International Women’s Day (IWD) has much in common with the other famous and controversial day that falls on 14th February every year. Like Valentine’s Day, it is splashed all over the media and has supporters and detractors alike. However, with IWD, there’s always a mad scramble among corporates to jump onto the bandwagon and present themselves as woke champions of women empowerment. How much of this is practised in reality is a separate matter and will make for an excellent think-piece, but for now here’s a round-up of how some companies are celebrating IWD. The campaign theme for this year’s IWD is #PressforProgress but we prefer the UN Women’s theme – ‘Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives’ – for its inclusive, intersectional pitch.

Help women to help themselves

Self-help groups (SHGs) being a go-to medium for corporates big and small looking to empower women, B2BAdda.com has partnered with Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women and Tamil Nadu State Rural Livelihood Mission (TNSRLM) to set up a COE (centre of excellence) and IC (incubation centre) for more than 20,000 women SHGs in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. The COE will provide on-the-job training in manufacturing, services and sales for all Detel products (an electronic goods manufacturer) like mobile phones, LED TVs and mobile accessories. B2BAdda.com is a B2B e-distribution platform for bulk buying and selling and is also the exclusive e-distribution partner of Detel. The Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women is a government-funded organisation that works for the socioeconomic development of women.

The objective of this programme is to help women become entrepreneurs by developing a ecosystem that promotes strong institutional partnerships among technical institutions, enablers, stakeholders, markets and society. Some clarity on who those enablers and stakeholders are supposed to be would have helped in understanding the details of this initiative. As of now, there’s no information on when this programme will start, funding and responsibilities of the participating organisations, and the specific targets.

In a press release shared with CauseBecause, Yogesh Bhatia, founder, B2BAdda.com, said, ‘We envision a world where women from all groups, ethnicities and economic backgrounds are free to live their lives with complete autonomy. We are glad to partner with the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women as we aim to further build up on the entrepreneurial potential of women and to transform them into successful entrepreneurs. This initiative is a small yet powerful step towards empowering as many women as we can.’

The same release was titled ‘B2BAdda.com extends the gift of employment to 20,000 Women Self Help Groups in Tamil Nadu’. Employment isn’t a gift, though; it’s a right.

From survivors to showstoppers 

Women acid-attack survivors from various parts of the country came together to create awareness and share their inspirational stories on life after acid attacks. The meet, which took place on 7 March, was facilitated by Viviana Mall’s ExtraordiNAARI initiative.

In what was the third edition of the programme, Laxmi Agarwal, activist, TV host and acid-attack survivor, was the guest of honour. The event also featured a fashion show, organised by Viviana Mall and its retail partners, where the brave survivors took to the ramp. The purpose of this initiative was to raise awareness on life after such horrific attacks, whose victims are mostly women. Viviana Mall also felicitated achievers from various fields (names weren’t provided though).

Viviana Mall is a part of Sheth Corp and is known as a ‘destination mall’ in Thane. It houses over 250 leading brands and is India’s first and only visually impaired-friendly mall. They shared a press release with CB with this quote from Ms Rima Pradhan, senior vice president, marketing: ‘It’s a dreadful thought to even imagine an acid attack, let alone living with it, but these acid-attack survivors have shown the world that no one can tarnish their confidence and fighting spirit. This women’s week, we have invited women acid-attack survivors from different parts of our country to share their experiences. We aim to spread awareness regarding this inhuman crime and explain the hardships these acid-attack survivors are going through in their lives in order to stop such attacks.’

The breakfast club for women in sustainability

On IWD, a discussion and ideation platform called Sustainability for Breakfast (S4B) will be organised in Mumbai by Treeni and hosted by Yes Bank. This is the 6th edition of Treeni’s programme and will focus on leadership of women in sustainability with the aim of sharing ideas and finding solutions and ways to re-imagine sustainability for the future. The next steps for this initiative and roadmap to realise these potential solutions are unclear.

The platform hopes to encourage engagement and recognition of the role women play in all aspects of sustainability within their organisations. Aside from issues such as gender inequality and women empowerment, the initiative will celebrate the important contributions of women leaders toward the cause of sustainability. Treeni is a software product company that offers integrated data management and analytics for enterprise sustainability.

A week dedicated to celebrating women

To promote women’s safety, self-defence workshops called ‘Fighting Fit’ will be organised in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata by Standard Chartered Bank. The bank has also tied up with an external partner to provide all women employees a safety app that offers emergency assistance at the click of a button. This is being held as part of the bank’s women empowerment programme SHEROES. The bank will be celebrating IWD for an entire week, from 5 to 9 March.

A debate will also be held in Mumbai where employees will voice their opinions both for and against a critical women’s issue in the corporate sector. For those looking for more action than talk, volunteering opportunities will be available. An employability-themed WASHE (one of the bank’s CSR interventions for young girls from marginalised backgrounds) talk show, ‘Chat with Chinti’, will provide information on career options for the girls targeted through this programme, through a discussion with female role models. Sessions for soft skills development and financial education for girls pursuing the Seeing is Believing and Goal programmes will also be held – the former is the bank’s initiative for avoidable blindness, while the latter helps adolescent girls through the medium of sports.

