Wins and Losses for Women 2014

This has been an exciting year for women in India and around the world. Presenting some memorable highs and lows

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Wins and Losses for Women 2014



Making Space for Women 

Women scientists in India are not on par with men for several reasons, however, for the first time, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) brought the role of its women scientists in ISRO to the forefront with a visual (see below) of women in science. We expect this to motivate the next generation of women to take to science. 
For the 21st-century spacewoman, gender is a subject often best ignored. After years of training for their first space mission, the last thing Samantha Cristoforetti and Elana Serova want to dwell on is the fact they are women. Cristoforetti, Italy's first female astronaut, rocketed into orbit from Kazakhstan in November, bound for the International Space Station. There, she joined Russia's Serova, a rarity in her homeland's male-dominated cosmonaut corps. Cristoforetti is the first woman assigned to a lengthy space station mission by the European Space Agency, fresh off a spectacular comet landing of a spacecraft. Serova is one of only four Russian women to fly in space and the first to live at this space station. It will be just the second time in the space station's 16-year history that two women make up the long-term, six-member crew.  —AP

Mythic Robotics 
Hemani Kalucha, 17, a student of Dhirubhai Ambani School (Bandra) made her mark in robotics by building a robot to simulate a common human action. The young roboticist was invited to share her experiences at the prestigious TEDxGateway talk, this year. Her innovation, AR-GEN, is an archer robot that mimics the glory of Arjun from the Mahabharata hitting the eye of the fish. AR-GEN explores the theme of Indian mythology in an attempt to decode and replicate the wonders of human capabilities using the laws of physics and motion engineering. AR-GEN is special, because it helps connect people through stories, an atypical application for robotics. 

It started off as a debate about the ethics of video game journalism (levelled at a female game developer and her ex-boyfriend—a journalist for the video game news site Kotaku, who was accused of biased reviews), but  quickly spiraled into dissecting the role of women in gaming, and crescendoed as Gamergate supporters went on to threaten female members of the gaming community—namely Zoe Quinn (the game developer), Anita Sarkeesian (a media critic), and Brianna Wu (another game developer). The harassment extended to their supporters, causing many to flee their homes for fear of their lives. 

Facebook to the Rescue
Naina Doshi's cry of distress on FB, after two years of marital violence, finally brought her plight to everyone's attention. It led not only to Doshi's friends, but even others reaching out. Soon enough, with the help of a social worker, she found legal redress. Doshi isn't alone. Technology and social media are creating new platforms for women in distress. This is especially true for the upper middle class and the rich where such experiences are often swept under the carpet. 

A Pregnant Cause 
Over-crowded hospitals cause discomfort to pregnant women and lead to deaths or birth of sick children. Over the next three years, technology will come to the rescue, with non-profit ARMMAN and Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) offering 10 lakh women across India access to voice call message services to guide them through their pregnancy in 58 hospitals across the city.

An App(titude) for Progress

Image by Hemant Padalkar

Twelve girls, mostly ninth graders, from Dharavi participated in the Global Technology Entrepreneurship Program, building three prototype apps aimed at solving problems in their immediate environment—be it saving time and preventing fights while queuing at the community water tap or boosting functional literacy levels among school drop-outs, especially girls, and bolstering women's safety with a GPS-linked app that sends an SOS when they are harassed/eve-teased. The girls were guided in their endeavour by 35-year-old documentary film-maker Nawneet Ranjan and his Dharavi Diary NGO. 


No Mountain High Enough 
At around midnight on 16th December 2014, Tashi and Nugshi Malik became the first twins to scale the highest peaks on all seven continents. 

What a Racket!
Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal won India its first gold medal in squash at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in August.
Sania Mirza won gold with Saketh Myneni (Mixed Doubles) and bronze with Prarthana Thombare (Women's Doubles) at the Asian Games, September 2014. 

The Long Arm of Success
Seema Punia won India's fifth gold at the 2014 Asian Games, in the  discus throw event. 

Better than a Bronze?
Laishram Sarita Devi may not have won the medal she deserved, but the Manipuri woman showed tremendous courage in standing up for what she believed; sadly the only thing her integrity earned her was a year-long ban. 

Brown Girl in the Ring 
Even before the blockbuster biopic, MC Mary Kom was the face of Indian women's sporting success. Three kids later, she won her first gold at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea on 1st October 2014. Go mama! 

Dodging Success
The Indian women's kabaddi team won gold at the 2014 Asian Games.

Need for Speed
32-year-old Scot, Susie Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to drive at a Formula 1 race weekend, when she took part in the practice at the British Grand Prix, Silverstone in July. She was recently promoted to official test driver for Williams for the 2015 Formula 1 season; increasing her chances of being the first female racer on the grid since Italian driver Lella Lombardi, in 1976.

Spoilt Sport 
A female fan who disguised herself to infiltrate the male-only domain of a football stadium in Saudi Arabia, earlier this month, was red-carded. — AFP 



The Blame Game
"Ladkon se aisi galtiyan ho jati hain, to iska matlab yeh to nahi ki unhe phaansi de di jaaye (Boys make mistakes, but this doesn't mean you hang them),” Mulayam Singh Yadav boldly declared at a rally in Uttar Pradesh in April. Not too long after, Abu Azmi suggested, that  a woman who goes along with a man, with or without consent, should be hanged. We sure are glad his daughter-in-law Ayesha Takia took a stand against him. 

