My six-year-old daughter sat down by my side, full of excitement, to watch the 71st Republic Day parade. It is usually a struggle to hold her down to one spot, especially when it is something that you want her to watch. But I had managed to pique her interest, by telling her that this was a very special parade. It was going to be “led” by a woman, I tried to simplify it for her and it worked. Cuddled next to me, her eyes widened with excitement as we watched the first female adjutant for Republic Day, on our television screen. She spent the next half an hour marching around the house, “just like Tania Shergill.” This is why women’s representation matters.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • This year’s Republic Day showcased women-power, giving young girls idols that inspired them to dream big.
  • The mere inclusion of women across different fields is not enough.
  • Showcasing their presence, achievements and struggles are equally important.
  • Representation of women inspires girls and normalises the presence of women in various fields in our society.

Cuddled next to me, her eyes widened with excitement as we watched Captain Tania Shergill, the first female adjutant for Republic Day, on our television screen.

The Indian Armed Forces have taken some crucial steps to be more inclusive and diverse in recent years.  In September 2019, the Indian Army announced that it was opening up eight more streams for women within the force as permanent commissioned officers. Then in November, the Indian Navy got its first female pilot in Lieutenant Shivangi, while Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth became the first woman pilot of the Indian Air Force to pass out in the month of May.

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However, merely widening the horizons for women isn’t enough, if you are aiming for inclusion. Women on the outside of the Armed Forces, or any other field for that matter, need to see these changes so that they are inspired to dream big. Representation is the key to encouraging women and normalising their presence in various fields. While we want girls to fly high and aim to be pilots, Military cops, racing car drivers, or pursue a career in CRPF, corporate sector, neurosciences, economics, etc, we also need to build a society around them that is accepting of their choices. Boys who will be men tomorrow to stand by these women and their professions. Family members, in-laws and acquaintances who do not discourage women from dreaming differently.

Every woman whose accomplishments, breakthroughs or sheer presence is celebrated holds the potential to inspire thousands of young girls.

Which is why it is a big deal, for Tania Shergill to be India’s first female Republic Day parade adjutant, or for Major Sheena Nayyar to lead the contingent of the transportable satellite terminal and for the CRPF to showcase an all-women bikers contingent performing daredevil stunts. When we and our children watch them and many more women whose breakthroughs make it to us via the media, it normalises women’s presence in diverse careers. It tells a girl that she has it in her to march in front of the President of India and make her nation and society proud. It tells boys that girls can play with tanks too and that it is not unusual for them to be good at technology or even combat.

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Every woman whose accomplishments, breakthroughs, struggles or sheer presence is celebrated holds the potential to inspire thousands of young girls. When I was young, the thought that I could be a businesswoman or a superhero never crossed my mind. Because suits and capes were for boys then, not for girls. Today my daughter pretend-plays to be a superhero, jumping from one couch to another, rescuing her stuffed toys. And while our sofa’s springs threaten to give up on us any day, my heart swells with pride. She and millions of other girls have a cape that I never got to wear. In Tania Shergill, Sheena Nayyer and CRPF bike-riders, she found a set of idols that weren’t there before. May the tribes of these heroines grow by leaps and bounds.

Image Credit: AFP

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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