The role and perception of women has gone through major change in past couple of decades, not just globally but also in India. From women fighting for their right to vote back in 1920’s to female reporters in media houses raising their voices against workplace discrimination currently to women leading some of the biggest economies in the world, there have been innumerable encouraging milestones in women’s empowerment movement.

As we usher in a new decade and celebrate women all over the world on International Women’s Day, it is indeed time to appreciate and salute those women around us who have broken barriers, crafted a legacy and changed lives, with their path-breaking work. These are the women who shatter the glass ceiling, defy all odds to achieve their dreams, one step at a time with their grit and determination.  

Ciceroni presents 6 women in Gujarat who are truly inspiring and set benchmark for every girl to look up to every time she feels she is losing the grip.  

1. Bhagwati Oza

Dr. Bhagwati Oza is a woman who dons many hats- she is a gynaecologist, an avid mountaineer, an ace cyclist, a swimmer and a pilot. At the age of 84, she cycles and walks daily. Recipient of numerous awards from the State and Central Government, Dr.Oza uses cycle as her medium of transportation even today. At the young impressionable age of 12, she decided that she did not want to get married. She has been an active advocate for financial independence and prudence amongst women throughout her career.  

She says, “When I was growing up, my grandfather was my friend, philosopher and guide. He supported my dreams and taught me the importance of being independent. I want women today to know that they are the ones who are most responsible for their own lives. Family and society comes later but it is you – yourself who is most important. It is therefore important that you become someone who is financially and emotionally self-sufficient. Happiness must always come from within, from things you do for yourself.”  

LESSON FROM HER- Become financially independent and look for happiness within.  

2. Jyotsna Bhatt  

Jyotsna Bhatt is a name synonymous with fine arts and sculpture in Baroda.  She studied sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda and then pursued a course in Ceramics at Brooklyn Museum Art School, USA. In an illustrious career spanning over 50 years, Jyotsna Bhatt has mentored several young minds, who have carved a niche as prominent ceramicists. Jyotsnaben has several arts shows, exhibitions and workshops to her credit. She has been constantly supported by her husband Jyoti Bhatt.  

She says, “I have received tremendous support from my family since I was a kid. I grew up in a joint family and lost my father at a young age; my uncle saw that I had an aptitude for art and encouraged me to pursue fine arts. Even after I got married, my husband has been incredibly supportive. My family is a very big part of all my achievements.”  

LESSON FROM HER – One word of encouragement can make someone’s journey worthwhile. Inspire others to do more with your encouraging words. 

3. Sonal Rochani  

After 8 years in crime reporting. Sonal Rochani left journalism to start Shakti Foundation, an organization that works with tribal communities to help them generate livelihood and ensure holistic development. The NGO works with women in tribal areas, including those where economic activities are low due to prevalent alcoholism.  

She says, “Tribes in Gujarat often lead a semi-nomadic life. Due to alcoholism, the life expectancy for women is incredibly low. At Shakti Foundation, we undertake community development programmes that enable women to start their own enterprises and generate income. We also develop ashram schools for the children of these women so that they can get educated.”  

When asked if the role of women in society has changed, Sonal says, “There are quite a few positive developments but there’s still a long way to go, especially in the rural areas. Women here lack the means to communicate and as a result, they are unaware of their rights and the opportunities available to them; it is up to individuals like us to help them and their children. Education is the most powerful tool and if we can properly educate this generation, we will see noticeable changes in the next generation.” 

LESSON FROM HER – Educate a girl child. You will enable the change in society with education of girls.   

4. Mira Erda  

Mira Erda began racing at the tender age of 9. Her father, who is her closest ally, built a go-karting track where she began racing with her brother and since then, she never looked back. She has achieved remarkable heights in the field of motorsports and set milestones for women in the sphere. In 2017, she made history by becoming the first Indian woman to participate in the Euro JK series, one of the highest classes of Formula racing in India.  

She believes that with new media and increased awareness, more women are now entering motorsports than before. She says, “Women in motorsports are now shattering the regressive idea that women are bad drivers. The car you’re driving doesn’t know what gender it’s being driven by, it’s all about your skill and talent. With the help of digital media, more and more races are being recorded and put online for the world to see. This helps more women know about various parts of motorsports and enter the field. The scenario is changing in favour of women and I couldn’t be happier.”  

LESSON FROM HER – Break the stereotypes. You can do anything if you decide to.  

5. Ishira Parikh  

Ishira Parikh is an ace Kathak dancer and a renowned name in Gujarat. While she mainly trained in Ahmedabad, she did train under Birju Maharaj in Delhi for a brief period. She didn’t always know if she wanted to be a dancer but she knew that dancing was something she loved. When she chose to finally pursue dance as a career, she never looked back. Today she performs, choreographs soul-stirring compositions and teaches so many eager students. She strongly believes in taking the craft seriously and being true to it.  

“Patience and passion are the two things you need the most if you want to pursue a career in dance” she says. “Earlier, women were completely dependent on their families for their finances, but now with the spread of social media, more women are aware. Women are now financially independent and possess the prudence to make decisions for themselves. Pursuing a full-time career in dance can be economically taxing and the results can only be seen after a long time but now women are willing to take that leap.”  

Ishiraben believes that parents have a great role to play when it comes to the role of women. “I would want every girl to have the choice of carving her path but for that to happen, it is the parents who need to accept their daughter’s choices and support her in every way possible. We, as parents, have a huge role to play when it comes to empowering our daughters. ”  

LESSON FROM HER –  Persistence, Patience and Passion will pay off. Don’t give up.  

6. Geeta Solanki 

One of the major challenges faced by the healthcare sector in India is providing efficient and affordable solutions to menstruating women. While urban women have plenty of options and a fairly sizeable amount of disposable income, there are very few options for rural women. Geeta Solanki, a marketing graduate who comes from an agricultural background, founded Unipads, an organization that manufactures reusable cloth bags solely for women in the rural areas.  

Geeta says, “Women in the rural area usually use cloth during their menstrual cycle, but it is inconvenient, difficult to manage and cannot be carried easily. Menstruation is a significant issue that needs to be addressed in the rural area. At Unipads, we employ women in our factory near Jamnagar and these women manufacture reusable cloth pads that can be washed easily. These are then packed and then handed over to ‘Kalyanis’ who are our sellers who engage in direct selling with women across Gujarat, parts of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. A packet which costs INR 300 can be used for a year. Our Kalyanis earn per packet and this motivates them to work harder, so much so that some end up selling 200-300 packets a month. I think that over time, women are slowly but steadily working towards their own financial independence, starting their own businesses and media has played a great role in the same.”  

LESSON FROM HER – Empowered women support and help other women to grow while addressing the taboos in the society 

These women have excelled in their respective fields and have inspired others to follow their dreams wholeheartedly. This Women’s Day in 2020, let us learn to let our women be. Let us give them the choice to do what they want, be who they want to be.