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IACA & TAMA celebrate International Women’s Day with inspiring conference


Atlanta, GA, March 26, 2024: India’s 75th Republic Day parade on January 26, 2024, featured a women-centric theme for the first time, with all-women contingents, diverse achievements, and a message about women’s empowerment and their role in shaping the country’s future. The parade was titled “Viksit Bharat” (Developed India) and “Bharat – Loktantra ki Matruka” (India – Mother of Democracy).

In alignment with the theme, the India American Cultural Association (IACA) launched the Women’s Forum during its Republic Day celebrations in Atlanta on Jan 28.

Of women, for women, and by women, in commemoration of International Women’s Day (IWD), the newly formed IACA Women’s Forum, in association with the Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta (TAMA), presented a conference featuring captivating keynote speeches by Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Executive Chairperson of Biocon Limited and Biocon Biologics Limited, and Sucheta Rawal, an award-winning South Asian food and travel writer. The conference also included thought-provoking panel discussions, recognitions, and inspiring performances from trailblazing women who broke barriers and defied stereotypes to rise to leadership roles in their fields. The conference was held at Jade Banquet Hall in Duluth on March 10, 2024.

The keynote speakers, Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (left) and Sucheta Rawal.

Inspirational local Olympians Mary D’Souza and Lata Chinnan (IACA life member) were also recognized at the event, elevating the experience for the attendees.

“IACA launched the Women’s Forum in 2024 to promote Leadership, Empowerment, and Sisterhood among Indian American Women in Atlanta. International Women’s Day, presented by IACA’s Women’s Forum, received an overwhelming response from the community and made IACA a Changemaker for the Indian community in Atlanta,” Chand Akkineni, Chairman of IACA who initiated the formation of the Women’s Forum, said.

The organizers.

“My appeal to all the women out there is that regardless of your political views, it is most important that we do not remain content with just equal pay or equal opportunities but make a concerted effort to involve yourself as today’s policymakers. When we talk about change and revolution, it does not come without civic engagement,” Rina Gupta, event co-chair, remarked.

The conference, anchored by Suneetha Potnuru, Priyanka Gaddam, and Neha Negandhi, opened with the traditional lamp lighting by Mrs. Renugadevi Subramaiam, wife of Hon. CGI, Atlanta, GA, joined by IACA and TAMA board members and a melodious rendition of Ganesh Vandana by Anusha Goda.

“IACA and TAMA collaboration proved to be a resounding success during this year’s IWD celebration. Having a distinctive role in both organizations, I had the opportunity to bring these two old organizations together for this significant event. Despite some challenges, we delivered an exceptionally successful event that continues to garner overwhelmingly positive feedback. IACA led the way in pioneering this style of conference to foster leadership, support our community, and cultivate sisterhood. Additionally, we take pride in initiating the Women’s Forum this year, which aims to drive continued community outreach initiatives throughout the year in the greater Atlanta area,” Suma Potini, event co-chair, noted.

Traditionally, women are a minority in leadership, and the needle hasn’t moved much on these numbers over the last several years. Globally, today, less than a third (32%) of leadership positions are held by women. In APAC, female representation in leadership is varied but consistently less than 50% – Singapore is one of the leading countries in leadership representation (42%), followed by Australia (33%) and India (18%).

Even as the quest for a gender-equal world continues, it was wonderful to witness a host of women leading the way in the fields of entrepreneurship, education, medicine, law, wellness, and those who chose to foster sisterhood through their organizations to support and empower women.

“International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality, and the remarkable progress that has been achieved; it is a day to honor the achievements and contribution of women across while also recognizing the systemic barriers and discrimination,” Keynote speaker Dr. Mazumdar Shaw, remarked. As she observed, the struggle dates back to the early 1900s when IWD came into being, at a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

Lack of education, access to capital, and a level playing field, Dr. Mazumdar noted, were some of the challenges faced by women in entrepreneurship. She also emphasized the need for access to education, healthcare, and security to empower women in leadership roles.

Citing examples from her own journey, Dr. Mazumdar emphasized the importance of perseverance and adaptability in the face of adversity – from a chance meeting with an Irish businessman to starting a biotechnology company in India with limited resources and overcoming challenges. Dr. Mazumdar also lauded Indian PM Modi’s efforts towards women’s empowerment through his various policies including the landmark legislation that reserves one-third of the seats in its powerful lower house and in state legislatures for women to ensure more equal representation.

