From successful entrepreneurs to technology-savvy employees, women in the city have made a striking impact in the public domain. The changing times, with an emphasis on sharing responsibilities at home, and the growing family support are aspects that help women multitask with ease.

With two-income family becoming the norm, working women do much more than budgeting family expenses. They take decisions on investments. Women such as Sarala Devi, a software professional, invest a quarter of their salary in shares and save another chunk for their children’s education.

To cut down on their travel expenses on autorickshaws and cabs, many women make sure they manage their own commute. Women motorists and car drivers are no more uncommon. Rathna Prema, an auditor, who has been riding two-wheeler for over 15 years, says the roads have become more women-friendly. “A decade ago there were fewer women and many men commuters can’t take it if a woman overtook. There were subtle harassments such as switching on high-beam lights, honking constantly and racing ahead. Now the situation is better.”

The city which is set to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, has evolved to accommodate the new-age women, even as they continue to tackle some conventional challenges.

Health and safety, seen as primary challenges of working women, are receiving greater attention from policy-makers.

While the upper socio-economic group largely relies on private healthcare facilities, the State government’s insurance scheme is helping women belonging to the lower-income group meet their medical expenses.

On its part, the Chennai Corporation has screened about four lakh women for cancer of cervix in the last few years, says its Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni.

The civic body’s annual budget for Family Welfare Department is Rs.25 crore, half of which is spent on medicines. About 85,000 women registered at the Corporation’s health post do not pay for the mandatory blood and urine tests during pregnancy. The ultrasound and mammogram facility and the HIV test and counselling are offered for no charge, helping women manage their finances.

Safety measures

While financial independence is taking women on to the path of self-reliance, cases of domestic violence and other crime against women continue in the city.

According to the Tamil Nadu Police, a total of 18,462 cases of crime against women, including rape, molestation, dowry harassment and death and kidnapping, were registered between 2007 and 2009.

The personnel at women helpline 1091 say that every day there are at least 30 to 40 calls seeking advice on settling domestic disputes. The calls range from fight between spouses to harassment by husbands or his relatives. At least five callers seek police intervention. “We generally file a case if they are not amenable to counselling. Every month, at least 50 cases are registered,” said a policewoman at the helpline.

The helpline also receives calls from college students about sexual harassment. Women from lower socio-economic groups complain about their abusive husbands and those from higher socio-economic groups want help in tackling harassment for property.

The police say lack of technical knowledge makes women more vulnerable. The Cybercrime cell of the city police pursues cases against 10 to 15 offenders every year. The number is low compared to complaints received every day, says M. Sudakar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Cybercrime. Continuous education on dangers of divulging passwords and details on casual online chats have helped, he says.

Choice of careers

Encouraging women to take up careers of their choice, the Commissionerate of Employment and Training periodically organises a toll-free guidance helpline for higher secondary students in the city. “There is an increasing interest among girl students on courses such as aeronautical, marine and nautical sciences which were earlier considered male bastions,” said R. Natarajan, Assistant Director of Employment.

The introduction of fee concession for women appearing for competitive examinations such as the Civil Services Examination this year would be a motivating factor for women candidates, he said.

(With inputs from S.Aishwarya, R. Sujatha and Aloysius Xavier Lopez)

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