As part of the week long (from 02.03.2022 to 08.03.2022) Women’s day celebrations on the theme “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow,” the Office of Dean, Students’ Welfare and Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad (UoH) had organised an online panel discussion on the topic ‘Women and Empowerment’ on 04th March 2022. The invited speakers include Prof. Mary Jessica, Dean, School of Management Studies; Prof. Ajailiu Niumai, CSSEIP; Prof. Suchandra Ghosh, Department of History and Dr. G. Sridevi, School of Economics, to share their valuable insights. The panel discussion was chaired by Dr. Anurekha Chari Wagh, Department of Sociology, UoH.

Prof Nagaraju, Dean of Students’ Welfare, welcomed the speakers and introduced the panel’s theme and importance of celebrating women’s day through the lens of gender experts from diverse social sciences departments of the university.

The first speaker Prof Mary Jessica highlighted the need to recognize that experience of deprivation cuts across gender, caste and class. Though the proportion of women working in the corporate sector has increased, they still are placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. There are considerably fewer women executives at the higher levels of decision making. Highlighting the presence of a glass ceiling, Prof Jessica focussed on how we need to be inspired by a number of women icons who have made a considerable impact in the corporate world. Further, she also highlighted how the pandemic also has a gendered effect, with women at different levels facing job and income loss. She also referred to how institutions such as family and educational spaces can play a supportive role in furthering women’s fight for equality and power. She concluded by emphasizing the need for women to focus on self- care, self-acceptance, and being confident in their decisions.

Prof Ajailiu Niumai highlighted the importance of inclusive policies and stated that any nation could only prosper by including its women’s citizens. She also highlighted the role of education in ensuring that women’s access to resources, assets and positions of authority is guaranteed. Drawing from her own life experiences, she emphasized the role of supportive networks such as family, friends, peers and colleagues who would play an important role in supporting the life choices made by women. Prof Ajailiu also shared some insights with regards to violence against women by drawing attention to cases of foeticide, child marriage and human trafficking. She reiterated that the pandemic has been a harsh experience for women and thus needs to be addressed. She also drew attention to the lack of representation of women in political offices of power, thereby advocating for a need to address the erasure of women’s experiences and voices. By sharing two inspiring stories of strong women who have fought the violence experienced by them and created a new path for themselves, she emphasized women’s strength and perseverance.

The next speaker, Prof Suchandra Ghosh, argued for the need to look back to our past to draw inspiration from some strong women who have carved for themselves a unique role in the political economic field. Drawing upon the experiences of women rulers, the speaker highlighted how women over the years have negotiated for power. She also highlighted that these women rulers had used various strategies at their disposal; thereby highlighting how the fight for power is always contested and needs to be fought for. Prof Ghosh also drew our attention to the need to carefully look for sources of knowledge in the past and consciously attempt to engage with our history creatively.

The final speaker, Dr. G Sridevi, addressed the empowerment of women by highlighting the need to bring intersectional analysis into the labor market. She stated that women’s access to resources, market and power of decision making is organized in the context of our identities, which are themselves framed within the intersections of our gender, caste, class, ethnic and religious contexts. She stated that the wage gap is a structural issue. Therefore, it is a matter of concern as to why, even with the increase in women’s access to education, one observes a decrease in women’s participation in labor markets. Further, she also highlighted the need to focus on regional differences, including the rural and urban experiences. Dr. Sridevi emphasized the state’s role in ensuring adequate nutrition and ensuring food security of the marginalised communities.

The chairperson Dr. Anurekha Chari Wagh, in her remarks, highlighted four aspects. One, each of the scholars drawing from their disciplinary backgrounds emphasized how complex the question of empowerment of women is. It must be addressed through policies by the state and consistent support by institutions such as family. Two, the need to carefully look to data, sources of knowledge, our methods of analysis to address the complexity of power dynamics in context of gender, caste, class, ethnicity, sexuality and religion. Third, the need to address the systemic erasure of voices from marginalized communities and make visible the complex ways in which access to power is denied and institutionalized inequality. Finally, the importance of self-care, confidence, and self-acceptance among women would go a long way in empowering women because it would be defined by themselves.

The panel discussion concluded with a vote of thanks by Prof. Nagaraju, Dean, Students Welfare, UOH.