Whether you are a sports fan or not, you were probably glued to your TV screen over the last 10 days, watching Olympians Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Deepika Kumari, Aditi Ashok and Heena Sidhu perform at the Rio games this year. No one can deny that they took us high, whether they brought home medals or not.
That’s because so many of them performed beautifully against all the odds. Even qualifying for the Olympics from a country that takes sport so casually, and is so discriminatory about women’s sport in particular, was an achievement that every woman in India recognised. Particularly women entrepreneurs who, just like many of our sportswomen, deal with gender-based challenges day in and day out.
No one knows this better than Asian Games silver medallist Shikha Uberoi, now an entrepreneur leading Indi.com, a social media platform where people engage via video challenges. “It is wonderful and very exciting for Indian women to be at the pinnacle of all sports,” says Uberoi. “PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik, the only Olympics medal winners from India this year, show where exactly women stand in our country and where they should be standing.”
Now, adds the former tennis player, is the moment to buckle down and really focus on women. “We have to create further infrastructure, enable women more, help them empower themselves in sports, in entrepreneurship and in any kind of leadership capacity so that more and more women from the nation can reach global heights just as they did in the Olympics,” says Uberoi.
For Malini Gowrishankar, an entrepreneur who creates secure holidays for women through her firm F5 Escapes, our women Olympians are a brilliant source of inspiration.
“Women empowerment is being talked about like never before in India and that itself is a positive sign,” says Gowrishankar. “These women have not only made it for themselves but also shown a ray of hope to many women who aspire to achieve their dreams. I know of women runners and swimmers who are reprimanded by their parents for wearing shorts and swimsuits. I hope these wins shift the focus from women’s skin to their ability and brains. Grow up, society! Everyone has skin, but not everyone has talent.”
What our women Olympians did, apart from provide all Indian women with inspiration, was open our eyes and minds to a wider world, says entrepreneur Renuka Shah, whose firm Jalebi creates eco-products.
“It’s amazing to know a sport after its players brought it into the spotlight,” says Shah. “They [the women Olympians] are game changers. Despite all odds, those beautiful women made it to the top with all their hard work. It’s not the silver or bronze that our sportswomen are bringing back, it is the ability to get there and fight. I hope our system will now understand the meaning of sports and provide more opportunities and infrastructure to aspiring girls.”
“Girls can play sport and win too,” says Pavithra Chandra, CEO at B7 Sports Management, with such a tone of triumph in her voice that she’s almost shouting. For her, our women Olympians are a vindication of her business, which aims to enable aspiring sportswomen in India to get to the very top.
Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik, PV Sindhu, Aditi Ashok and the women’s hockey team are unstoppable, says Chandra, a former international basketball player. “The world is beginning to take notice of Indian women athletes who have shown tremendous hunger, grit, power and skill,” she says. “When you beat the best in the business then you have performed and performers never go unnoticed on a global platform. India had a long wait for a medal at the Rio games, so the hungry nation gave more attention to the underdog women athletes silently inching towards the podium.”
All the women entrepreneurs SheThePeople.TV spoke with had one overwhelming response to the women Olympians: the huge sense of empowerment they generated.
“These women athletes, like their predecessors are cementing the fact that girls can win against the cultural/gender dominance we’ve all had to endure,” says Chandra. “Perhaps this will influence a generation of parents to support their daughters’ dreams, especially in sports.”
Adds Uberoi: “In a country where women struggle to be in front, any woman who leads helps other women empower themselves. These athletes proved that female empowerment is achievable. This is a big triumph.”
It certainly is.
Read more from our Rio series here
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