A billion-dollar gift for American women

As India was celebrating Durga pujo, a stunning piece of news caught the headlines across the world. Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major partner of Rotary in the war against polio, has committed a whopping $1 billion to expand women’s “influence and power” in her country — the United States.

To be given over 10 years, this money is committed by her company, Pivotal Ventures, to those entities that are taking “innovative and diverse approaches” to expand and advance women’s reach in the community. In a signed article in Time magazine, Melinda explained why she had taken this decision. While she was “outraged” to find that in 2018 there were more men named James running Fortune 500 companies than there were women on that list, and this year only one non-white woman CEO made it to that list, she also saw an “opportunity” in this fact.

Well, if a person like her finds it “heartbreaking” that an advanced country like the US has continued to hold its women back, what about a developing country like India?

How do our young people — not only young women but also men — feel about the status of women in our country? I’d take an educated guess that percentage-wise, there are more women Rotaractors, than Rotarians. I’d even wager a bet that women Rotaractors manage to get more leadership positions in Rotaract than women Rotarians have managed so far. The April issue of Rotaract News had a woman DRR — Nishita Pednekar — accompanied by the then RI President Barry Rassin, on the cover.

Yes, Indian women have broken the glass ceiling in professions that were earlier considered male bastions; in finance and banking, science and technology — at the highly televised launch of Chandrayaan we saw so many women in the august assembly of scientists — and these days you can even see a sprinkling of women in boardrooms and at CEO levels.

But can we deny that there are many barriers placed before a woman at different levels, sometimes even with the girl child’s slaughter in the womb. Our falling gender ratio continues to be a cause for concern. When it comes to education, except for the upper and upper middle classes, in families with limited financial resources, will a brother get better chance of quality education or a sister? We all know the answer to that one.

Generalisations are odious, I concede, but even in the workplace, many barriers are placed in a woman’s professional progress, often beginning with her own family, as she continues to be the principal caregiver. You, the younger generation, is our hope for an India where there is better gender equity than our generation has seen. If a woman is constantly pushed behind and made to bear the full burden of the role of caregiver at home, even while she brings in a decent income, younger women will turn away from the institution of marriage, or worse, motherhood.

A billion-dollar is a lot of money, and we too have our own share of philanthropists in India. But I am yet to see such large donations being made exclusively for women’s welfare in our country. Melinda Gates deserves our congratulations for being a trailblazer.

But along with Melinda, let us also celebrate the raw courage of young Greta Thunberg who made such an impassioned plea on the environment at the UN recently. Her “how dare you” speech will continue to ring in the ears of many world leaders for a long time.

Rasheeda Bhagat

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