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Mumbai For Women


wealthymatters.com

Last Saturday I attended the ‘Mumbai for Women‘ IndiBlogger meet, a TOI initiative to highlight Mumbai’s duty towards its female residents.This TOI initiative was in response to the Nirbhaya gang rape case. The organizers assured us that every post we participants turned in before the deadline would be read by the TOI editors.So this  is my attempt to bring about IndiChange by pitching to the people who shape debates and influence  opinions.This is in lieu of all the letters to the editor I never wrote………

Mumbai might be the best city for women in India,but as the video says there is still place for the city to love its female residents a little bit more.Aside from blogging I would love to be more actively involved in bringing about change.So if some idea in this post grabs you,feel free to contact me and lets start working.Also if you are addressing these issues in some other way,please don’t hesitate to contact me.I don’t always need to do things my way.

Here’s my list of areas to work on to make Mumbai a better place for women.

SECURITY

Mumbai is many different micro-cities,each with its own distinct flavour. Not every part of the city is equally women safe.Its also a fact that not all incidents are reported,for a variety of reasons. Its also a given that police personnel can’t be everywhere.So could we have some sort of map of the city online where people can  freely upload details of incidents along with the location and time?We already have Google maps and cellphones that can help determine location.This map could help in more focused policing.Also we women ourselves can take better measures for keeping safe with such information.In the meanwhile,save this number in your cell phone:9833331111.Use it to call the police for assistance while commuting in the local trains and in and round the railway stations.be certain to give as much information as possible to help them reach you faster.

Out in the open and carefully unacknowledged by the city, domestic violence exists cutting across all class and community lines and the victims are often too ashamed to open up.Firstly,domestic violence exists as often both the perpetrator and the victim feel that its the natural order of the world and bystanders feel its a family issue.We need to do more to change opinions on the matter.Secondly we could have a website detailing all the assistance available for victims of domestic violence.Like the BMC ads to keep the city clean,we could have permanent hoardings displaying this web address.Merely publishing the telephone number of the social service branch of the police is not enough as not every victim is looking to deal with the police.Also women hoping to get out of abusive relationships need support going way beyond assistance in filing a police complaint.

After every incident of rape,molestation etc.,there is a knee jerk reaction from the establishment to get women to change.Sometimes its a call for a change in clothes,a change in shoes,no make-up,no or less jewellery,curfew times,restrictions on work hours,restrictions on occupations,dropping out from school or college etc.While our press is unambiguous in condemning some of these restrictions such as dropping out of school,often others go unchallenged.They are often seen as commonsense and even socially desirable.In the process its women’s right to be themselves, free from fear and judgement that is impinged upon.Could we count on the TOI to help counter these encroachments on self expression?Such incidents are meant to put women in their place,and every time the repressive sections get their way why won’t they be encouraged to support more such incidents?Could we ourselves speak-up?

Our society has problems accepting women as sexual beings with sexual needs and  a right over their own bodies.Think about it,even the male participants in this meet spoke about mothers,grand mothers and sisters.Only one gentleman spoke about his wife in the context of an assault and mobile phone theft.No girlfriends were mentioned.There was a prize for the gentleman who tweeted about protecting his sister.Does this protection extend to lovers,girlfriends and wives?Nirbhaya had a male companion.This fact was interpreted by her rapists as a licence to have violent intercourse with her.That she objected and put up a fight, aggravated the assault upon her.At the time the press quoted a gentleman who  suggested that she could have got away by addressing her rapists as brother.So is the protection of the law only for virgins?Is sexual assault not a crime against the victim but the honour of her family?And by being sexually active inside and out of wedlock is a woman shaming her family?And so are sexual assaults on her lesser violations against her family’s honour?We need each to work on our own mindsets.

HEALTH

The TOI has done good work on spreading awareness about breast cancer,osteoporosis,depression,heart diseases in women etc.However I personally believe that the single biggest difference to women’s health in Mumbai can come from focusing  on reproductive and sexual health matters.

Our first focus should be on childbirths, as most women are going to give birth at least once.Obstetric wards are far from reassuring places in many of our hospitals.As a result too many women opt for home deliveries.Also labour and delivery are not always managed as per international best practices.Aside from high maternal mortality, mismanaged labour creates complications that many women suffer lifelong.Just as we have achieved excellent results in the medical field by concentrating on particular problems such as small pox,polio etc.can we please focus on safe and comfortable childbirth?

