The W20-MAHE Women Vice Chancellors’ and Leaders’ Conclave titled Women in Higher Education for Enabling Leadership (WHEEL) was inaugurated today at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) campus, Bengaluru in the presence of over 50 women leaders from various parts of India. A Charter of Recommendations was presented to W20 calling for a shift from women’s development to women-led development, the vision shared by W20. Recommendations focused on women-led development were presented in five themes – higher education, labour force participation, skill development, care work and leadership. These aspects are important areas of intervention to mainstream progressive gender perspectives into development policies and practices.
The event was graced by prominent leaders such as Vice Chancellor of TISS Prof Dr Shalini Bharat, Dr Sandhya Purecha, the Chair of W20, Ms Dharitri Patnaik, the Chief Coordinator of W20, Ms Bharati Ghosh, former IPS and W20 Delegate, Vice Chancellor of MAHE Lt Gen Dr M D Venkatesh, and Prof Madhu Veeraraghavan, Pro Vice Chancellor of MAHE, Bengaluru.
W20 is the official G20 engagement group focused on gender equity. Its primary objective is to ensure that gender considerations are mainstreamed into G20 discussions and translated into the G20 Leaders’ Declaration as policies and commitments that foster gender justice and women’s empowerment. MAHE is a knowledge partner with W20.
Prof. Dr. Shalini Bharat, Vice Chancellor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and keynote speaker, stated that women across the world face challenges in access, acceptance and ascension. For India and G20 countries, having women at the centre-stage of ideas and practices of development is crucial. Women’s early socialisation in gender bias prevents them from undertaking courses in STEM disciplines, believed to be the domain of men; this is a trend in all G20 countries with women’s enrolment in STEM courses not exceeding beyond 45 percent. Dr Bharat also pointed out that women’s choice of subjects is reflective of the gender bias that exists in the society. The picture of women’s empowerment becomes further complex when we see women not as a homogenous category but with other intersecting factors such as caste, class, race and disability. Complementing MAHE’s proposed Charter of Recommendations, Dr. Bharat called for creating datasets that capture these intersecting complexities at levels as micro as sub-ward level as well as datasets that can be comparable across G20 countries. In order to create level- playing fields, Dr. Bharat called for grooming women leaders at administrative and educational institutions.
Dr. Sandhya Purecha emphasised the importance of empowering and engaging with women leaders. She stressed on the necessity of reducing the global gender gap in leadership as data reveals that women are significantly under-represented at all decision-making levels. She called on skill development programmes to be redesigned to make it more “inclusive and result-oriented”. Moreover, she reiterated the importance of including voices of women from different socio-economic, cultural, and minority backgrounds in order to holistically tackle gender inequality.
Ms Bharati Ghosh, former IPS and W20 Delegate, presented a grassroots perspective on women empowerment reflecting on her experiences with working to address gender inequality. She stated that digital poverty has the most adverse impact on women and girls and listed a number of measures undertaken by the centre to overcome this gendered barrier. Ms Ghosh applauded the remarkable women-led development which has become a priority within the nation’s development agenda.
Ms. Dharitri Patnaik, Chief Coordinator of W20 Secretariat, emphasised on the imperative need for bridging the gender digital divide and the measures undertaken by G20 countries in this regard. Ms Patnaik called for making digital inclusion a national priority and called on Vice-Chancellors to create platforms for women’s leadership. Ms Patnaik also spoke about India’s potential for utilising educational technology for women’s empowerment.
Delivering the welcome address, Lt. Gen. Dr. M D Venkatesh, Vice Chancellor, MAHE said, “Given the pivotal role that women play in building a healthy society, conclaves such as these offer an opportunity to reflect on the ways to advance gender equality and empower women towards creating a gender-inclusive society. Unleashing the potential of women is crucial to building a better society. That’s why it’s my absolute pleasure to be a part of this conference.” Dr. Venkatesh proudly acclaimed MAHE’s recent recognition by Times Impact as a leading University in its efforts to promote gender equality with nearly 45% of its faculty members, 60% of the non-teaching staff and 47% of its students are women.
Prof. Dr. Madhu Veeraraghavan, Pro Vice Chancellor – MAHE Bengaluru, who addressed the gathering on ‘‘Gender justice and Higher Education – A MAHE Approach’ said, “Women often face a number of challenges in all walks of professional life right from getting access to quality higher education, fewer opportunities for labour force participation, and the social burden of care work. Forums such as these are crucial to bring the underlying issues to light and smoothen the road for women.”
Prof Neeta Inamdar, Convenor and Head, Manipal Centre for European Studies, MAHE welcomed all Women Vice-Chancellors and Leaders acknowledging their contributions as changemakers in the society. She also expressed that the Charter of Recommendations presented during the Conclave will be discussed, deliberated and developed further thus meaningfully impacting the lives of women across G20 countries and beyond. Referring to one of the recommendations, Prof. Inamdar stated that generating data on several social indicators is crucial given that its unavailability is hindering evidence-based policy making. Dr. Shilpa Kalyan, Head of Department of Liberal Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and co-convenor of the Conclave stated that MAHE is at the forefront of promoting gender diversity and inclusion.
The inauguration was followed by Nammoora Habba, an evening showcasing important folk dances of Karnataka. Day 2 will continue with five focused panel discussions with active participation of all 50 delegates.