SOS Children’s Villages of India event calls for investment in girl education.
MUMBAI, Mar 11 (The CONNECT) - Gender gap can be reduced only through significant behavioral change in society, said panelists at a discussion on Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow – Breaking Stereotypes, organised by SOS Children’s Villages of India, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. This behavioral change should begin with treating girls and boys equally, investing in the education of the girl child, reskilling and upskilling women for productive employment, enabling women’s participation in the labour force and encouraging more women in leadership positions, they concurred.
SOS Children’s Villages of India held a virtual panel discussion, streamed live on the official Facebook handle of the organisation. The panelists included: Sumanta Kar, Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India; Radha Raturi, Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand; Ira Singhal, Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Divisional Commissioner, Delhi; Neeru Ahuja, Partner, Deloitte India; Shyama Jain, SOS Mother and Chandramma, Caregiver, Family Strengthening Programme.
Raturi in her talk, urged society to work towards gender equality. “We have political equality. The Indian constitution treats women equally. We have had the right to vote in elections since 1952. The real problem is social inequality,” she said. Raturi regrretted that “There is still a lot of difference between sons and daughters. Society puts pressure on women to give birth to a male child, especially if it is the second child.”
In India, she said, about 40% of girls under the age of 13 years are forced into marriage. Maternal mortality rate is high because of child marriage,” she said, adding that behavioural change is the answer to gender inequality. “It needs to begin with us. Women need to develop confidence. We have to learn to speak out,” she said.
Singhal encouraged women to shed their limitations. “As a woman and as someone with disabilities, I faced many biases and I learned to do extra hard work to achieve my goals. I do not believe in boundaries. If you do not accept that there are limitations, you can achieve a lot,” she said. Singhal holds the distinction of becoming the first differently-abled woman to top the civil services exam.
Kar pointed out that Women played a critical role during the pandemic in taking care of children. There was a break in the education of children and with limited access to online education, it was a difficult time for both caregivers and children. “Caregivers and mothers stepped up to face challenges and ensured that children did not suffer from mental health issues because of the lockdown. It was a difficult time for mothers and caregivers because many of them either lost their jobs or saw a reduction in their salaries. The loss of employment highlighted the need to skill and re-skill women to prepare them for the post-pandemic workforce. We at SOS Children’s Villages of India have been focusing our efforts on skilling and re-skilling women and girls, so that we can prepare them for better employment opportunities. Besides this, we focus our initiatives on empowering caregivers,” he said.
Ahuja, who has 25 years of experience in the tax industry, encouraged women to speak and express their creativity, “Women tend to be shy and modest. We need to speak up more and share our ideas with our seniors,” she said. Ahuja believes that women gain significant skills through parenting that make them good leaders at the office too. “Mothers bring a special set of skills to the workplace be it nurturing talent, managing budgets, multi-tasking, resourcefulness etc. There are some areas that women are naturally good at and we need to build upon our strengths. But the one area that we all need to improve upon is in being more vocal about our idea”, she added.
Jain, who has spent 33 years at SOS Children’s Villages of India highlighted the importance of education and mutual respect. She has raised 40 children, most of whom settled well, while the others are still studying. As an SOS Mother, Shyama made sure that there remains no difference between boys and girls during their upbringing. Besides this, Shyama reiterated the importance of behavioural change for the reduction of the gender gap.
Chandramma, a caregiver, mentioned about the challenges she faced as a child and a woman, which equipped her to help weave plausible solutions for the women she came across as part of the Family Strengthening Programme. She knows six languages, which help her connect with people faster and better; she has been a part of a Self-Help Group since 2014, and has empowered 68 families towards self-reliance. Her own life has been a constant struggle. Her husband passed away 8 months ago. Her son studies in the 7th grade. Having received minimal support during most of her life, she understands the distress vulnerable women and their children face. Her journey of empowerment that began with the Family Strengthening Programme of SOS Children’s Villages of India in 2014 has served her well, enabling her to be an Ambassador of Change for many.
Established in 1964, SOS Children’s Villages of India provides children without parental care or at the risk of losing it, a value chain of quality care services that goes beyond childcare alone, ensuring comprehensive child development.