When it comes to the position of women in society, we are constantly bombarded with statistics. We see them on the news, and read them in the papers and online. As a result of the progressively increasing media and awareness on issues women face, people question why we are still talking about women empowerment? Is it necessary? Yes it is necessary, motivational speaker Sidra Jafri explained, because statistics are a result of what is happening in the home.

According to UN Women, “from the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted”. Furthermore, “women continue to participate in labour markets on an unequal basis with men”.  Although the movement to empower women is greater than ever-before, it is still absolutely necessary to work at grassroots levels in order to create a society in which women are empowered enough to lead the way. For Sidra, the grassroots begins at home.

Before discussing ‘women empowerment’, Sidra found it paramount to establish her understanding of the word ‘empowerment’ itself. “Empowerment is having the choice” and “the power to make your own decisions”. Her aunt wanted to be a doctor but her family calculated that the cost of her education would be the same as the cost of her wedding, so decided to arrange her marriage. She had no choice.

Empowering women begins at birth. The level of conditioning installed in a girl as she grows up influences the level of autonomy she has over her decisions when she is older. I agree with Sidra and also believe that disempowerment and inferiority begin at birth. Sex-selective abortions of female foetus’, handing out laddoo on the birth of a son, and celebrations such as lohri are some indicators of the discrimination many people have towards girls right from the very beginning when they are merely foetus’.

Sidra believes this has much to with finances. A son will take over the family business, build the family empire and cost less, whereas a daughter costs money. Her parents have to pay for her upkeep, education, wedding, dowry, and then she’s going to leave anyway to provide for her husband so they money leaves with her.

I believe that inherently sexist traditions and attitudes towards girls and women need to be eradicated. Women are as capable as men and do not necessarily cost more if we challenge traditions such as the dowry. The ‘Pink Laddoo’ campaign is excellent as it is slowly prompting people to acknowledge that giving birth to a girl is cause for celebration.

Sidra is a prime example of an empowered woman but was not empowered as a child. On the show, she spoke about her own experience as one of three daughters and the middle child, with the knowledge that her mother wanted a son. At the time and while growing up, she felt resentment, inferior and went through depression, self-harm and suicide. However, upon reflection and understanding that these stemmed from the fact her mother had suffered depression because she had hoped Sidra had been a boy, Sidra feels grateful for everything she has experienced.

Disempowered, for Sidra, began at birth where she felt the decision to be an empowered woman was taken from her because she was told she should have been a boy. She didn’t have that choice.

“Women should fight for justice”. Sidra urged people to accept that men and women are different so there is no premise for equality. She explained with an example.

A husband and wife go to work everyday. They decide that one day the husband will do the Hoover. One day the wife will Hoover the house. This is equality but it is not justice. Justice will take into consideration the amount of hours each one works, and other factors.

We also discussed the importance of education. “Education is a way to access and open your mind”.

Some children are playing noisily on the tube. Their father is reading a newspaper but is not interested in trying to control them. Your anger builds and builds. Why is he sitting doing nothing? Then you find out that the mother of the children has just passed away and their father is trying to figure out a way to them. Your reaction will immediately change because of the information and knowledge which has opened your mind.

Having information and knowledge opens the mind. Various viewers called in to tell us their stories about how their families fought for them to be educated and agreed with us on the importance of education.

One of our callers reminded us that even though our mother’s may not have been empowered, they brought up empowered women. She was absolutely right in directing the conversation to make us acknowledge parents who have played their part in empowerment.

Wanting to take our viewers on a journey of empowerment, Sidra and I split the topic of ‘Women Empowerment’ into two shows. This first show focused on how disempowerment begins, while our upcoming show and second part will focus on women who are already disempowered.

Tune-in to Zee Companion on Friday 20th to see our second ‘Women Empowerment’ show, and if you would like to join the conversation, you can call-in for free during the show or email zeecompanion@zeetv.co.uk.