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Women share tales of empowerment at a unique gathering

Women share tales of empowerment at a unique gathering
March 14
07:34 2018

From left to right: Parmeet Randhawa, Sharon Gill, Kay Walia and Hon. Teresa Cox

India Post News Service

HAYWARD, CA: A unique International Women Empowerment event was held at the Golden Peacock Banquet Hall in Hayward, California on Saturday, March 10. Its uniqueness was in the panel which comprised women from different fields, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The speakers were multifaceted, displaying talents in writing and organizing events such as beauty pageants and film festivals.
The event organizers were Parmeet Randhawa, Sharon Gill and Kay Walia, and the Hon. Teresa Cox was the emcee.

Barbara Halliday, Mayor of Hayward, made the opening speech. Alameda County District Attorney (DA) Nancy O’Malley spoke about her work in the areas of rape crisis counseling and domestic violence before she took on her role of DA. Teresa Cox affectionately recalled when O’Malley took her then very young children to the bathroom during an event many years ago.

Deborah Cox from Assemblyman Bill Quirk’s office and Mallory DeLaurorepresenting Congressman Eric Swalwell, were the other women from local political offices.Assemblyman Quirk has been involved with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.
Mallory got a little emotional as she came on stage. She said that gender equality means a great deal more to her after the birth of her daughter.

From the tennis court to the law court

Anu Peshawaria, an immigration attorney and social activist who was also an accomplished tennis player in her younger days – she played in Wimbledon – spoke eloquently about her father’s support for her as a fourth daughter in the family even when the surrounding society distinctly saw girls as a burden to be married off.

When she took up law, she fought for justice for women who had been raped by the police in Uttarakhand, even against explicit death threats. Yet, she persisted and submitted her report to the Supreme Court, helping to get justice for the victims.

As an immigration attorney, she saw how husbands abroad often victimize immigrant women, a sizable percentage of which are women of Indian origin. She advocates on their behalf.

A woman in a man’s world

Ginny Harjot Walia, another attorney who passionately believes in the accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty, spoke about the seemingly mundane challenges that a woman faces that could seriously jeopardize her career.

Ginny gave the example of her sister in the corporate world, and how she felt that she could never compete on an equal footing with the men who had someone at home take care of all the housework and children.

Once, a judge did not grant Ms. Walia an extension for a custody hearing even when she was due for a C-section a few days prior; yet, she pulled herself back and went to court just days after her delivery. Her message: “Be bold, be brave, go against the grain…”

Dr. Monika Chugh, an ophthalmologist, spoke of her early days of marriage when she had just arrived in the US. People told her that she should quit medicine and pursue something “such as an MBA” that would help her get a job soon. However, she persisted, and received support from her mentor. Once she became a full-fledged doctor, she realized that she was in a man’s world as most of her fellow doctors were male.

On a personal note, she shared the experience of her recent accident when she got hit by a car as a pedestrian; and thanked the good people around her for their support during her recovery.

Dr. Chugh paid tribute to her late mother-in-law, Mrs. Krishna Chugh, who recently passed away, and her own mother. She quoted Rihanna, “There is something special about a woman who succeeds in a man’s world…” and added, “Think like a queen. Fight the good fight.”

The speech of Joann Babiak – another attorney, a family cases mediator – was centered on “hope”. She brought attention to the challenges that we face today: war, pestilence, need amidst abundance and the fact that other people may not have the opportunities we have. She extolled everyone to raise each other up.

Sitting first left: Mayor Barbara Halliday of Hayward, Standing second row: From left to right Nancy O’Malley, Deborah Cox and Mallory DeLauro

Emotional abuse

Dr. Preet Tuteja, a dentist, focused on emotional abuse, something that is hard to detect, as there are no visible scars, but is just as harmful as physical abuse. She made a presentation on the signs of such abuse and cited a beautiful poem, calling emotional abuse “suffering behind closed doors”.

From teenaged dependent bride to power businesswoman

Purnima Voria, an accomplished businesswoman who had flown in from Colorado, narrated the inspiring story of her rise from a dependent housewife to winner of small business awards and her current role in the National US Chamber of Commerce for India.
Married at the tender age of 17, she came to the US as a young dependent and started working at a department store. Later, when her daughter was born, she sold Tupperware to households, her little girl helping her to stack them up for display.

When her husband left her abruptly to go settle in India after they had three daughters, Ms. Voria made the choice to stay in the US to provide a better future for them. She worked three jobs and finally made it through.

She said, “You are the beacon of hope and inspiration to the world. Be who you are. Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

‘Women can be their own worst enemies’

Sonia Sidhu’s talk was focused on how women are their own worst enemies. She said that as women, we “need to free ourselves from our low self-esteem” and cited awareness of one’s surroundings and resources available in times of crisis as well as financial independence as important tools in empowering women.

Ms. Sidhu is a realtor, social activist and founder of a fashion and designing firm.

What is personal is what creates social change

Jassi Kaur, an author of children’s books, narrated the tale of when she once gave a talk against dowry in India and was boycotted. Later, a few years ago, a man came up to her and said that her message had struck a chord with him, so much that he did not accept even gifts from his wife’s family.

In her own family, when a brother-in-law was getting married, the bride’s family sent a lot of gifts to her husband’s family. Jassi Kaur insisted that they return the favor with the support of her husband.

She said, “Raise boys who are secure, who are confident, who can value and cherish women…”

Another side to justice

Dr. Anita Kapoor, a professor of Hindi-English literature and a fortune teller, who was involved with counseling services at the Fremont Hindu Temple, has helped many, starting with her work in Indian prisons in the special women’s cells.

She told the heart-rending tale of a woman who was imprisoned in a garage by her own adult daughters in the US and swindled of her property in India.

Dr. Kapoor hoped for a day when there would be no need for an international men’s or women’s day, just “Human Day”.

The men in their lives

Speakers and Honorees at International Women Empowerment Event

All the women thanked their fathers, husbands and sons for their immense support in their journeys.

Kay Walia, whose husband Ray Walia was well known for his service to the community and recently succumbed to pancreatic cancer, spoke affectionately of him and their sons. Ms. Walia is a businesswoman who has also starred in her husband’s film, “Theeyan Marjaaniyaan”, based on female feticide in Punjab – the movie screened at FOG Movie Fest in 2015 – and won awards for it.
Ms. Walia spoke passionately about the restrictions that society places on women, such as telling a recent widow not to dress in bright colors or laugh out loud in public.

Dr. Monika Chugh acknowledged her husband, Mr. Yogesh Chugh, while Jassi Kaur said that her dear spouse was “the wind beneath her wings, that helps her soar”.

All the speakers, organizers and women dignitaries received a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Hayward as well as from the offices of Assemblyman Bill Quirk and Congressman Eric Swalwell.

Lakshmi Iyer

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