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The Phenomenal Indian Women
chillibreeze writer — Reem Khokhar
Colorful festivals, acute poverty, exotic people, dirt, heat, spicy food, elephants, snake charmers, and a spiritual haven are some of the stereotypical images that are associated with India. What about when one thinks of Indian women? Other than the word ‘exotic' there is not much that comes to mind. Much of the mystery and fascination that surrounds India has also shrouded Indian women making awareness about them limited.
The story of the fairer sex in this country is one of duality. There is still much poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and discrimination when it comes to women, but there is a certain segment of them that is making a mark in the corporate world, in the media, in literature and for many who are unaware they are making a huge impact in the IT sector. Globalization has provided opportunities for the educated, middle class woman to build her own dreams and excel in fields, which were earlier perceived as complete male domains. Though they are not the majority, Indian women professionals are definitely on the rise and are paving the way for future generations.
Indian women are becoming increasingly visible and successful in the professional and public sphere. Whether it is Barkha Dutt, who has become a idol for several journalists, Arundhati Roy, a Booker Prize Winner and a social activist, or Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who became the wealthiest Indian woman after the initial public offering of her company, Biocon, they have all heralded the arrival of Indian women professionals.
Indian Women in IT
In an article featured in the indianprogrammer.com called “The Phenomena of Indian Women IT Professionals”, the stereotype about programming is described as, “an obsessive, abstract, and introvert activity unsuitable for women”. However, several Indian women have proven this theory wrong. Approximately one third of employees at Indian software companies today are women. In fact, NASSCOM puts the figure at 38%, which is a higher figure than their western counterparts. Some of the reasons for this attraction to the IT sector include India's education system.
In the Indian context, in engineering colleges, civil and mechanical engineering were considered male areas as the outdoor activities were considered unsuitable for the Indian middle class girl. The girls went for “softer skills” such as Electronics & Communication and Computer Science and therefore more number of women have graduated in these particular disciplines. Other women took up computer courses after they graduated from college in order to acquire extra skills. Once they started they realized the potential in this area and went on to pursue their interest as a full time career. Since the demand for technical professionals continues to be strong in the IT industry, women are not seen as competitors to men as skill and experience are what really matter. Their visibility is not restricted to just India as several of them work abroad with foreign companies who hire them for their skill and expertise.
Indian Women Authors
Another area where Indian women are making their mark is literature. The opening of Indian offices by foreign publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins has provided several Indian women authors an opportunity to showcase their experiences to the world. At first, there were simply a handful of writers, but today it is common to be greeted with new names every month at a bookstore. International recognition has come in the form of the Booker Prize for Arundhati Roy, the Onassis International Competition Prize to Manjula Padmanabhan, and the Pulitzer Prize to Jhumpa Lahiri. Themes and settings are usually the everyday world of a middle class family, but now writing often goes beyond the home. Themes revolving around sexuality, abuse, and violence, to name a few, are being written about, The language used is not an artificial and contrived version of British English, but a natural rendition of how it is used in India. Interspersed with local words the language lends authenticity and flavor to the writing.
The opening up of the Indian economy, the increased role of the private sector and the increase in the number of multinationals springing up has facilitated a slow but definite rise in the number of women managers and entrepreneurs in the corporate sector. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw's Biocon, a biotech firm is worth over $1.1 billion, with her stake at $449 million. Vidya Mohan Chhabria, chairperson of the $2 billion Jumbo Group, and Naina Lal Kidwai, vice chairperson and managing director of HSBC Securities and Capital markets, are the two Indian women to feature on the list of the 50 most powerful women in international business by Fortune magazine. There are several others like Sulaijja Firodia Motwani and Mallika Srinivasan who figure prominently in the automotive industry while there are many other women who are successfully managing family run businesses. This year the Electrolux Group and the Financial Express, came together to honor women achievers in business with the first Electrolux FE Awards for Women in Business.
Still the number of women at the top are few mainly because of the parallel profession of the home where several women are often not willing to take on more or compromise on their careers. Indian multi nationals still have to design women friendly schemes that account for working mothers and institutional support such as the availability of quality childcare. However, the emergence of India 's service sector – travel, tourism, hospitality, media, and entertainment as well as business process outsourcing and IT is witnessing an increased role for female employees at the entry and middle levels. They will hopefully pave the way for future female professionals.
Increasing Awareness and Recognition
Women are becoming increasingly visible in the domestic and international sphere in media, entertainment, business, IT, politics and literature. Whether it is Kali for Women, a women specific publishing house or the Electrolux – FE Awards for businesswomen, there is increasing recognition of female achievers and the emergence of powerful Indian women.
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