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A two-wheeled solution to help girls in rural India

4 Dec

This wonderful post from the Guardian’s bike blog, describing a project which provides bicycles to schoolgirls in the Indian state of Bihar, resonated with me in its description of how it has led to an increase in school attendance.

“Three years ago the state’s new chief minister Nitish Kumar adopted a “gender agenda” and set about redressing his state’s endemic gender imbalances in an attempt to boost development in one of India’s most backward states. His vision was to bring a sense of independence and purpose to his state’s young women, and the flagship initiative of this agenda is the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojna, a project that gives schoolgirls 2,000 rupees (about £25) to purchase a bicycle.

 “The project’s results so far have been extremely promising: in those three years in Bihar alone, 871,000 schoolgirls have taken to the saddle as a result of the scheme. The number of girls dropping out of school has fallen and the number of girls enrolling has risen from 160,000 in 2006-2007 to 490,000 now.”

Read the rest of the article here.

The daughter also rises, according to The Economist

29 Aug

A recent Schumpeter article in The Economist examines the way in which women in emerging world countries such as India, China and Brazil are outperforming their sisters when it comes to education and progress in the corporate world.

Some of the article’s findings as they relate to women in India include:

  • 11% of chief executives of large companies in India are female, compared with 3% of Fortune 500 bosses in America and 3% of FTSE 100 bosses in Britain.
  • 26% of students at the Indian School of Business are female, a figure comparable with those of Western schools such as the Harvard Business School and INSEAD.
  • Living in emerging markets offers many advantages for female professionals. Most obviously, there are plenty of cheap hands to cook and take care of children. “And corporate culture is changing astoundingly fast, not least because companies are hiring so many young people. (Youngsters in India and China grew up steeped in capitalism; their parents did not.)”
  • The article also highlights women-friendly programmes offered by Indian corporates,  such as: Goldman Sachs (India) pairs expectant mothers with seasoned working mothers. Infosys, an IT firm, provides “pregnancy yoga”. Wipro, another IT company, arranges child-care camps on its campus during long holidays. GE India provides its female staff with assertiveness training.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi on the 5 Cs of Leadership

9 Aug

Business leaders must cultivate their emotional intelligence if they want to relate effectively to their customers and employees, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi told attendees at BlogHer last week.

Competency, confident and communication are among the “5 C’s” that shape her leadership philosophy, which she shared with a group of women bloggers and business leaders.

Can Lady Gaga crack India?

26 Jun

And,  perhaps more significantly, should she even try?

The BBC reported last week that the American singer has set her sights on cracking India’s lucrative music market, suggesting that:

“With her choreographed routines, colourful costumes and catchy tunes, she has many trademark Bollywood characteristics … With a growing economy, and a population of more 700 million people under the age of 30, India’s rising middle classes have more money to spend. Bollywood music is still the most popular genre, which might explain why, as part of her mission, Lady Gaga has remixed a number of her songs to give them a more Indian flavour.”

I would love to hear the Indian-influenced remixes of Judas and Born This Way,  which have reportedly been tweaked by American-Indian music company Desi Hits – but I can’t get past the sense that Lady Gaga’s primary USP is her appearance and her outrageous stage outfits.  She’s not just about the music – she’s about theatre and pageantry.

And dresses made of meat … in a country where 80% of the population are “pure veg” Hindus?

Good luck, Gaga!

India: 4th worst place in the world for women to live

16 Jun

A new survey has named Afghanistan the worst place in the world for women to live; Congo, Pakistan and Somalia also fail females, with rape, poverty and infanticide rife.

The survey has been compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark the launch of a website, TrustLaw Woman, aimed at providing free legal advice for women’s groups around the world.

The Guardian reports that: “… the appearance of India, a country rapidly developing into an economic super-power, was unexpected. It is ranked as extremely hazardous because of the subcontinent’s high level of female infanticide and sex trafficking.”

The article continues:

India is the fourth most dangerous country. “India’s central bureau of investigation estimated that in 2009 about 90% of trafficking took place within the country and that there were some 3 million prostitutes, of which about 40% were children,” the survey found.

Forced marriage and forced labour trafficking add to the dangers for women. “Up to 50 million girls are thought to be ‘missing’ over the past century due to female infanticide and foeticide,”, the UN population fund says, because parents prefer to have young boys rather than girls.

“One third of India’s people are now ruled by chief ministers who are women …”

31 May

… according to a recent article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.

He goes on to say that the newly elected chief minister of West Bengal is the “dynamo”, Mamata Banerjee, part of a broader trend of “charismatic female politicians”; read the rest of his article here.

On the centenary of International Women’s Day, 2011

13 Mar

I arrived back in the UK just in time to celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day and to speak at an event called “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” at the University of Southampton.

Here’s one of my favourite photos from Mumbai – two female police officers,  on duty near the Taj hotel.

And this article from The Hindu offers a sobering look at the lives of many women in today’s India and also lists some of the many trailblazers of the last one hundred years.

Goan progress

26 Feb

I’ve been in Goa for the last two weeks,  interviewing a range of very different women for the book and hearing some amazing – if heart rending – stories.

Sangeetha’s story is shared over at the Gender Blog.  This photo shows her,  second from right, with two of her three children.  She now earns £14 per MONTH.  Click the article link to read more …

Mumbai calling

11 Feb

Day one of the interviews for Mother India went extremely well,  with my two different but extremely charming and articulate interviewees speaking very frankly into my mini-recorder (which, thankfully, worked!).  It was fascinating to hear them talk so freely and fluently about their lives to dates,  their hopes for the future,  their thoughts in a broader sense on the Indian economy and the part that women have to play in it.

I asked them both about the recently reported news story that there’s no such thing as a glass ceiling for women in India – and,  somewhat to my surprise,  they agreed with the sentiment,  suggesting that the capacity of Indian women to progress is limited only by themselves and their self-belief,  rather than by corporate “gender asbestos” as Avivah Wittenberg-Cox calls it.

Tomorrow,  I fly to Goa,  where I’m hoping to talk to some rather different women – those who travel to India’s smallest but richest state in order to work for six months and to profit from the many thousands of tourists who flock there.

The first interviews

8 Feb

I leave for Mumbai this evening and will be undertaking my first interviews for Mother India on Thursday and Friday.  As I had hoped would be the case,  I’ve already managed to secure three very different women as interview subjects: a young MBA student, a former Bollywood star and a senior VP in a global investment bank.

It’s also been great to receive such positive feedback on the idea of the book,  with my first interview subject commenting that:

I’m also thanking you on behalf of all Indian women for taking up a topic such as this, which is not known or understood in totality to the western world. Your project sounds wonderful and I’d be more than happy to help in any way.”

All three interviewees have commented on the proposed title of the book and have asked me if I was aware that it’s also the title of an iconic, award winning Indian film from 1957.  The answer is “yes!” – and,  as I replied to one questioner, the book in part is about acknowledging the film’s iconic place in Indian culture and reflecting it in the title of my book,  by bringing the phrase into this new century and using it as a reference to a role that was,  perhaps, once the only way in which Indian women were known and acknowledged.

But, no longer.

More updates to follow from Mumbai.  I’m so excited to be returning.

Remember,  if you’d like to be part of the book or to suggest possible interview subjects for me,  please get in touch – thank you.


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