“I might be equipped and an empowered individual. But when society does not have the right attitude to let me be me, how do I live as an empowered girl? ” This poser was from a 21-year MBA student.

She was part of the audience that had gathered to listen to and get answers from women, who had made a mark in various spheres of life, as they spoke their heart out at a meeting on “Equipping and Empowering Women” here on Friday.

Organised by The Hindu at PSGR Krishnammal College for Women to mark International Women’s Day, the meeting saw five women urging today’s youth to be empowered in the right sense so that society took note of it and responded in the right way.

Good education and an economically strong background did not ensure empowerment to a woman, because though she might be equipped with the right skills, the attitude of society would not let her use the skills to make her feel empowered.

So, women’s empowerment will become a reality only if there was a change in the attitude of society.

This was the observation made by E.S. Uma, Superintendent of Police, Coimbatore Rural; Mirudhubashini Govindarajan, clinical director, Women’s Centre; N.V. Sreejaya, lawyer and women’s rights’ activist; Jayanthasri Balakrishnan, professor, English, PSG College of Arts and Science; and Hemalatha Seshadri, principal, PSBB Millennium School; during the three-hour long discussion.

Ms. Uma, brought out the need to address different problems in different ways. She stressed that the problems for the illiterate and economically poor were not relevant to the literate and economically elevated class.

But each was a challenge on its own.

“Being a woman is not an easy job. Being a lovable person in the face of many pressures is what will make you a successful woman. You are a bridge between the older generation and the generation of tomorrow. So, read a lot, discuss a lot, and be informed of the latest.”

She left the audience with the thought that even though we cannot take care of or find solutions for all the problems women faced, it was possible for every woman to take care of another woman. After the law enforcer, Dr. Mridhubashini brought out the discrimi nation women faced in health issues. Though the sex ratio was much higher in Tamil Nadu when compared to other States, foeticide and infanticide were still prevalent.

Most of the times, infertility was attributed to women, when the chances were 50:50.

This never got revealed because men hardly got themselves checked for infertility.

The women bore the brunt and were even socially ostracised for failing to bear children. Ms. Sreejaya said that most of the social evils, such as break ups and divorces were blamed on women.

When the good was attributed to both the man and woman in the family, the bad was most always attributed to the woman only.

“It is a general perception that women from a certain class only are in need of empowerment. But this is not true. Even the educated and those with a high social status might not be empowered in the true sense. It needed the right attitude and accountability,” she said.

Blaming the prevalence of violence in homes on the absence of an effective State mechanism, Ms. Sreejaya said that preventive mechanisms should be given more focus than punitive mechanisms to ensure immediate abatement of violence.

Prof. Jayanthasri said that on the absence of an effective system to bring to light the prevalence of sexual abuse in homes.

“In the case of sexual abuse outside homes, family members rally round the girl, but when she is sexually harassed by a family member, the family goes into denial. It is a myth that violence and harassment of women is prevalent only in economically weaker families,” she said.

Ms. Seshadri, said that the difference between literacy and education and said some girls who went to school were only interested in the peripherals of life and not in actual learning.

Lauding the benefits of co-education, she said it helped students get rid of pre-conceived notions about the other gender.

Student participants heard the speakers and took note of the message they got across as not mere information but useful instructions for life.

With this year’s theme of International Women’s Day focusing on violence against women, the panel discussion, which highlighted the same, gave vital inputs to the women participants on concentrating on safeguarding themselves before they sought legal intervention.

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