Talk on sex trafficking

She Speaks, a seminar on the topic of ‘Sex Trafficking of Girls and Women in the Indian Subcontinent’, will be held on IWD by Aambra Foundation at India International Centre, New Delhi. This will be the sixth edition of this annual seminar. Noted activist Kamla Bhasin will be a part of the discussion, while women achievers from various fields have also been invited. Aambra Foundation is an NGO advocating for women empowerment and addresses gender issues through workshops, seminars, IEC (information, education and communication) campaigns, etc.

Muscling their way through ‘male’ jobs

As part of its IWD promotions, Birla White released a statement highlighting its efforts to provide employment to women in traditionally ‘male’ jobs such as paint and putty work. Currently, the company supports more than 160 women from poor families as paint contractors in various part of the country and has witnessed major progress in hiring more female workers in this sector. By breaking down gender stereotypes when it comes to physically strenuous but in-demand jobs like this, the company hopes to contribute towards improving employment opportunities for women.

For 48-year-old Papa Laxmi from Tuni (Visakhapatnam), her work as a paint applicator is a source of pride. Associated with Birla White for more than five years, she says, ‘Mostly, housewives depend on their husband’s income to run the household, but in my case my husband died 30 years ago. So I am taking care of my children by choosing painting as my career.”

Birla White also imparts training programmes on surface finishes such as paints and wall-care putty to rural women to help them gain relevant knowledge about this sector and the required skill sets. Most skilled participants end up earning about INR 650–750 a day, while unskilled labourers make INR 300–350 a day. Both the number of women supported and the daily wage should ideally go up if the company is serious about this programme’s success.

Aside from this press release, there is no indication that the company, which is a unit of UltraTech Cement Ltd and part of the Aditya Birla Group, plans to hold specific programmes or events for IWD.

IWD celebrations, the Oscars way

Restaurants are jumping into the IWD fray as well. An event celebrating female Oscar winners and dedicated to the ‘beautiful, strong women of Mumbai’ is being held by the swanky BKC eatery, The Good Wife. On 8th March, the restaurant is offering a set menu for ladies at only Rs 999. This will be the 2nd edition of their Lipstick event.

Dimi Lezinska, the official mixologist at the 2008 Oscars, will be curating special cocktails for the night, taking inspiration from the Oscars. The event has in store a gift hamper from MUD – Make up Designory, New York – for the best-dressed lady.

One can’t help but think that such an event doesn’t really have anything to do with IWD, but perhaps this is another way to raise ‘awareness’.

Women’s Day with waste pickers An event celebrating IWD with 200 women waste pickers through music and dance was organised by Bisleri along with an NGO, Parisar Bhagini Vikas Sangha (PBVS). These hard-working women toil for over 10 hours a day, collecting waste, keeping our public spaces clean, whilst working in an unhygienic environment. We hope Bisleri is working to address those inhumane conditions.

In the official press release, president of the Sangha, Susheela Sable, said, ‘Most of these women are sole breadwinners of the family and carry the entire burden on their shoulders. Today I was so happy to see them have fun, which they rarely do. It was their day.’ PBVS is an all-women waste pickers’ association, formed by the NGO Stree Mukti Sangathana. PBVS focuses on waste management and self-employed women involved in waste collection.

‘Bottles for Change’ is an initiative by Bisleri to collect plastic from schools, colleges, malls, corporate offices as well as festive and social gatherings, with the proceeds going to PBVS. Both these organisations have partnered to work for the welfare of waste pickers’ children.

 Mission: More women in science

Dr Reddy’s Foundation has timed the launch of ‘Sashakt–Women for Science’ with Women’s Day. This is a scholarship to help young girls plan for research careers by opting to study B.Sc in pure/natural sciences.

The scholarship, supported by Dr Sashikheran, was launched at Dr Reddy’s Leadership Academy at Bachupally in the presence of several women scientists who are committed to scientific research and study. Dr Tessy Thomas, eminent scientist and director, Advanced Systems Laboratory, DRDO, who has been a motivator for this scholarship, feels this is a good start to encourage the study of science and increase the percentage of women scientists from the present 14 per cent. In her message to the students at the launch, she said: ‘The Sashakt scholarship with its mentorship programme is a great opportunity for all the young girls who want to prove themselves in the field of science.’

The scholarship is meant for bright young girls who have finished their schooling and are at a crucial juncture in terms of making their career choices. Given that very few women embark on a career as a scientist, this scholarship provides an opportunity for them to do so without being restricted by financial constraints or family’s other priorities. It will cover both the college and residential expenses for the three years of graduate study in any one of the 12 top shortlisted science colleges in this country.

‘We are launching this scholarship in line with our founder Dr Anji Reddy’s vision to promote scientific temper in our country. While this scholarship will certainly assuage the financial burdens for young girls wanting to study a science course of their choice, its best feature is the provision for each student to connect with renowned women scientists. Since most  young girls shy away from taking up science due to the lack of mentoring, this hands-on mentorship support will address this gap,’ said Shamik Trehan, CEO of Dr Reddy’s Foundation, in a press release shared with CB.