“It was an honor to share my journey as an Indian immigrant to establishing myself as a travel journalist in the keynote address for the first International Women’s Day event cohosted by IACA! I had the opportunity to meet several ladies after the talk & they all seemed interested in traveling more, even solo. I can’t wait to see more South Asian women following their dreams!” Rawal expressed. Rawal talked about her experiences in pursuing her passions despite cultural norms and societal expectations. She shared her journey from a corporate job to becoming a successful travel writer, author, and entrepreneur, highlighting the importance of following one’s passion and not conforming to traditional career paths. She also emphasized the need to break cultural barriers and pursue one’s true interests, even if it means taking a non-traditional path. Happiness, she observed comes from “pursuing what you are passionate about.”

The six panels.

Moderated by Neeti Diwan, an author, and entrepreneur, with panelists Nita Sardana, Chief Impact Officer of the Innova Foundation, Kanchana Raman, President Avion Networks, and Arti Kumar, Owner SMS Trading, the Empowering Entrepreneurs discussions stressed upon the need to stop overthinking, overplanning, overanalyzing, and start doing. In entrepreneurship, the panel concluded, the unknown can be the greatest asset when you are starting out. When everything around you falls apart, there is only one way to go from there – UP.

“It was a privilege to discuss the importance of work-life balance as a female leader alongside esteemed panelists Kanchana Raman and Arti Kumar. The Innova Foundation recognizes that community engagement is vital in our ongoing efforts to promote inclusion and equality for women, and I am grateful to the IACA, TAMA, and our moderator Neeti Dewan for fostering such an open and supportive environment,” Nita Sardana remarked.

Dr. Ritu Ahuja, Director of Principal Coaching, Fulton Schools and Viji Namburar, Principal, Woodward North Academy, a private school in Johns creek  transported the audience into the world of Education with moderator Jyothsna Hegde (this author), offering insights into various challenges they faced, and the paths they tread to reach to the top. As someone who coaches Principals of Fulton schools, Dr. Ahuja expounded the responsibilities of her role where she guides heads of schools to serve, educate and administer schools better in a “safe space”, without worries of being reported. Honored with Principal of the Year award in 2017, Dr. Ahuja spoke of the various policy changes she made throughout the school system that garnered her the recognition. She also underlined the eminent role of public schools within the communities – be it facing homeowners about the housing prices that come into play dependent on school ratings or the everyday struggles of students from underprivileged zip codes that have to worry about balancing life and school. Namburar stressed upon the role of a principal who bears the responsibility of people’s most treasured items – their children and money.  The panel arrived at the conclusion that achieving leadership roles, particularly in the field of education, comes with a lot of responsibility because ultimately educators play a key role in shaping young minds and the future of a nation. An appeal was also made for more of the diaspora to get involved in the field of education.

“As a health expert participating in this International Women’s Day seminar, I’m honored to contribute towards fostering a future where women’s well-being is paramount, paving the way for healthier generations ahead,” Dr. Lalitha Medepalli, GAPI President and panel moderator for Health panel said. Dr. Medepalli, specializing in Noninvasive Cardiology and Cardio-oncology, discussed heart health. Dr. Keshma Saujani offered OB/GYN tips. Dr. Nandini Sunkireddy, specializing in Family Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine, and Obesity Medicine, addressed lifestyle hacks. Dr. Sumana Moole, a Gastroenterologist, focused on digestive wellness. This health expert panel aimed to provide advice on women’s health and wellness. The discussion encompassed vital topics including heart disease in women, lifestyle modifications to prevent it, advancements and newer medications available for weight management, and the significance of gut health. The panel also addressed the importance of recognizing Colorectal Cancer, pregnancy-related concerns, and menopause, shedding light on its definition, symptoms, and non-hormonal treatment options, alongside exploring its link to increased cardiovascular risks.

The Navigating the Legal Landscape panel was moderated by Sheetal Desai, attorney and partner who specializes in commercial transactions, real estate, corporate law and commercial litigation.  Desai walked the audience through the complexities of the legal system to protect their rights and empower themselves. While Anandhi Rajan expounded on the Business & Personal Litigation, Bhavya Chaudhury, elaborated on Family Based Immigration, with Sonjui Kumar who explained nuances of Business Law and Deepa Subramanian brushed over few details of  Employment Law. The session delved into the myriad ways in which women intersect with the realm of law, shedding light on potential infractions and wrongdoings within Employment Laws, Family Law, Criminal Law, Civil Law, and Business Law.

