Women and Leadership: Speakers

Flavia Agnes

Flavia Agnes is a women’s rights lawyer with Majlis Legal Centre, an NGO that provides support to victims of sexual violence. Her autobiographical book, My Story … Our Story of Re-building Broken Lives, she says, “is not a narrative of a leader but [of] a co-sufferer”. Her personal journey became political as she dealt with a violent marriage, with no support from the church or other social institutions, at a time when the women’s movement failed to recognise that rape and dowry are not the only violence that a woman faces in marriage. In her conclusion, Agnes left the question of feminist leadership, of how one becomes a leader, as an open question.

Jeevika Shiv

Currently Jeevika Shiv is the Associate Director of the Fair Trial Fellowship (Project 39A), of the National Law University, Delhi. She is associated with Anandi, a women’s collective in rural Gujarat that works with marginalised and poor women, particularly those in prison, who have slipped through multiple societal, economic and political cracks and therefore do not receive the legal help to which they are entitled. This means that the basic human rights both of convicted prisoners and of those awaiting trial are violated every day in various parts of India. With the exception of Delhi, there is no mental health care system for those in prison. What, she asked, would a fair justice system look like in times when human rights defenders and those who speak up become targets. In speaking on “Women, Leadership and Justice System”, Shiv argued for the importance of beginning any conversation about women’s leadership with “the most marginalised.”

Nimmi Rastogi

Nimmi Rastogi is an Advisor to the Health Ministry of the Government of Delhi. Delhi has gone through a transformation in the field of health after her party came into power in 2015. Mohalla clinics have worked wonders for the state, catering to the needs of about 20 million people. The number of these neighborhood clinics has gone up to 450. Mohalla clinics are a simple GP’s clinic with 2 rooms; they are staffed by one doctor, one nurse and a multi-tasker, and provide free tests and drugs. The clinics also have contracts with bigger hospitals for free high ends tests required by a few patients. One doctor treats about 80-120 patients in a day out of which 75-77% are women and children. Although the initiative was not started as a feminist initiative, it became women oriented with the immense contribution and participation of women. Mohalla clinic have proved to be a boon for women, children and elderly due to outreach, according to Rastogi. She noted that many cities and states like Madhya Pradesh, Jaipur and Hyderabad have been inspired by this project and now have clinics on similar models. She also talked about other innovative moves started by the Delhi government: medicine ATMs, the registration of patients online, the inclusion of Anganwadi workers, and liaisons with private clinics for free CT & MRI facilities.

Soma K P

Dr Soma K P is a Senior Advisor for the Livelihoods Mission with UNDP India and is presently associated with Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch. She became a feminist while working in the Department of Women and Children for the government of India. She spoke about “Women Farmers Struggles for Recognition and Rights”. Even though women constitute 74% of farm workers, the state fails to acknowledge them. Most female farmers are either landless or are working on the fields of others. They are disadvantaged by land-grab and water-grab practices associated with agrarian and land reforms through land grab and water grab practices, sometimes sanctioned by the state and the police, in the name of development. There is also sexual violence against female farm labourers. In a village of Maharasthra, women are forced to undergo hysterectomies before being hired as contract farm labours so that these labourers may not claim any leaves for menstruation or report any pregnancy due to the sexual violence to which they are subjected in the sugarcane industry. Women are also impacted by farmer suicides; although Maharastra has been much in the news, Andra Pradesh and Telangana have increasing numbers of farmer suicides along with Gujarat and Karnatka.

To gain recognition, women must be recognised as producers as well as consumers within the economy. Women farmers need to gain ownership of resources–land, cattle and the resources needed for farming– as well as the right to determine how priorities for development are set and how assets are used and distributed. They must have access to government services. Finally, they need to be included in decision-making at all levels, including within their own households. Soma discussed MAKAAM’s objectives and demands for the recognition and support of women farmers, particularly single women in relation to government land distribution policy.

