June 2014 By K Geethanjali The International Women’s Conference organised by AOL in Bengaluru was a telling sign of the increasing power of women, says K Geethanjali Everything in this universe has a purpose and we have a higher purpose. Recognising this, and valuing life, is harmony,” said Smt. Bhanumathi Narasimhan, the chairperson at the 6th International Women’s Conference in Bengaluru on February 7, 2014, at the Art of Living International Centre. The theme of the conference was creating harmony in the midst of opposites. Highlighting the premise, she said, “A jasmine can be near a lotus or a rose. They don’t compete, they simply are beautiful. When we all come together like this, it is harmony. The IWC is not about men bashing. It is about opening the male mind to the issues that women face. Whether rural or urban, the woman’s voice is not heard. The aim of these conferences is to let the world hear the voice of the woman.” The event had a special significance in the wake of a pan-India awakening on the prejudice against women in Indian society. A wide spectrum of women coming from every part of the world painted the ashram in a riot of colours as they discussed ways to create a more harmonious world. Religious and cultural differences were forgotten as they came forward to understand each other better through open dialogue, driving home the point of our oneness and mutual interdependence. Though a wide section of women are still struggling, there are women who have broken through all barriers, and have made a mark for themselves in their respective fields. Such women shared their uplifting stories with everybody at the conference. They shared and cared, laughed, and wept together (as when the documentary on the Iraqi war widows was shown), danced, complimented each other and made faces to look younger! Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Biocon Ltd celebrates women’s nurturing powers Their stories differed from each other, but their emotions were the same. When Sheila Sri Prakash, an architect from Chennai, related that her professor’s remark during an entrance exam, that a seat would be wasted if a girl got selected, inspired her to work harder rather than give up, the audience cheered. Asha Bhonsle demonstrated the power of music in connecting and healing people when she took centrestage after being awarded the prestigious Vishalakshmi Lifetime Achievement award. Receiving a standing ovation, the much loved singer spoke about how she found harmony and peace through her music. Her thoughts on impermanence of life were echoed by the former Sri Lankan President Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga. She said that the seminal Buddhist philosophy of annica (the doctrine of impermanence) along with the Buddhist principles of metta (loving kindness) and karuna (compassion) have helped her face life with equanimity. After surviving an assassination bid, she invited the terrorists who opposed her for peace talks two days later, demonstrating that one could remain centred in extreme situations. Women talked about the scars and stars they encountered in their journey of life. Politicians like Chandrika Kumartunga, former President of Sri Lanka; Dr. Husn Banu Ghazanfar, minister of women’s affairs, Afghanistan; social activists like Dr Kiran Bedi, Vimla Mehra, director general, Tihar jail; and Hijran Huseynova, chairperson of the state committee for family, women and children affairs for the Republic of Azerbaijan, all spoke on the theme of harmony in the midst of trying circumstances. They agreed that one could balance both the polarities, and live life from the centre by accepting the situation and taking positive action. Assume your rights Social activist Kiran Bedi receiving the Vishalakshi award from the Chairperson of the International Women’s Conference, Smt Bhanumati Narasimhan The time has come for women to stop asking for freedom and just step into their rights. Ms. Vimala Mehra trenchantly expressed herself. “Why keep demanding and demanding? Let us just assume our rights,” she said. BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi too expressed a similar view when she quoted Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “Don’t wait to be given power, just assume it,” in her speech. She and her Congress counterpart Rita Bahaguna Joshi practically demonstrated the ideal of finding harmony through differences, when they shared the dais at the conference. Role of parents and teachers The responsibility of teachers and parents were considered to be of crucial importance in shaping up children and moulding young minds, the creators of a harmonious society of the future. “Harmony comes from within, and it needs to be cultivated from childhood,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to the 800-odd delegates from over 59 countries, attending the three-day conference. “Parents have to be responsible for their children!” thundered Kiran Bedi in her interview to the press. “Spirituality is about values. Health and character is built at home and school. Men who abuse women have not had a proper upbringing. Every parent is responsible and accountable for the conduct of his children,” she stressed. Ms Parveen Gill, professor at Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Canada, spoke about how she introduced the values of love and compassion even in her business management courses. She stressed upon the importance of doing regular meditation to attain inner harmony which gets translated into outer harmony. Also an Art of living teacher, she emphasised the significance of watching one’s breath in order to transcend the anxiety that women face while juggling roles and combating social pressure. Humour heals Is humour an essential ingredient for harmony? For Paula Schargorodsky, an Argentinean filmmaker, humour is about making a choice. Her famous documentary, 35 and single, was born of her having to make a choice when she found herself alone at Christmas. The last in her circle of friends had got married. Paula realised that either she could indulge in self-pity, or approach it in a humorous way. She decided to make a humorous film on this theme, and the rest is history. Through her documentary she realised that all she needed in life was to fall in love with herself. It became the mostwatched documentary worldwide in the last two weeks of 2013. Power of media While Ms. Narayani Ganesh, editor-in-chief of The Speaking Tree, called for making good news saleable and urged the media to focus on the positive aspects of a situation, panelists agreed that along with the power came the responsibility of spreading harmony in society. Be your own journalist, urged journalist Kathrine Aspaas from Norway. “Everyone has the responsibility to tell a different story. People can use social media like facebook to spread love and share stories of hope,” she said. The era of the heart Only the heart energy can bring about a beautiful world. Women as natural nurturers are now at the forefront of changing society. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, managing director and chairperson of Biocon ltd, stressed on the role of women in changing the order of things, at the conclusion of the three-day event. “We are the chosen ones in society who know what nurturing is,” she said, to cheers from the gathering. As the three-day conference came to an end, the delegates and the speakers dispersed with a wealth of knowledge to ponder on and put into practice till the next biennal conference in 2016. The theme of the next conference was announced as Life – A Mystical Journey, by the chairperson Ms Bhanumathi Narsimhan. The challenges of the 21st century require innovative solutions. A mind that is positive and equanimous, that sees all problems as healthy challenges. Spirituality is now helping us move into a space where we find that all answers lie within our own heart. With the logical masculine energy being balanced with the nurturing feminine one, as the divine feminine gives birth to a new world, one wonders, isn’t a harmonious brave new world closer than we think ?
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