For the first time in the city's administrative set-up, which dates back to the 19th century, women are occupying the positions of District Collector, Mayor and Superintendent of Police during the same period. On International Women's Day, the three administrators speak about their jobs, lives and opinions.

Jayashree Muralidharan, District Collector, Tiruchi.

“I was a staunch feminist during my college days,” says Jayashree Muralidharan, District Collector, Tiruchi. “But over the years I've come to understand the importance of men — I wouldn't be educated but for my father and I wouldn't be able to perform well as a Collector without the support of my husband and my sons,” she says. One of the four female Collectors in central Tamil Nadu, Jayashree reveals she feels a little embarrassed when people recognise her on the roads.

She says she misses being able to take the bus, go shopping on her own and ride pillion with her husband. “I used to be a regular at certain shops in the city and sometimes I really miss being able to bargain,” she laughs. She thinks it is unfair to generalise all women as being hasty decision makers, and that it is all right for one day to be earmarked to celebrate women. “It's a day everyone can appreciate the women in their lives,” she says. She feels being a woman is an advantage: “People trust you implicitly and believe that you are more empathetic. They give you their confidence and feel a woman officer is more accessible,” she says.

Talking about how she manages her male subordinates she says, “I understand that there are no incentives for people who work in government services and wielding the stick on all occasions is not going to work. Instead, I try to work with them.” The Collector hopes to someday get back to her secret dream of becoming a forensic scientist.

R. Lalitha Lakshmi, Superintendent of Police, Tiruchi

(Even if she did experience some initial friction in getting accepted within the police force, it didn't last long, says R. Lalitha Lakshmi, Superintendent of Police, Tiruchi. “I found my place in the department by establishing early on that I would not yield under pressure,” she says, “and I also know that without establishing your personality, it is not a very easy field for women.”

Lalitha understands that people have higher expectations from her department. “I think being a woman SP hikes the expectations a little more, especially from women,” she says. Explaining that her gender was not too much of an issue, Lalitha says, “When all of us wear uniforms, undergo training and act according to a set hierarchy, your gender does not matter most of the time.”

It angers Lalitha when women do not realise that there are a number of legal provisions that can safeguard their interests, for she believes women need not be so helpless. “As long as women think they cannot fight the system there will be no end to their problems.”

Though she personally feels no need to celebrate Women's Day, she acknowledges that there are women who do need it. “I hope we slowly move to a point when women won't require these days to remind themselves of their worth.” According to Lalitha, we are transitioning towards gender equality.

A. Jaya, Mayor, Tiruchi

Having contested elections, A. Jaya, Mayor of Tiruchi, recalls it as that thrilling experience which revealed to her that she had the people's confidence. It is that confidence, she says, that has enabled her to continue helping people. “I have always helped out people wherever I could and it makes me happy to be able to do that for so many more people today,” says Jaya.

Though she is sure that her gender has not affected the performance of her duties as a Mayor, she feels that it has held her back in certain places and reduced her visibility. “At public meetings, I cannot elbow the scores of men gathered there and push my way forward. I have to wait till a space has cleared for me to walk through, while men need not,” she says.

Since people consider women to be more kind, she feels many come to her with problems that could not be solved at other avenues. In that aspect, she feels being a woman administrator gives her an edge. Commenting on how her life has changed since she became the Mayor, Jaya says she feels that crunch in managing her household and her workplace. “Apart from that, I miss being able to personally take care of my children and running my own errands,” she says.