One small step, one big change


The im­age of women be­ing caught in a sti­fled ex­is­tence does not come as a sur­prise to most of us. In many cul­tures, they con­tinue to be the less priv­i­leged, their ba­sic needs un­ad­dressed, and their am­bi­tions and goals put on the back burner.

What can ef­fect a trans­for­ma­tion? Where does one start? Per­haps, with an in­di­vid­ual or a small group, and then repli­cate the suc­cess on a larger can­vas.

Is it not in­ter­est­ing that a coun­try which has had a woman Prime Min­is­ter, way back in the 1960s and 1970s, still runs a cam­paign to save and ed­u­cate the girl child? Notably, it is only in re­cent years that many a so-called de­vel­oped na­tion started hav­ing women at the helm of af­fairs. What has gone wrong and where? This in­quiry mer­its a good brain­storm­ing. There are sev­eral chal­lenges we all know and have enough data on. So, can we get into ac­tion mode now? Can we put our strengths to use?

Just a few months ago, I hap­pened to meet Sr­ishti Bak­shi, who was on her mis­sion to walk a 100 crore

steps start­ing from Kanyaku­mari (in South In­dia) to Srinagar (in North In­dia) in a du­ra­tion of 260 days to cre­ate aware­ness on women is­sues. She is a ‘Cham­pion of Change’ of the United Na­tions’ epony­mous ini­tia­tive. A high-pro­file cor­po­rate woman who lived in Hong Kong, Bak­shi was deeply af­fected by the in­ci­dent that hap­pened in In­dia in Bu­land­shahr and de­cided to do some­thing all by her­self. Though she had a good net­work and an il­lus­tri­ous pedi­gree, it was not easy for her to get started. Nev­er­the­less, she ac­com­plished her ob­jec­tive: reach­ing out to ur­ban and ru­ral women across the coun­try and sen­si­tiz­ing them—and men too—to nu­mer­ous is­sues; this

in­cluded talk­ing and ed­u­cat­ing them about their safety, hy­giene, emo­tions, iden­tity, and their life at large.

Bak­shi men­tioned, dur­ing a dis­cus­sion, that in some places she found that preg­nant women do not drink enough wa­ter in order to avoid go­ing to the wash­room as there is none in the first place and re­liev­ing them­selves in the open in broad day­light is dif­fi­cult. She con­ducted hun­dreds of ed­u­ca­tional work­shops and tried to ex­plore the ground re­al­ity, all on foot, step by step. The is­sue is whom we want to change and what we can do at a per­sonal level. A lot of our coun­ter­parts are wait­ing; we need to take a call. Sudha Murthy took hers. Her re­cent book, Three Thou­sand Stitches, is not just a great read but an eye-opener too; it is a guide on what one can do if one de­cides to. The way she has been able to im­pact and im­prove the qual­ity of life—the very life fab­ric of de­v­da­sis—is a feat in it­self. Can we choose our tar­get? Can we de­cide and zero in on a few women, a small group, even a sin­gle woman, who may be work­ing as our do­mes­tic help or a peon in of­fice?

There are a lot of things, how­ever, not hap­pen­ing on the re­quired scale around the is­sue of women em­pow­er­ment. This year, we had our Pres­i­dent hon­or­ing the ‘first ladies’. We have women win­ning in var­i­ous cat­e­gories in in­ter­na­tional sports events. The Lok Sabha Speaker and many Cab­i­net min­is­ters are women. De­spite this, why do we need to read, write, and talk about women-re­lated is­sues on ev­ery fo­rum? Ela Bhatt, founder of Self-Em­ployed Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion (SEWA), made an im­por­tant ob­ser­va­tion in one of her in­ter­views: “… we need to talk more about the achieve­ments and suc­cess of women around us. We need to cel­e­brate the suc­cess of women whom we can see, meet, and re­late with. A story of Sh­eryl Sand­berg and Hi­lary Clin­ton will def­i­nitely in­spire me but, I may not get an op­por­tu­nity to meet them, ever. They and I are very dif­fer­ent. Our con­text is way dif­fer­ent. There­fore, when we hear their sto­ries, we def­i­nitely feel mo­ti­vated, but in most cases, we need some­thing more to con­vert that mo­ti­va­tion into ac­tion/s.” This means we need to get to know about the way women around us man­age their chal­lenges and win.

There is a sci­en­tific base to what Ela says, a the­ory to which Al­bert Ban­dura con­trib­uted im­mensely—the ‘self-ef­fi­cacy the­ory of mo­ti­va­tion’, also known as ‘so­cial cog­ni­tive the­ory’ and ‘so­cial learn­ing the­ory’. It refers to an in­di­vid­ual’s be­lief that he or she is ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing a task. Higher your self-ef­fi­cacy, the more con­fi­dence you have in your abil­ity to suc­ceed. The re­searcher sug­gests four ways through which self-ef­fi­cacy can be in­creased: en­ac­tive mas­tery

Gain­ing rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence with the task or job. If you have been able to do the job suc­cess­fully in the past, you are more con­fi­dent that you will be able to do it in the fu­ture. But this is ap­pli­ca­ble [only] to those women who get an op­por­tu­nity in the first place.

