Can Women Have It All?

Exploring Balance For 21st Century Women

(L to R) Manu Joseph, Shobhaa De, Mini Menon, Ira Trivedi and Avani Davda in Mumbai on September 16, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)
(L to R) Manu Joseph, Shobhaa De, Mini Menon, Ira Trivedi and Avani Davda in Mumbai on September 16, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, 16 September 2014 — On Tuesday evening, in front of an audience of over 200 people at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya’s Coomaraswamy Hall, renowned columnists and authors Manu Joseph and Shobhaa Dé, Tata Starbucks Limited CEO Avani Davda, author Ira Trivedi and Bloomberg TV’s Executive Editor Mini Menon discussed women in modern India, particularly the societal pressures they face and how those conflict with the pursuit of their personal and professional ambitions.

Addressing the question, “Can women have it all?” Shobhaa Dé examined whether or not “all” is really worth having for any woman. Mini Menon and Avani Davda agreed that every woman must define “all” for herself and set her expectations right. Menon further added that women have to fight for the choice of what they want to do and how they want to do it, whereas Dé and Davda agreed that whatever route a woman takes to achieve the goals that she has set for herself is what is right for her.

Ira Trivedi, meanwhile, asserted her belief that women in India are going through a transitional period. Although increasing numbers of Indian women are becoming empowered and having successful careers, many are still grounded in older values and feel that they must continue to be good daughters, wives and mothers – a factor that Trivedi believes may contribute to why Indian women have some of the world’s highest stress levels. Shobhaa Dé concurred, stating that successful women always feel an immense guilt for neglecting or abandoning family roles.

All of the speakers on the panel spoke about the importance of support from companies and families alike in allowing for greater economic participation of women. Menon elaborated on how companies are now realizing the importance of female workers and opportunities for emphasizing family values are increasing. While Trivedi believes that in the next 20 years the Indian workplace and home will be a different kind of place, Dé was less optimistic, fearing that as men play a more supportive role, tensions within marriages will increase, causing them to collapse.

The speakers also debated whether or not women are necessarily worse off than men. Trivedi highlighted how men also face a pressure to be aggressive in pursuit of their workplace goals while also being soft-hearted and engaged at home. While Menon suggested that the support that women receive from their families gives them more choices than men, Dé pointed out that these choices come at the cost of mental, physical and emotional health. Davda, however, believes that the changes that a woman goes through over the course of her life actually make her mentally and physically stronger than two men put together.

The evening ended with questions from a large and engaged audience, on topics ranging from sexuality, love and passion, to biology to stress and pressure to generational changes within support systems.

Reported by Adhiraaj Anand, Intern, Asia Society India Centre

Watch the complete programme (55 min., 4 sec.)

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