Soon after the 5th December rape of a passenger by Uber taxi driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, advice peddled to women 'in the interest of their own safety' included avoid going out alone, steer clear of unsafe places and sermons about dress sense and conduct. This cliched aftermath of sexual violence only reinforces the wrong notion that the victim is somehow to blame.

The Right to Pee
"Every school should build separate toilets for girls in a year so that our girl children do not leave schools," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling upon schools in the country to construct separate toilets for girl students, as it was a shame that our girls had to wait for darkness to go out in the open to defecate. 

Two girls (cousins), in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, were gang-raped and hung from a tree in May 2014. They had walked over to a nearby field to answer nature's call as their homes don't have toilets.  

Hopefully, the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ launched on 2nd October, which talks of dealing with sanitation and related issues will focus on toilets whose design and location does not leave women vulnerable.  


Mama Mia!
Aid organisation Save the Children puts India last amongst the G-20 nations in its Mothers’ Index, which measures pregnancy-related deaths; child mortality; and the economic, educational and political status of women. Out of 178 countries, India ranked 137th in 2014. —Bloomberg

A Class Apart
In Ranchi, Chattisgarh 13 women died after sterilization surgeries in state-run hospitals in November, due to alleged supply of substandard drugs and equipment. We can't help but wonder if population control initiatives really need to be a rural phenomena? 

Baby Talk
This November, AFP reported how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described efforts to promote birth control as "treason", declared that every woman should have three children and stated that women are not equal to men. He has also made proposals to limit abortion rights,the morning-after pill and Caesarian sections. 

Frozen Eggs 
According to reports by The Guardian, Facebook and Apple will foot the bill for employees, who want to freeze their eggs. This is great news for women, who plan to delay pregnancies in the interest of their careers, but it does not stop the biological clock nor reduce the complications associated with pregnancies in older women.


While the practical benefits may not be apparent yet, this year's  budget allocated `50 crore to develop safer transport for women, and `150 crore to build safer cities for women. There was also `100 crore dedicated to the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana', which was created to generate awareness and help improve the welfare services meant for women. Additionally `1,000 crore was directed towards Crisis Centres from the pre-existing Nirbhaya fund. 

Rapes have shot up from 349 cases last year between January and November, to 556 in the corresponding period this year, in Mumbai. Kidnapping cases have increased from 236 to 286. While last year, 1,038 women had complained against men outraging their modesty, these cases have increased to 1,459. Total crimes against women including other forms of crime such as intended insults, mental and physical harassment have increased from 2,669 cases last year to 3,231 this year. Dowry-related murders, suicides and harassments have decreased from 541 in last year to 511 cases this year. 


 Reel Power 
Mardaani, Queen and Mary Kom—this is the first time three Bollywood blockbusters starred female protagonists. The male-dominated industry, which rarely relies on its heroines to carry the weight of its productions is clearly becoming more open to strong scripts and memorable roles for women. 

Show me the Money
But for all their box-office success and newfound prominence, Bollywood actresses are asking: Where is the money? Top male stars, such as the three Khans—Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir—and action star Akshay Kumar, earn around `400 million (US$6.7 million) per film on average, apart from a share of the profits, according to industry experts. A-list actresses such as Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif get paid a tenth of that per film. 
— AP, New Delhi

Who's the Real Boss?
Have you watched the commercial in which the woman boss gives her subordinates an impossible deadline, before going home to cook a delicious meal for her husband (one of the subordinates featured earlier) and then calls to entice him to come home. Ironic, don't you think? So no matter how high up a woman is on the corporate ladder, she's still on kitchen duty. 


Illustration by Sudhir Shetty

Woman on Board 
In December this year, the government reiterated that it is mandatory for a certain class of public companies to appoint at least one woman director on their boards under The Companies Act 2013. There's nothing to stop the woman being a family member, with no real power; but at least this law attempts to makes some room for women in the higher echelons of the business world.  
Ten years ago, there was just one female director of an emerging-market-based company. Now there are more than 1,500, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Workplace Harassment
Sixteen years post the landmark Vishaka Guidelines, the government of India introduced a new act, in December 2013. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 sought to widen the scope of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court. The act extended to cover women in India's unorganised sector. This is crucial because 93 per cent of our workforce is employed in the unorganised sector, which is largely dominated by women. Even while the law has been passed, the government is yet to form a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) under the law that will look at cases related to women in the unorganised sector. 


Getty Images

When Women Rule
Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff were re-elected to head Germany and Brazil, respectively; looks like the world is ready for women to rule.

All the PM's Women
2014 saw the inclusion of seven women in the Indian Cabinet—Smriti Irani (Union and Human Resources Development)who is the youngest to the oldest, Najma Heptullah (Minority Affairs), Sushma Swaraj (External Affairs Overseas Indian Affairs), Maneka Gandhi (Women and Child Development), Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Food Processing Industries), Uma Bharati (Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation), Nirmala Sitharaman (Commerce and Industry, Finance and Corporate Affairs). Whether any or all of these women will make a difference to the way India lives and works remains to be seen. 


Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot on a school bus in 2012 by a Taliban gunman, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. While the debate rages on about whether or not she is no more than a puppet in the hand of the powers that be, there's no denying that the young girl has managed to draw a lot of attention to a major issue. 

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