On the 19th of March, the Women’s Cell of IIT Bombay celebrated the International Women’s Day. It was an evening of cultural performances, inspiring stories of women empowerment and celebration of the institute’s efforts towards gender diversity.

 

The Director of IIT Bombay, Professor Devang Khakhar opened the evening with insights into the increasing gender diversity on campus. Talking about the first decade of IIT Bombay he recounted how the number of female students on campus would range somewhere around 3 and how today in 2018 the number was 1,972 – close to 20% of the total students on campus.

Naming gender diversity as one of the major focuses of the administration, the Director moved on to addressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dress the issue of Casual Sexism – something brought to notice of the administration in a Facebook post by Maitreyee Shukla, a student of IIT Bombay. “Casual Sexism is an issue that is being addressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dresses.html”>dressme.co.nz/ball-dresses.html”>dressed to some extent by the Women’s Cell,” said the Director. “But perhaps we are not taking it as seriously as we should. However, since we have got a reminder from one of our own students, I think that we would welcome suggestions of different activities to ensure that we don’t have this kind of behaviour.”

 

The evening then moved towards inspirational stories. The first speaker was Ms Suhani Mohan who is an alumnus of IIT Bombay from the Metallurgy Department. She is the co-founder of Saral Designs, a Mumbai based startup working on increasing access to high-quality affordable sanitary napkins using a smart, distributed manufacturing technology. Founded in 2015, Saral aims to create a better future in menstrual hygiene and sanitation using product design, machine technology and innovative delivery mechanisms. Talking about the inspiration for her startup, Suhani remarked how currently in India about 23% girls drop out of schools after they start menstruating and how 88% women in India use unhygienic materials like cloth, husk, and newspaper during periods. Her startup provides these women not just affordable pads but also machines to build those pads in a mechanised and cost-effective manner.

 

The next speaker was Mr Vasudevan Srinivasan who is the head of CETC, a training development company that works extensively in the area of prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace. Talking about harassment at the workplace, he said, “Men need to figure out where the line is and when it is acceptable to cross it.” He further emphasised the importance of  husbands, fathers and brothers supporting women in their journey of fighting against sexual assault.

 

The event also sought to celebrate women who had overcome challenges in their life and had utilised an out-of-the-box thinking to solve problems that the society faces. Keeping that theme in mind, the last speaker was Mrs Aditi Deodhar, who is the founder of The Brown Leaves Forum. The Forum aims to ensure that brown leaves, an essential component in the ecological cycle is returned to the soil and not burned. Through her forum, she connects people who have brown leaves from their locality or houses to people who need them, for farming or other purposes. Her forum solves an essential problem of combustion of leaves that leads to pollution, respiratory problems and imbalance in the nutrient cycle. Having exchanged 50 truckloads of dry leaves till now, Aditi now plans to spread the idea of utilisation of brown leaves to all over India.

 

The evening then moved on to cultural performances like songs centred around the strength of women and ended with a play by FourthWall, the dramatics club of IIT Bombay. The play emphasised the importance of spreading the message of gender equality to men. Talking about the plight of women after marriage, the play dealt with the story of a woman forced to leave her passion for photography behind due to her husband’s belief that photography wasn’t a safe profession for women.

 

The event was an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the challenges that women face from menstrual hygiene and workplace harassment to the misogyny that limits their ability to break the glass ceiling. However, hope for improvement in these areas exists with individuals taking up the burden to fight these social evils themselves.  With voices against casual sexism becoming stronger, the Director’s promise of efforts to minimise sexism and promote gender diversity on campus are welcome steps.