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We Can: Women Can

My dear fellow teachers and distinguished personalities, I would like to begin by stating outright that I am not delivering this as a Key-Note Address as such. Rather I am sharing with you my thoughts—my concerned thoughts on/about issues and questions confronting women today.

Women Question:

It has become a cliché to say that women constitute almost half of the total population of the World/Country/State. Against this consider another cliché: women have been/is the most exploited section in the society. It has become customary, say, almost a ritual to say that women are most tortured, harassed, molested, subjugated, raped and killed.

More often than not we come across countless instances of women becoming victims of domestic, social and State violence. Centuries after centuries, generations after generations, decades after decades, women have been painted, categorized and patronized as fair and weaker sex so much so that we all have accepted, consciously or unconsciously, such canonization as some kind of a given reality and/or a biblical truth. Women did not/do not question; does not ask some very fundamental questions.

Who and/or what is responsible? Who benefits most if and when women are discriminated, exploited and subjugated? Why is it that women, in spite of having constituted half of the population of the world/country/State, are so much underrepresented in the decision-making bodies? Why are so very few women in higher/senior positions in higher education? Why are very less number of women Achievers in different walks of life? Let us pause a moment here and consider/ponder over this scenario: Of the total figures holding Vice Chancellorship, Pro-Vice Chancellorship, Proctor/Rector, Dean, Registrar in the country, women constitute a meager 11%; 8%; 7%; 12% and 7% respectively. The scenario is no different in other walks of life. The Indira Nooyis, the Chanda Kochhars, the Vinita Balis, the Kiran Mazundar Shows are all women achievers and we are all proud of them. But do they represent the status of women as such in the country?

Obviously it is the society—the male dominated society and its associated man-made laws, legal and customary-provisions and regulations which are directly and/or indirectly responsible for this frighteningly sad, but true, scenario. It is not that attempts had not been made to address these issues and concerns.

Pioneering Attempts:

The first serious attempt was made by Mary Wollstonecraft in the year 1792 in her, what is now considered as the founding document of modern feminism, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, where she plead for equality in the education of men and women. The overall question vis-a-vis the status of women was taken up and addressed for the first time by Virginia Woolf in her “A Room of one’s own” in 1929. And, of course, who can forget Simone De Beauvoir’s classic “The Second Sex” (1949), now regarded, after 61 years of its publication, as the finest and most inspiring work in the literature of gender studies. As I share these thoughts with you, her immortal line comes to my mind: Women are not born as ones but made as ones. I mention these earlier classics NOT to trace the emergence of women’s movement but to EMPHASISE my submission and drive home the point that they are directly and/or indirectly responsible for bringing awareness and consciousness among the women.

Women Today:

To say that women are not what they used to be in earlier times is to state the obvious. Women all over the world/country/State have made significant strides in all fields. There are now 22 women rulers in the world today. We have the first woman President and the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha in the country. As many as 9 women personalities are heading the corporate world of India. There are 9 women Vice-Chancellors against the total number of 70, 2 Pro-Vice Chancellors against 24, 2 Proctor/Rector against 19. 50 Deans against 367, 6 Registrars against 77, 27 Deputy Registrars against 298, 67 Asst. Registrars against 504, 5 Controller of Examination against 57, 3 Finance Officers against 66, 9 Librarians against 51, 723 Academic Council Members against 4216, 31 Members of Finance Committee against 400 and 31 members of Finance Boards against 400 in Indian Universities. But is this adequately adequate? Could we consider this as fair representation of women in the decision making bodies? For all these pioneering efforts and achievers, the participation of women in workplace, decision making bodies, higher education remain limited. Prevailing notions tended to confine women to the home/kitchen. Somewhere along the line, women have missed and/or are led to miss the bus. How, why and under what circumstances?

Women and Higher Education:

Need of the Hour—This brings us back, once again, to the very first question that I raise earlier. Why are so few women leaders, administrators, managers in the higher echelon of higher educational institutes in the country? There are multiple reasons, causes and factors responsible for this but I shall not dwell on them here. Suffice to submit here my humble submission that women have missed and are still missing the bus to higher education. Women are yet to be exposed to the field of education. Women need to go beyond the domain of kitchen and free themselves from the traditional stereotypes of women as passive, dependent, irrational. This, I strongly believe, can be achieved if and only when women have unhindered access to higher education.

There are no doubt hundreds of millions of literate women all over the world/country. Does it necessarily mean that they are all educated? Are all the literate women conscious of the stark socio politico and economic realities that surrounds their daily life and confronts their ‘identity’?

The time has come for women to be aware, sensitized and motivated in order to bridge the prevailing wide gap between men and women in the field of higher education. We need to have capacity-building measures to help women become managers in Higher Education. It is with these concern in mind that the University Grants Commission, New Delhi has been conducting all over the country the Sensitization, Awareness and Motivation Program for the last so many years. And it could not have come at a more appropriate and opportune time. Here, my distinguished dignitaries, invitees and fellow teachers, let me take this opportunity, once again, to put into record the pioneering works of 7 concerned Women Managers in the field of higher education—Prof Padma Ramchandran, Prof Sushila Kaushik, Prof Kamalini Bansali, Prof Harsa Parekh, Prof Jaya Indiresan, Prof Karuna Chanana and Prof Indira J Parikh who, by preparing the 5 Manuals for Capacity-Building of Women Managers in Higher Education, have rendered invaluable services to the women’s cause. These 5 Manuals, if I may call them, are the GITA and/or the BIBLE of Women Managers in Higher Education in the country.

As I come to the terminal point of my submission, let me assure you that all the aforementioned issues shall be discussed, deliberated and debated in the 5 days technical session of the workshop. Let us all take a pledge today and take a small but nevertheless a giant step to ensure that the SAM Workshop leaves no stone unturned to achieve our goal. Looking forward to your active and interactive participation in the brainstorming technical session of the workshop, let me extend a very sincere and personal “Thank You” to all the members of UGC’s National Consultative Committee in Higher Education for appointing me as State Co-ordinator of the SAM Workshop in Manipur. And finally, let me have a slice of liberty to sign out my KEY NOTE Address by affirming that—We can. Women can.

*The above text is an edited version of the Key-Note address delivered by Dr Meinam Binota as State Co-ordinator on 20th Jan 2011 at the Inaugural function of the UGC’s 5 days National Workshop on Sensitivity, Awareness Motivation (SAM) for Capacity Building of Women Managers in Higher Education, organized by Imphal College in collaboration with Manipur University.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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