The other day, my mobile phone rang – it was a wrong number. But as I and thousands of other Sri Lankan women discover to their dismay every day, the caller rang back – many times in fact, whispering what no woman wants to hear.
The menace does not stop until you either block the call or give the phone to a male voice. When I shared this on my Face Book status, many other women agreed that this was a frequent happening that irritated and bothered them.
I was left wishing, as they were, that surely there must be something our very popular, all-encompassing and customer-friendly mobile networks can do about things like this. Consider providing a women-friendly service.
To my mind, this would be an opportunity they would seize. An opportunity that would allow them to assure the female customers that they will not tolerate sexual harassment delivered on one of their phone lines.
Which brings me to the point I am trying to make here … As elsewhere in the world, in Sri Lanka too, women make up half of the population - if not in numbers, then definitely in terms of being the decision-makers for a wide variety of goods and services, whether for themselves or for their families and their children.
Every day, women make choices between banking, mobile operators, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), milk products, hotels, supermarkets, housing needs and what not.
So, other than for a few state banks, which must be admired for their women-focused baking products that essentially cater to rural entrepreneurial women, the others do not exactly have women-focused products in their portfolio, which clearly means that there is an opportunity.
Just as there is an opportunity for the mobile phone companies to provide a service many women would welcome concerning harassing and unwanted calls, there are opportunities for other companies too.
As another International Women’s Day beckons, can the Sri Lankan corporate world make a commitment, one that lasts, about the women who patronize their services and their products every day?
Some of these companies are headed by women so there is always hope. The Sri Lankan corporate world has always been magnanimous in its inclusion of women – as most of us who have trotted through it know by experience, the Sri Lankan corporate world does not exclude women.
In fact, it includes women and practices gender equality. But the catch lies in the message delivered through their products and services. Is it women-friendly – does it make the women feel included?
The kind of women-focused approach that should ideally be adopted goes beyond the campaigns consisting of smiling women serving food to their families or feeding their children.
Those campaigns are fine – they enable us to identify with the campaign but there is a lot of room for a bigger, more comprehensive approach towards including women as a segment that is empowered to make stronger purchase decisions and make choices concerning the usage of key services.
Recognizing women more
There are such opportunities for the banking and financial sector – there are many women running companies, starting business ventures, making decisions concerning large funds, every day. There are opportunities for others too; just look around you and see women making decisions either in consultation with their husbands or on their own.
We are a nation that loves our daughters just as much as we love our sons; we have never had to deal with the infanticide of girl babies. Our laws provide women with a considerable cover from unwanted attention and harassment although that may not always be so in actual practice all the time.
Can the corporate world that celebrates global causes such as diversity, going green and equality, also consider recognizing women for who they really are and engage them constructively in the delivery of messages? Can we share with them how we feel about the current levels of products and services being offered and be assured that they are listening to us and will make changes?
Globally, gender equality is a key factor that is often taken into account when making decisions – for some industries it is a yardstick of measurement for progress. Gender equality is not always a mere term of politically correctness, rather it must be reviewed as an opportunity that allows a company to engage a whole new set of consumers who make bold decisions that can make mere products stars.
So, as the International Women’s Day beckons tomorrow - for most it is a theme of the moment - do we think that the Sri Lankan corporate sector can do much more to engage women as consumers, employees, decision-makers and partners? Yes, we do.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at [email protected])