At Medical Conference, I realised True Meaning of Empowerment!

Has it ever happened to you— that you keep coming across a word all around you, and do not understand what is the hullabaloo about? Women Empowerment were those words to me!

Has it ever happened to you— that you keep coming across a word all around you, and do not understand what is the hullabaloo about? That you somehow feel you have not quite grasped its meaning, its significance?

Empowerment according to The Merriam-Webster dictionary says is the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties; the power, right, or authority to do something.

I looked up the synonyms of empowerment— authorisation, delegation, license, and mandate. Allowing/enabling someone to do something, I translated to myself.

Why add another word?

The problem came when another word was prefixed to it. Women empowerment. Newspapers and hoardings around the city. Television and advertisements on social media. Bollywood celebrities and political figures- all waxing eloquent over this one words— women empowerment.

Does it mean granting/allowing women to do something? Who decides? Who is the designated authority to grant women the right to do whatever?
No, I decided, I must have misinterpreted the meaning.

Empowered women are everywhere and I failed to see it

Enabling women to do something, I tried again. Yes, that sounded better. Enabling women to do something they wanted to do. Sounded even better, for a second.

Enabling them to earn a livelihood. Enabling them to travel wherever and whenever they want to. Enabling them to pursue their careers. Enabling them to make the choices they want. 

I looked around. Sure enough, there were empowered women around me. Making choices— to pursue the profession of choice. Deciding on having a baby. Deciding on not having a baby. Deciding on going back/not going back to work after having a baby. And, the flexibility to work from home— the mother of all women empowerment. For mothers who decide to give it all, and have it all.

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For some reason, I failed to see how I was being empowered. I am a doctor with a five-year-old kid. And, as you must have guessed by now, a woman. So, no work from home for me. Because a doctor’s job is a field job.

Then I got invited to the medical conference

Then, a couple of months back, I attended a national conference in my subspecialty. This was the first major conference I attended in a distant city from my residence, after having my baby. Travel, overnight stay and my baby in tow.

We, my little miss and I, hobbled into the 7-star hotel armed with three bags. One with munching snacks, one with everything from crayons to playdough, and one with the mandatory favourite blanket she takes when she sleeps. 

My ID, delegate kit, and my own conference paraphernalia were relegated into a messy bundle in the deep recesses of my overfilled handbag. We stood out in the crowd of immaculate sarees and razor-sharp executive suits like wildflowers in a landscaped garden. And we had a ball!

People were staring and I tasted empowerment

For once, men and women were staring at me, only to acknowledge me and my bundle of joy with a welcoming smile. There were more than a few instances when the kid chattered excitedly at the bunny I drew for her to colour, in the middle of a lecture. I had to bribe her with a cookie so that she stayed quiet while I engaged in a discussion with the faculty on the dais.

And an international guest faculty smiled indulgently as little miss snored in a jam-packed hall, while I feverishly took notes from a surgical video. And for the first time, I tasted the word- empowerment. A supportive environment to chase your dreams.

After beaming at us on the first day of the conference, I saw a couple of mothers get their offsprings to the venue on the second day, and at the Gala evening dinner. We crossed each other, nodding in solidarity. And we shared the embarrassment at the strategically timed tantrums of our kids. 

My mindset was changing

I was beginning to understand and feel— empowered. What had changed? My mindset. The only one stopping me from going out there and claiming my share of success, freedom etc was me. No fancy campaigns then. Empowerment for me is being able to do ordinary things.

And then, I stopped in my tracks. How come none of my male colleagues had any kids in tow? Why were there no apologetic smiles on their faces, like the ones I and my tribe doled out by the dozen each time our kids suddenly turned boisterous? In short, what was stopping them?

I am certain my male counterparts are dutiful and proud fathers. They adore their children and as they say these days, share the load. They believe in empowering their wives. I am beginning to think it is time we let them have the cake and eat it too.

We must help men attain professional and domestic dreams too

I think it is time we change our mindset. We must enable our men to chase their professional and domestic dreams at the same time. Yes, paternity leave and work from home are steps in the right direction. Those are steps on a long road.

We must let our men claim their right to gender equality as well. 

I think it is time to empower our men.

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