Women of Retina India is a group within Retina India, which allows women with visual impairment, or those women who are close to people with visual impairment, to come together and discuss issues that concern them, and help each other find solutions.
As part of this, a special session was organized during retinAwareTM 2011, which brought women together from around the country to discuss the issues.
March 8, 2012, was International Women’s Day. To celebrate the day, Retina India chapters have organized workshops in different cities, to help focus on the issues, and to point local problems and find their solutions.
Retina India Chennai – March 17, 2012:
The Chennai chapter celebrated International Women’s Day celebrations by organizing a workshop on issues faced by visually impaired women.
Mrs Kannegi Packianathan, IAS, Secretary to Tamil Nadu Govt, Dept of Welfare of Differently Abled Persons, was the Chief Guest for the function, while the panelists included Ms. Kannegi Packianathan, IAS; Ms. Sangamitra, Advocate and Commissioner of TN Women’s Association (appointed by the Hon. Chief Minister of TN in this post); Dr. Vijayalakshmi, a Clinical Psychologist, Special Educator, and a senior functionary in the Education Department, Mrs Thillai Subramanian, Special Educator and Headmistress of Chennai Champs, a School that supports differently challenged children in the mainstream, and Dr Mrs Sirisha, a Gynaecologist.
Mrs Kannegi Packianathan, IAS, gave an inspiring talk at the start of the workshop to the women assembled and also briefed about the support from the State Govt for the benefit of visually challenged. She also gave a strong support to the women by giving them the assurance that her good offices will be open to all at anytime for any grievances faced by them.
The panelists briefed the audience about the support from the respective fields. Mrs Sangamithirai strongly suggested that the visually impaired women being doubly discriminated should be extra cautious when dealing with the society whether at wok place, or choosing a life partner, etc. One of the participants raised the problem of handling assignments and homework by visually impaired students to which Dr Vijayalakshmi answered that this problem has already been sensitized by the faculty to the Govt and recommendations have already been made to the respective policy makers to eliminate this process for the visually impaired students. The implementation should be through within the next five years. Mrs Thillai Subramanian announced that her school is willing to support the vision impaired children in the mainstream and has extended support to participate in any discussion which can encourage the same in the society. Dr Sirisha briefed the ladies on various tips in maintaining good health.
Some of the participants were lecturers from Queen Mary’s College, Chennai, who volunteered to be a support for visually impaired women and also to help highlight some of the issues faced by the visually challenged girl students. They are willing to be part of any initiative that will enhance the lives of the these students, specially girls.
Padmashree Dr Mrs Gayathri Shanker, Prof Dr Sushma Agarwal, and Mrs Kanthi were felicitated for their achievements by the Chief Guest. All the women were welcomed with a rose and a small gift. The program was covered by Doordarshan – Chennai and was telecast the same day evening news.
Retina India Bangalore – March 10, 2012:
The Bangalore chapter celebrated International Women’s Day by organizing a “Stakeholder Discussion on Issues of Women with Vision Impairment” at Mobility India, J P Nagar, Bangalore. The idea behind holding this discussion was to identify the various issues that are being faced by visually impaired women at different levels. To ensure participation by women from different walks of life, the chapter envisaged a programme that would involve a focused discussion by social workers and women achievers through engagement with an audience also consisting of stakeholders.
During the workshop, Ms. Madhu Singhal and Ms. Rajani Gopalkrishna were felicitated as role models and achievers at the function. They were presented with aromatic saplings as mementos from Retina India.
The panelists consisted of eminent social workers and achievers and role models like Ms. Madhu Singhal, Ms. Rajani Gopalkrishna, Mrs. Ruma Banerjee, Mrs. Muthamma, Mrs. Priya and Ms. Swarnalakshmi, who put forward the following six topics for discussion:
- Economic independence for women
- Issues impacting women in rural conditions
- Importance of inculcating independent living skills
- Gender bias in private work spaces
- Political awareness
- Inclusive education for the girl child
These following points were identified as issues or sectors that need immediate focus:
1. Visually impaired women in rural areas can be helped in two ways:
a. By sensitizing their families, and creating awareness on the importance of the woman and encouraging the families to provide equal opportunities.
b. By counseling the parents about the value of the girl child in the family and educating them about treating their daughters on par with their sons. To emphasise the need of giving equal education to the disabled girl and rendering her equal support as is given to a disabled boy or any other able bodied child.
c. Educating them about the various NGOs who are operating in the rural & disability sector and encouraging them to approach them with their issues to fight for their rights.
2. Issues of economic independence of visually impaired women:
a. Economic independence matters to everyone. A visually impaired woman can be helped by giving her her mobility and creating the right environment at her workplace.
b. Self employment is the best option in rural communities. In urban communities, women can go for employment or choose to be self-employed. In either case, women need to be given their mobility and convenient transportation facilities should be made especially for disabled women.
3. Inclusive education:
a. Trend observed while campaigning for inclusive education in rural areas is that while disabled boys are still given education, disabled girls are considered as useless and not given even basic education.
b. Parents need to be counseled on the importance of educating their disabled daughters. They should also be encouraged to form parents groups who are aware of their children’s right to education and be encouraged to fight for their children’s rights.
4. Gender bias in private sector environment:
a. It was acknowledged that gender bias does exist in many private organisations, where a visually impaired man is more likely to find employment whereas a visually impaired woman is denied employment. The reason for this reluctance is mostly due to the unwillingness of the organisation to undertake responsibility of the safety of their female employee.
b. It was also felt that however, confidence and great communication skills go a long way in ensuring that a woman candidate is selected for her qualities rather than being rejected for being a disabled woman.
c. There is a need to provide visually impaired women with corporate skills and make them employable.
5. Inculcating independent living skills:
a. Good transportation facilities have to be set up for women with disabilities. Awareness programmes have to be conducted especially for civic authorities.
b. Awareness programmes for families and counseling for the visually impaired women to bring about a shift in attitude and mindset. Women have to be coached on gaining confidence, courage and conviction.
Two other points that came up during discussion:
1. Along with women, even men need to be educated on the rights of women – especially women with disability. This exercise will school the men about treating women with due respect and hence bring down the occurrences of sexual harassment.
2. There is a need to create role models in the society. Awareness and acceptance increases when people see women with visual impairment functioning on par with others who are not disabled.
The discussion was moderated by Dr. Rajdeep Manwani. Ms. Aditi Rai was the MC for the event. Mr. Niranth Jain, Joint City Coordinator, Retina India, gave the welcome address and Mrs. Anandhi, City Coordinator, Retina India, proposed the vote of thanks.
The discussion was well attended by members from various NGOs and colleges across Bangalore. NSS volunteers from city colleges also volunteered their services during the event.