vi­car­i­ous mod­el­ing

This is the most rel­e­vant to the point I am try­ing to make—be­com­ing more con­fi­dent be­cause you see some­one else do­ing the task. The the­ory says, vi­car­i­ous mod­el­ing is most ef­fec­tive when you see your­self as sim­i­lar to the per­son you are ob­serv­ing. So, when I see my mother be­ing a doc­tor and op­er­at­ing suc­cess­fully for years, I feel I too can do it easily. But if I have never had any­one in close vicin­ity whom I saw as a role model, maybe I would have had a lot of trou­ble manag­ing my work and per­sonal life si­mul­ta­ne­ously. In that case, I could be lucky to hear a mo­ti­va­tional speech and it may lead to what Ban­dura calls, ‘ver­bal per­sua­sion’.

ver­bal per­sua­sion

This means be­com­ing more con­fi­dent be­cause some­one con­vinces you that you have the skills needed to be suc­cess­ful. This may not ne­c­es­sar­ily lead to ‘arousal’, which means an en­er­gized state, so the per­son gets psyched up and per­forms bet­ter, feels Ban­dura.

Vi­car­i­ous mod­el­ing is most ef­fec­tive when you see your­self as sim­i­lar to the per­son you are ob­serv­ing.


This takes up an­other im­por­tant is­sue, that is, ‘can we have more role mod­els from around us?’ Here, the is­sue is of con­text. In order to ben­e­fit from oth­ers, we need to reach out, may be to the small­est and near­est clus­ter of women who are per­form­ing so that we can easily re­late to them and ben­e­fit from as­so­ci­at­ing with them.

For the last three years, my col­league and part­ner Dr Abhishek Narain Singh and I have been con­duct­ing a study on women lead­ers and en­trepreneurs from the Vi­darbha re­gion of Ma­ha­rash­tra. A sam­ple of more than 200 has been col­lected. We stud­ied their ‘role stress’ and ‘sup­port sys­tems’. The first-year study was fo­cused on ‘role stres­sors’, and the top three iden­ti­fied are, role-iso­la­tion (emerg­ing out of role-ir­rel­e­vance), role in­ad­e­quacy, and self-role dis­tance.

Role-iso­la­tion means feel­ing iso­lated (left out) as there are not enough lead­ers/busi­ness­women around. Im­prov­ing one’s own re­quired net­work may fix this prob­lem to a large ex­tent. Role in­ad­e­quacy means feel­ing of help­less­ness and need for power. Some women lead­ers may ex­pe­ri­ence stress in re­la­tion to their lack of im­pact, or their con­trol over var­i­ous as­pects such as in­ad­e­quate train­ing. The stress which arises out of con­flict be­tween what you think you are and the ex­pec­ta­tions from the role you are en­gaged in may lead to self-role dis­tance. A gen­eral de­vel­op­ment plan (GDP) for the par­tic­i­pants in the study was pro­vided through a sem­i­nar. Both the years, hardly one-fourth of the par­tic­i­pants at­tended the sem­i­nar. The study got pub­lished but that was not the only agenda, not the first one at least. Let me call this is­sue, ‘tak­ing own­er­ship’. Not tak­ing charge of one­self needs some good at­ten­tion be­fore we ask for help from out­side.

The other day, when I stopped at a gro­cery store in my neigh­bor­hood, I asked Leela (name changed), owner of the shop to, quickly fetch a few things in my list of items so that I could leave quickly. I saw a year-old baby play­ing at the re­cep­tion counter, but I could not find her par­ents any­where around. I en­quired, “Whose daugh­ter is she?” “My sis­ter’s. She is in Mum­bai. You know how it is there; no one to look af­ter her, so we vol­un­teered and here she is now, for al­most six months. Her mother vis­its fre­quently,” she said. I am sure you can find a sim­i­lar story in your neigh­bor­hood. This speaks vol­umes about the sup­port sys­tems for work­ing women in In­dia. In tier two and three cities, it is a big­ger prob­lem. Very few pro­fes­sional day care sys­tems are in place. So many women give up their ca­reers to look af­ter their chil­dren. No is­sue if they do it will­ingly, but what about those who wish to work out of home, but can­not. As Vik­tor Frankl puts it, “Once you know your ‘why,’ you can sur­vive al­most any­how.” One may guess, they man­age to find their ‘why’ and learn to be happy.

The chil­dren of work­ing women need to be taken care of. Did you read about the mo­ti­va­tional story of Anu Ku­mari who stood first in the women’s cat­e­gory of UPSC 2017 and scored sec­ond rank over­all? She says, “My mother looked af­ter my two-year-old and my ma­ter­nal aunt looked af­ter me; if th­ese two women would not have sup­ported me in ev­ery pos­si­ble way, there was no way I could have achieved what I had as­pired for.” Is it not high time we in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized this? Bank­ing on our strengths, seek­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and as­pir­ing for re­sults can be a good start­ing point and as Peter Senge says, be­liev­ing that we are in a lead­er­ship po­si­tion of im­por­tance may help us de­velop a more use­ful men­tal model. ■

The stress which arises out of con­flict be­tween what you think you are and the ex­pec­ta­tions from the role you are en­gaged in may lead to self-role dis­tance.

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