Isha Pant

Isha Pant, IPS, IGP, Bangalore south spoke of the difficulties faced by herself and her family as she pursued a career in the police and became an IPS officer. Indian students and parents often face disapproval when children decide not to go into engineering or medicine, but her parents played a vital role in supporting the non-standard career choices of their four daughters. Before Kiran joined the Indian police services in 1971, women had a limited role in the police services, but Bedi encouraged other women to join. Pant recounted her posting in Tumkur, where she was the first woman Superintendent of police in that district. She was faced with mixed reactions from her colleagues, but eventually earned their respect. She countered the view that women should stick to desk jobs by providing her fellow women officers with mixed martial arts and defence training, increasing both their own self confidence and the confidence of others in their abilities. She concluded that

however difficult the situation might be that slows women’s progress, women would progress and grow. It is time, she said for women to take their due from the society by coming forward and showcasing their leadership skills,

Pallavi M D and Anuradha Satyseelan

Pallavi M D is a playback singer, TV actor, composer, editor, sound designer, and filmmaker. Her performance of The Threshold, the subject of her talk, focuses attention on the question of gender, gender fluidity, and silencing. Examples used to illustrate the exclusion of women from the historical record included Fanny Mendelsohn, Anna Maria Mozart, Anna Kaona and Kharboucha. Through the different stories in The Threshold, Pallavi explained, she tried to look at the meanings of femininity; in doing so, she established that there is no single path for simultaneously being a woman and a leader.

Manasi is Director of The Indian Music Experience, a museum in Bangalore, talked about her own journey as an artist and the challenges that she faced as an artiste and in her journey to achieve the fame that she has today. While facing a dilemma of choosing what was best for her future- performing arts or otherwise, Manasi said she found the life of Meerabai very much resonating with herself and in a way found her answers in it. She argued that having a strong role model is very important to being able to choose what your heart wants rather than what seems to be a “safe” option. While she said that there are more female vocalists in classical music world, Manasi pointed out that there is a lack of female instrument players in the industry. Some instruments are not “feminine” enough or the music of females is not seen as “cerebral” enough for male counterparts.

Anuradha Satyseelan, Padmavati, and Philomena Harrison

Anuradha Satyseelan from the Department of Psychology at Christ University spoke of the challenges that a woman faces on a daily basis in her personal, professional and public life, such as being treated equally in the workplace and at home, building a sisterhood, building alliances and network with decision makers and policy makers. Anuradha Satyseelan from the Department of Psychology at Christ University spoke of the challenges that a woman faces on a daily basis in her personal, professional and public life, such as being treated equally in the workplace and at home, building a sisterhood, building alliances and network with decision makers and policy makers.

Padmavati emphasised the importance of role models for women. She said that mothers hold a very important place in our lives, and mentioned the other people who had influenced her including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, and rehabilitation therapists, but more especially community level workers. She identified the driving force behind these women leaders as empathy, passion, perseverance, and good communication skills. Padmawati lauded the availability, accessibility and approachable nature her female colleagues in SCARF’s Community level workers. She highlighted the innovations made by women in the field of psychiatry and specially mentioned tele-psychiatry which was the brainchild of Dr Tara and SCARF.

Philomena Harrison described herself as the product of empire psychologically, educationally, and emotionally. As a British social worker academic, she has pursued matters of social justice, using her power within an academic context to highlight with students and colleagues the issue of race and mental health. Therapy groups for the minority groups of African and Carribean people with psychiatric problems are lacking. She noted the discrimination against Black Asians within the mental health system, and mentioned that blacks are four times more likely to be detained under the mental health act, and to suffer compulsory detention Harrison described herself as the product of empire psychologically, educationally, and emotionally. As a British social worker academic, she has pursued matters of social justice, using her power within an academic context to highlight with students and colleagues the issue of race and mental health. Therapy groups for the minority groups of African and Carribean people with psychiatric problems are lacking. She noted the discrimination against Black Asians within the mental health system, and mentioned that blacks are four times more likely to be detained under the mental health act, and to suffer compulsory detention