Forbes recently came out with its latest list of billionaires and while Jeff Bezos of Amazon has overtaken Bill Gates as the richest man in the world, it has been a record year for women billionaires with an all-time high number of 256 women making it to this exalted place in the 2018 Forbes World’s Billionaire ranking. These women’s collective net worth, hold your breath, topped $1 trillion, up 20 per cent compared to last year! But what’s most heartening is that even though most of the women on this list have inherited their wealth, more than a quarter of the world’s richest women are “self-starters” who have blazed their own trails. This number has reached 72 for the first time, up from 56 a year ago. Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, reclaimed the crown as the richest woman in the world, with her wealth catapulting from $33.8 billion to $46 billion over the past year. She took over the title from the L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who died in September 2017 at 94. Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, her only child emerged at the number two position with a net worth of $42.2 billion. An interesting takeaway from this Forbes cover story was that if you want to make it as a woman of worth — well, net worth — on your own steam, then the US and China are the places to be in. Two-thirds of self-made female billionaires hail from these two countries alone.
An interesting rags-to-riches story is that of the richest self-made woman, Hong Kong’s Zhou Qunfei, who lost her mother as a child and quit school at 16 to work. She went on to found her own watch lenses manufacturing business after years of work experience in factories. Eventually she got into the business of making glass covers for cell phones, and Apple and Samsung are among her customers. Her self-made fortune: $7.8 billion.
While these women have all the riches in the world and good luck and godspeed to them, in our daily lives we come across so many women — by a sheer coincidence I am writing this Edit on Women’s Day — who have different kinds of wealth. I met one such woman, brimming with the richness of love, compassion and caring in Pune, while doing the cover story for this issue. A post graduate in philosophy, Renutai has spent several decades after throwing up a well-paying job as a Saraswat Bank officer in Mumbai, “to work for the community and give love to those who don’t get any”. For nearly 20 years she has scouted the streets of Budhwar Peth, Pune’s massive red light district which is estimated to have several thousand sex workers. Her biggest fear is that the children of these workers will eventually get sucked into the flesh trade and there are several sordid tales of child trafficking proving her right. Renutai gives me goosebumps when she relates the story of a nine-year-old girl who she had rescued and kept at the residential facility she runs in Pune, where the children go to a private school. The mother had sanctioned this, but due to debts, she quietly sold the girl to a trafficker. Her attempts to rescue the child, and even buy her back, failed. Responding to her desperation and anguish the pimp said: ‘Aap itna dukh kyo karti ho, woh ab Bangalore ki khidki mei hei (Why are you so sad; she is now in the Bangalore flesh trade).
A mere 9-year-old child; think about it…