Appropriately named ” Mind Matters’, the Mental Health panel featured  two well-known Psychiatrists, Dr. Sreedevi Vayalapalli ,Dr. Kalpana Prasad and prominent Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Ayesha Suneja ,as the panelists and moderated by Nivedita Garabadu, Clinical Navigator at an Independent. Living Facility. The panelists talked about topics relevant to women. Beginning with the definition of “Mental Health”, panelists discussed the type of healthcare professionals would suit their particular need. Topics such as severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disease and how to seek help for such disorders, were analyzed. Dr. Suneja explained the factors that prevent women from seeking help from mental health providers and the role of shame .Menopause and the mental health effects of it, was also discussed as was another important topic, postpartum blues, by Dr. Vayalapalli. Dr. Prasad commented on the advances in mental health and what psychiatry has to offer in times to come. At the end of the discussion, Dr. Suneja wrapped it up with takeaways and coping skills that can make women feel better.

The emcees.

A themed dance by Divya Anand, who chose Olympian Mary D’Souza as her inspiration at the venue, led into the final discussion. The Sisterhood panel successfully highlighted women who have triumphed in building supportive communities, serving as sources of inspiration and solidarity. Through their diverse approaches, these women demonstrated the power of connection and collaboration, paving the way for others to follow. By sharing their stories, the panel underlined the fact that no one is alone on their journey through life, and that together, meaningful change can be created. The panel concluded that it is essential for all to continue to sow the seeds of love and nurture what we’ve planted, ensuring that everyone feels valued and plays an important role in promoting belonging and inclusivity, rather than exclusivity.  We are all in this together!

This was one of the most organized, effective, informative, and successful women’s day celebrations,” Dr. Paddy Sharma, event co-chair said. 

The performers.

“As one of the representatives of IACA Women’s Forum, my vision for this event was not just about imparting information but rather to have meaningful conversations that will provide needed intellectual stimulation and foster heart connections amongst the entire collective of women gathered there.  And it feels like that happened.  Seeds of sisterhood, of multiple sisterhoods, were sown that day. Additionally, we made a small but meaningful contribution to Mother Earth by substituting plastic with compostable plates and other eco-friendly alternatives. Moreover, we opted to gift live plants to our guests, further promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness,” Gita Vemparala, Program Director of IWD summed it all up.

The IACA organizing team included Suma Potini, Rina Gupta, Dr. Paddy Sharma, Gita Vemparala, Vaisheshi Jalajam, Jyothsna Hegde, Suneetha Potnuru, Priyanka Gaddam, Juhi Rana, Anusmita Bardhan Sur, Lakshmi Mandavill, Anu Ganesh and Praveena Kommindi.

Rina Gupta thanked all volunteers & sponsors including Innova Foundation, 27th Investments, Tangent Solutions, Maharashtra Mandal of Atlanta, Mumtaz Fashions, AI, TiE Atlanta, Medroi, DJ Akhil, Dream Realty Group, GAPI, Sharma Yakshi &Associates, OONet, TextByChoice, Suwanee Smile &Shine, Divergence, Go-Green initiative, Atlanta Water Hydrations and Raffle sponsors JP Photostory, The tradition Oitijhyo, Shantanu Hair &Makeup, Jewels by Dee Madan, Elegant Creations, Social Panda, and Sparkles by Simi.

The organizers.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination,  but that which is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, a universe that values differences and celebrates similarities is far from reality. But there is much to  watch, learn and draw inspiration from these trailblazing women whose resilience rose them to the pinnacle of their success, despite these challenges. It only took one Rosa Parks to sit down for the entire nation to stand up, one Rani Laxmibai to declare “I will not give up  my Jhansi,” to irreversibly tip the scales that would result in India’s independence in 1947 – As Maya Angelou famously said “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

 In 1908, 15,000 people marched through New York City, advocating for shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights. After this rally, in 1909, the 1st National Women’s Day was observed across the United States on February 28th. Just two year later, IWD was honored in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland on March 19th, 1911, before moving to its current day of March 8th in 1913. Many decades later in 1975, IWD was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations.

The world is in need of these changemakers and hopefully we will uncover them all, and in the process unravel our own strengths to be one. When each of us women celebrate achievements of other women, raise awareness about discrimination, consciously attempt to drive parity, and amplify voices that have not been heard, the essence of International Women’s Day turns meaningful. Let’s hope that celebration does not take another century!

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