Our urban lifestyle and pollution combined with delayed pregnancies results in diseases such as  endometriosis,PCOS etc.Virginity evidenced by an intact hymen continues to be a big issue in Indian marriages.Fear of the gynecologist and gynecological examinations keep many girls and their families from taking good advice and treatment.Can we please get the word out that internal examinations are not carried out on unmarried girls?Sonography is used and it is pain free.

Abortions or MTPs is another area to focus on.There are too many quacks facilitating abortions and women are risking life and infertility by patronizing them.Is there some way we can compile a verified list of approved clinics and hospitals performing abortions?Are there any volunteers with the SEO skills to keep this list as the the first entry in Google?Any ideas on where would be the best places to keep such lists permanently posted in the brick and mortar world?

Going by the questions asked in Dr Mahinder Watsa’s column in the Mumbai Mirror, our city shows a shocking degree of ignorance and misinformation about sexual matters.While sex education is not part of the curriculum in our schools,porn is easily accessible today and shapes attitudes to sex.Can we put together some culturally sensitive,age appropriate sex education materials for free and voluntary use by children and their parents?Perhaps we can compile a set of FAQs from this Mirror column?I’m concerned about the repression faced by the female partners of some of the ill-informed questioners.

SANITATION

Clean public toilets for women are scarce in Mumbai as noted by many participants and TOI. Definitely more clean public toilets would be nice.Women are three times more susceptible to urinary tract infection by habitually holding in urine.Our city has got park benches mostly through donations from members of the public.Why not use the same method to build toilets?

EDUCATION

If education is really working,it changes the student’s perceptions ,mindsets,aspirations and expectations.But the points raised during the discussion at the ‘Mumbai For Women’ meet showed that parental pressures,marriage market considerations and gender biases in the family’s educational spend mean women and girls are not able to pursue academic careers of their own choice. Educational loans might be available today,but they call for guarantors and assets to be pledged as security.It’s easy to see how many aspirations can flounder on such obstacles. Can we  develop a website where female students needing educational funding can create a profile and people can donate to the cause,anonymously if they wish – as in the temples,or for tax deductions?

Secondly,Mumbai faces an acute lack of safe and inexpensive student housing for women and girls.Is there some way creating such hostels can become as important a point in the city’s agenda as housing pavement dwellers,former mill workers and slum dwellers?Alternatively as we have budget business hotel chains would it be possible to develop budget student accommodation in the suburbs?Or could we repeat what was done to develop the facilities  for pilgrims at Tirupati?In the mean time could we develop a website on the lines of airbnb where PG accommodations can be advertised,verified and reviewed?

Part time jobs,vacation assignments and internships are important sources of earning and work experience for students.A lot of girls fail to transit from academic life to work life because they lack the skills and mindsets working women need.Not every girl is fortunate enough to have a working mother to model her life after.Also this is the age at which marriage market considerations,the expectations of prospective in-laws etc.stop girls from making a successful transition to work life.Not all job offers are legitimate or legal.Some are definitely entry points to the sex trade.Fear of the latter is one reason for pressurizing girls of marriageable age to stay at home.As with the airbnb example for accommodation, can we develop a website exclusively for entry level jobs,verifying them and provide space for feedback?

EMPLOYMENT

The ET published a great infographic on flexi-work on International Women’s Day and the TOI group is working on the insights gained from that survey to bring part-time,flexi-job and back to work opportunities for women in Mumbai via the Back To Work -Mumbai For Women  job fair being organized at Podar College Matunga this weekend.Please pass the information along to every woman you meet.There is a great deal of under employment,disguised unemployment and involuntary unemployment amongst even seemingly fully occupied and busy women.And there are a lot of women at home,not out of choice but because they believe they have no way of entering the job market.So just pass on the message along with a request to help spread this information.

