi, Member of Parliament, AfghanistanThe first thing is setting goals for yourself. And the second thing is to stay committed to what you believe in. Often for women, it’s not easy to stick..
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Vidya Shah CEO, EdelGive Foundation

It is this feeling of ‘I am no different’ and seeing humanity in yourself, not just as a woman but as a person. We are no different from anybody else, so I don’t know why we (women) get into the thing that I’m a woman so I won’t be able to do this or won’t be able to access that. That is vital. A lot of us on the panel were raised in ordinary homes but we were raised to believe that we are no different.

Vidya Shah CEO, EdelGive FoundationIt is this feeling of ‘I am no different’ and seeing humanity in yourself, not just as a woman but as a person. We are no different from anybody else, so I don’t kn..
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