Friday, October 21, 2011
My 'Inspirational Woman' - Bibi Russell with Antonio Banderas ( definitely my 'Inspirational Man') at an Awards' Function in Spain recently. Please note: Banderas is wearing the humble Bangladeshi 'gamcha' around his neck - a Bibi trademark.
This appeared in The Week...
Inspirational Women of the World….
This was long overdue! The Nobel Peace Prize 2011 was sensibly awarded to not just one woman, but three! Like a triple sundae – three flavours for the price of one! Clever. And pardon me if I sound cynical, but it does seem somewhat patronizing to lump three ladies in one basket and expect the world to cheer. High brow commentators have described it as a ‘significant’ decision. Oh really? Why? Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman are women doing extraordinary work, with or without the Nobel. The ‘significance’ however, is being linked to associating women achieving peace and development, while being given a major role in governance. This is something right thinking people ( not just women, mind you) have been fighting for over centuries. The Nobel is symbolic, yes. But effective? President Obama was given the Peace Prize too, remember? And that had automatically taken away the sheen from the Swedish academy that hands out the award. In a way, it had downgraded the Prize itself. Today, perhaps women across nations will raise a toast to the three female winners and start believing a lot will change in the immediate future. Karman, the Yemeni activist is a fine example of a courageous woman who took on the mighty. So is Gbowee, who mobilized Liberian women , Christian and Muslim, against rape and other brutalities in civil battles. Sirleaf, of course, is the first democratically elected female President of a war ravaged and notoriously corrupt country (Liberia ), who successfully managed a serious debt crisis and restored peace after taking over in 2006.
There are several other, equally gutsy women in our own country. But they may never receive the same recognition. Dealing with alcoholism and violence or even being at the receiving end of unspeakably savage sexual acts committed by men in uniform, is not new to us. But with activists being targeted and killed across India, it does require enormous courage to speak up and fight those in power. Perhaps, the Nobel Peace Prize will draw a little more attention to the contribution of women in healing, nurturing and leading communities that get battered during strife. Perhaps it will lead to a slow but permanent transformation within societies that have so far scrupulously excluded women from the decision making processes altogether. But I suspect that’s going to be a really long wait. Maybe, by the time my grand-daughter grows up she will be able to take far many more positive ground realities for granted than I ever could. In India, we display an almost schizo reaction towards women in power – we are either ridiculously awe-struck or ridiculously envious. Rarely do we respond to such women in a naturally accepting way. By placing a few on pedestals, does it help the others who are still struggling down there?
I have just returned from a memorable trip to Paris where I attended the very prestigious Veuve Clicquot Awards for Businesswomen . 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of this award which was started in memory of the feisty founder of the champagne brand that bears her name – Madame Clicquot. Widowed at a desperately young age of 27, Mme. Clicquot took charge of her life and her husband’s vineyard, to make something of both. And she succeeded spectacularly! Since 1972 , only 300 carefully screened, hand picked women have been bestowed the award This year’s awardees were a fascinating mix of ballsy entrepreneurs , but the one outstanding feature that united the twelve women ( I happened to be the only awardee from India in the Inspirational Women’ category), was a sense of fearlessness… audacity, even. From a shipbuilder in Netherlands, a structural engineer in the United Kingdom, to a butcher from Ireland, these were women with great personal histories and leadership qualities that were obvious and formidable. And yet, when it came to emotional acceptance within communities, the narrative changed and hit familiar roadblocks. Being successful entrepreneurs and being agents of real change are not necessarily the same thing. How we assess ‘empowerment’ also varies from culture to culture. But one thing is a constant – faith. Every single woman I spoke to during the intensive workshops, believed strongly in herself. Armed with such self-belief, she felt confident enough to take on any and every challenge in both her professional and personal life. If only similar self-belief could be converted into an injectible virus, what an amazing infection it would make! Definitely,worth marketing those vials and starting a world wide epidemic!