A while ago ET did a good piece on DBG and Welspun. I was impressed by how much she was able to do to get ordinary women into the work place.Even at this meet there was a tendency to dismiss her efforts as that of an industrialist’s wife-nothing really because she was married to a rich guy.The fact that the man she married was then no great industrialist or that she has been with him every step of the way seemed to count for nothing.Like her there are many women in the city who know more than they are given credit for and have latent abilities.Their skills and work experiences are not fully documented.And unlike her they haven’t family businesses where they can make a start.Could we think up some way of testing and perhaps certifying skills and matching them with jobs,self employment  opportunities and career guidance?

FINANCIAL AUTONOMY

Jobs and self employment may be the first baby steps towards financial autonomy.But few women are mistresses of the money they earn.While it is perfectly OK for a couple or even joint families to mutually decide who’s to manage money depending on personal likes and aptitudes,often men become the family’s money managers by default, irrespective of ability.They decide the financial goals and priorities and make allocations irrespective of what women might actually want.Often it is the in-laws and not even husbands who hold the purse strings and dole out allowances.Just how much economic independence women enjoy in such a set-up is food for thought.Many women don’t challenge such a set up in order to maintain harmony.But at what price?Surely the peace of mind that come from the security of owning assets that can provide for tough times is worth fighting for?Hey ladies how about if we each start taking a more active part in establishing our families financial goals and managing the household budget?How about starting a personal stash just for yourself?After all our foremothers did it.Gentlemen how about encouraging women to take an interest in financial matters.

A while ago TOI published a Gaurav Mashruwala  financial plan for a young working woman.It included financial goals for providing for her natal family,for contributing to her family’s household expenses and for providing for her son.There were no financial goals or indulgences for herself.There was in fact an underlying flavour of praise for the woman for having come so far and winning the battle to continue providing for her natal family even after marriage.I have no way of knowing if there goals were the personal preference of the client or the financial planner encouraged her to think along these lines.However putting everyone one else’s needs before oneself might make a person a saint in a society that values self-sacrifice but for most women it is just the simplest and surest way of keeping themselves down.Ladies how about making yourself the first bill in the household budget?Decide on a sum of money and stash it away before you face the monthly expenses.

Over the last decade,as prices have risen,every woman who owned gold found herself richer by a few lakhs and every man fortunate to own property in the city probably became a crorepati. How many women have learnt their lesson and got round to owning property?How many of them signed away their claims to parental property?How many staked their claim merely to please the in-laws?Just how many women own and actually control property in this city?The stock exchanges have made many a fortune in this city how many women have made a fortune this way?How many know how to do so?Equities are tax advantaged ways of becoming rich if a person knows what they are doing.How many women manage to make money in stocks?Or are we all giving away our money cheaply to the banks and the government via FDs and postal deposits with negative real returns?So ladies how about a club to pass on information about the best financial assets so that we don’t sell ourselves short by picking us the first product labelled mahila this or that supposedly designed with women’s needs in mind or just tamely handing over our money to the banks and post offices?

This year’s budget announced a bank for women.Various government departments have jumped in with their ideas of how women ought to be served but I have yet to hear opinions voiced by women themselves.Ladies do we really want something that is a copy of SIDBI or NABARD?If these models are so great and existing banks could serve women well, why is there any need for a women’s bank at all?Women work but not always in paid positions.Their incomes are not always fully documented.Most women work in the informal sector.Many have gaps in work history.Some have never worked at all.They may not have assets in their name or control over them.They may not have income statements.So lending to women requires us to innovate.Lending to self help groups works when there are women’s organizations but how can unorganized women be served?Some of our existing financial products such as secured credit cards and gold loans might work with some modification.Most mahila products in the market are really rubbish meant to be sold to the financially unsavvy. Will the budgetary allowance for the women’s bank be squandered on such token products that are at a the bottom of their class?Ladies, speak up!Be heard!

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About Keerthika Singaravel
Engineer,Investor,Businessperson

7 Responses to Mumbai For Women

  1. Pingback: So Glad To Have A Wish Come True | wealthymatters

  2. Alex Jones says:

    It seems a good community website for women is needed for Mumbai.

  3. blogwatig says:

    I had to find my way back to your blog. Honestly, this is one of the most detailed versions of what all can be done for a better Mumbai for Women. If I were the judge, I’d pick yours from all that I have read till now. And no, this is not returning the favor. This is appreciating the fact that someone has said it better than you. Good luck!

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