They remain overshadowed owing to stereotyping

A typical Madurai woman is perceived by many to be a rustic and timid person forced to live amidst social evils such as denial of equal rights, female infanticide, child marriage, caste prejudices and so on. She is often depicted as someone who seldom protests or tries to break out of the shackles. Such stereotyping for long has overshadowed her other dimension of being a ‘go-getter.’

M. Thenmozhi, a 45-year-old mother of two engineering graduates and Chief Executive Officer of T.M. International, exporter of designer home furnishing materials to Europe, Australia and other continents and 40-year-old S. Josephine, co-owner of Vibi’s brand of honey are among women who have risen to great heights despite possessing a modest educational and economic background.

What creates a common bond between the two is that both of them were given in marriage immediately after completing their schooling at the age of 18, they were involved in household chores until their children attained teenage, they completed their graduation through distance education, started doing business as novices and learnt its nuances from scratch.

“I am the eldest of five girl children born to my parents. Though all my four sisters were educated well and are now comfortably placed in the United States and other countries, I alone was given in marriage immediately after Plus Two because my parents did not want to lose a good groom,” Ms. Thenmozhi chuckles referring to her husband whom she commends as a rare non-egoistic man she had ever met.

An hotelier by profession, he gave her full freedom to pursue her passion right from the day of their marriage. But Ms. Thenmozhi chose to fulfill her commitments at the domestic front and concentrate on raising her children up to high school level before taking a plunge into export business considered to be one of the most risky ventures besides being a male dominion.

“I got married in 1986, but started the business only in 2005 after attending a short term training programme in textile exports. The immediate reaction from my own relatives was one that of ridicule. ‘Oh she is gone mad, she does not behave like a family woman, she is up to some nonsense, business is not a joke’ are some of the comments that I had to put up with,” she recalls with a smile.

If such was the case at home, it was no different outside. “Even now, whenever I go through Indian airports to visit international textile fairs, I continue to encounter cynical men who take a look at my business visa and still ask if I am going on a tour. I really get enraged when men make fun of women,” she says with anger sparkling in her eyes.

On the other hand, she finds foreigners to be courteous and encouraging. “It is so soothing when I get to hear a customs official at a foreign airport wishing me a great business. This one characteristic is enough to demonstrate the difference between how Indian men perceive the capabilities of a woman compared to their foreign counterparts,” she adds.

Ms. Josephine also shares similar views. Her nature of work involves transporting from forest areas hundreds of boxes of honey bees when the bees are asleep during night time. She says male business rivals try to create all sorts of problems like stealing the boxes, creating hurdles in their transportation and so on. Yet, she has fought her way up to emerge as a successful entrepreneur.

To avoid the irritants during night hours, she has created new kinds of boxes that could be transported even during day time without agitating the bees. The boxes, she says, would hit the market by the end of September. “Competition and jealousy makes people do all sorts of crooked things. And businessmen get agitated more when their competitor is a woman. They just cannot digest it,” she adds.

So far she has been tackling them successfully because facing adversities in life has become a routine for her ever since she lost her only daughter to bone cancer in 2007, a year after she plunged into the business of setting up bee farms for augmenting her family income. The girl was 16-years-old and pursuing her studies in Class XI at the time of her death.

Five years from thereon, Josephine lost her husband K. Selvaraj last year. “There cannot be a bigger tragedy in life than losing your child when you are alive. I have undergone that. Yet, I have been able to move on in life because I want to be like a bee — energetic and hardworking. Women should never cow down whatever be the problem they are forced to face,” she asserts.

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