Real Women with Real Stories- The She/ Talks @Mumbai ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

“They constitute 50% of the population and 10% of the global population. The Indian female is a force to reckon with, but yet compromised.” These were the views of 37 years old, Shaili Chopra who is a familiar name for Indian television viewers, at the “She/Talks” event held on March 27th in Mumbai.

Shaili Chopra, Founder She the People TV

After being a business journalist for many years and hosting ‘Tee time with Shaili’ with its unique format of bringing the game of golf and business, Chopra launched her entrepreneurial venture ‘She the People TV’, a video-based digital platform in both Hindi and English, four years ago. According to her, there were so many stories about women to be told and She the People TV wanted to bring these inspirational stories to the public.

Annie Dubé , Consul General of Canada

The ‘She/Talks’ has been fashioned on the lines of TED X talks and is an attempt to bring the online conversations offline and vice versa, to create conversations on subjects that matter most to women. The Mumbai event was co-hosted by the Canadian Consulate, and the Consul General of Canada in Mumbai, Annie Dubé in her introductory speech said Canada has a strong feminist culture, but it was only after the birth of her daughter that she became a feminist. She mentioned that the Canadian Consulate’s initiative to make people take the #Genderpledge was a step towards integrating gender equality into the policies and practices of the High Commission across the globe. She also shared her Gender Pledge, and that was to raise her son as a feminist, driving home the point that gender equality needs both men and women to work together for a sustainable solution. For the next hour, I listened to eight dynamic women and change-makers who shared their inspirational journey with the audience that was accompanied by crisp compering by Kiran Manral.

Pooja Taparia, Founder of Arpan, an NGO that provides long-term psycho-therapeutic support to adolescent girls and boys and adult survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), said that CSA was a global issue. While the United Nations had included child safety in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 16), a lot more attention needed to be given to this issue. Arpan, through their outreach programmes and curriculum, reiterates that prevention of CSA is possible by educating children about ‘safe and unsafe touch’. Taparia mentioned that though they communicate that it is ‘never the child’s fault’, unfortunately, there is a lifelong impact of CSA on victims and they often have anxiety, depression that also manifest into other clinical issues. However, counselling goes a long way in healing and reducing the impact. A crucial statement that Taparia made was that CSA was gender neutral and even boys needed protection. A question I never got to ask was why do perpetrators do what they do and was the law successful in implicating and punishing them?

Dr. Swati Popat Vats, Early education expert

Dr. Swati Popat Vats, President Early Childhood Association and Podar Education Network spoke through what she does best – through telling stories. This time it was through the stories of monkeys and butterflies. Popat Vats said, “One of the factors that stop the progress of many women is that they attach themselves to mindsets that have been passed down without understanding its true purport.” Through the story of eight monkeys that set out to take a bunch of bananas, but don’t allow each other to do so – due to one stray incidence – she brought home the point that we need to liberate ourselves from dogmas that hold us back. Popat Vats also underlined the fact that what we say or do has a large impact than we can imagine. Mathematician Edward Lorenz’s seminal work showed us the metaphorical example of a tornado that may have been influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly. In the digital world, particularly, what we choose to write, tweet or forward on social media can catapult into a ‘Butterfly Effect’.

Entrepreneur Vineeta Singh, Founder of Sugar Cosmetics and someone who has completed the Ironman Triathlon, after she had become a mother said the hardest part in training was conquering fear – a life skill that had to be practiced again and again. An important point she made was that it was important to show up at the ‘start line’ instead of backing out- something that we could extend to activities in the race of life. The second point was to conquer fear by metamorphosing it into a more positive emotion- such as excitement.  The bottomline was that ‘fear killed more dreams than failure’. Ex-bureaucrat and lawyer at the Mumbai High Court, Abha Singh was her feisty self when she urged everyone in the audience to be change-makers. India had stagnated at the 108th position in the Global Gender Gap Index but slipped three notches on economic participation and had weak indices in health and participation. She urged the Indian women not to undermine themselves and demand what was due to them. The morning got its share of glamour from the entertainment industry with the presence of the energetic and bubbly Kubbra Sait. She wanted to be a balloon seller when she was eight years of age because balloons represented happiness. Sait, as viewers would know, plays the part of Cuckoo in India’s first original Netflix show ‘Sacred Games’. She talked about her fascinating journey – in search of happiness and success, sometimes individually and sometimes together. “What is the height of my ceiling? How many houses do I have? Do I have good shoes to wear? How many shoes should I own? Do I fit into the social bracket or is this a social racket? ” “But no matter how you choose to measure your success, it comes at the cost of your happiness, ” she said.

Jasmine Khurana, a spoken word artist and former economics academician regaled the audience with her tongue in cheek style, the ‘strength’ it takes to go on a sabbatical and her transition getting to 40- ending with the now famous lines that went viral. “Currently I am in a blissful state..Neither guilty nor apologetic about the choices we make..don’t call them our sacrifices; we are no goddesses.;  when  to zoom on, when  to pull our reigns.. we celebrate every fault,  every ceasefire, … we are all super heroes and the 6 yards are our cape.” However, the one speaker who tugged at everyone’s heartstrings was Nidhi Chapekar, the Jet Airways flight attendant who became the symbol of the Brussels airport bombing. It was a story of grit and determination along with human frailties. It has been a difficult journey for her and one could only laud her for reliving those difficult moments and painful years of recovery only to come back and inspire others. As Tasleem Somji stated, “By sharing each other’s stories, by empowering each other, we become leaders in our own way.”

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