April 16, 2024
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Every year International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was Make It Happen.

 Normally, when we talk about people succeeding in life, the examples that come to mind are inspirational stories of famous people who overcame great odds to make it good in life. For instance, when we think of successful women, we may have in mind leaders like Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher. If it is the world of business, the typical names that come to the fore are Indra Nooyi, Kiran Majumdar Shaw, Chanda Kocchar, Arundhati Bhattacharya etc.

As inspiring as their stories are, not everyone can be a world leader, a top executive, or a super successful entrepreneur. For most of us, success must be defined in terms of what we have done to improve our lives and the lives of people around us. Each time we succeed in that, we make it happen, for ourselves, our families, and our communities. If one of the purposes of our lives is to make the world a better place, the secret perhaps is to begin with ourselves. It is in this context that I would like to draw attention to a couple of examples of very ordinary women who I happen to know, and who have made it happen for themselves in their own modest ways.

I have an abiding interest in agriculture and one of my business ventures is Manappuram Agrofarms where we focus on agriculture and agro-based activities. We employ quite a few women as casual labourers to perform routine tasks on the farm. As is usual in such places, the harder tasks requiring skill or physical strength are performed by men who get paid more. Women perform the easier tasks requiring less skill or strength and for which they are paid lower wages.

One such woman is Omana. She is 40 years old, her husband is a labourer on daily wages.  She has two daughters, the elder one is 18 years old and the younger one is of 8 years.  Till about 2 years, she worked in a Xerox centre earning a salary of just Rs.3,000 per month.  She then came to work at Manappuram Agrofarms. As part of her duties here, she was required to drive small three-wheeler vehicles. She picked up the skill in no time and was soon earning twice of what she earned before. And then, another challenge came her way.

As you all know, there is a shortage of agricultural labour in Kerala which makes mechanisation of farming operations necessary. At the same time, it is not easy to get hold of people who can operate these equipments. I thought, why not ask Omana to drive a tractor now. Her initial reaction was one of disbelief. It seemed to her that moving from a small three-wheeler to a big tractor would be beyond her and she did not think she was cut out for it. But then, I made an offer that made her reconsider. She took up the challenge to drive the tractor in return for an increase in her wages.

Today, more than the money, she is happy that she has mastered a new skill that, at one time, she thought was beyond her. She has a better life and more importantly, greater confidence in her own ability to face the future on her own terms.

Like Omana, there is another example I have in mind, a woman called Liji. She is 35 years old. Her husband too is a daily wage labourer. Coincidentally, she too has two daughters, one is 12 years old and the other is 9 years. Liji has been working for Manappuram Agro farms for the last 8 years. In the initial years, she did the work that women commonly do in farms, nothing out of the ordinary. And then something changed in the last one year.  There is a severe shortage of coconut climbers in Kerala these days. That’s why I asked to take up the task of harvesting coconuts by climbing the coconut trees.  Her instinctive reaction was like, ‘that is impossible’. And she had a point. After all, if coconut climbing is an all male vocation today, it is because it is strenuous work that requires both skill and strength.

However, I motivated her to change her mind and she began to learn the skill. There were other problems too. Her co-workers did not take kindly to the idea of a woman climbing coconut trees and were critical of her. Since it was an entirely new skill for her, she was initially slow and took time to pick up the skill. Today, it is one year since she began climbing coconut trees and she is well adjusted to the task. With the example set by her, other women employed in the farm have come forward to take up this vocation.

In their own way, Liji and Omana have made it happen for themselves, for their children, and for their family. And that, to me, is empowerment in the truest sense.  It has been said that if you truly want to change your life, you must first change your mind.

Shri. V.P.Nanda Kumar


 Photo courtesy: Google



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