What is it that Indian women #ChooseToChallenge on this International Women’s Day?

A WEF report states that women have to wait for another 200 years to attain equality. Isn’t that too long? From violence and sexual abuse to gender pay gaps and restrictive reproduction rights, women and girls continue to face various obstacles on their path to achieving true equality. This international women’s day Indian women #ChooseToChallenge these obstacles that are impeding their progress.

What is it that Indian women 'choosetochallenge' this International women’s day

Manya Singh, Miss India 2020 runner up…. once only a dreamer has worked really hard to get where she is now. But it was not an easy ride. Like every other woman, she had to hear the same platitudes that have been around for ages. Her tauji would say, ‘Ladkiyon ko padhai karke bhi shaadi hi karni padti hai’and more of the same.

Coming from a typical patriarchal family, she was constantly told that women are lesser than men. But it doesn’t stop here. Manya experienced typecasting on the job when she auditioned for over ten pageants. They would say, “Shakal achi nahi hai” (you don’t look good) or “You don’t even know English.”

Manya Singh- Miss India Runner up 2020
Miss India 2020 runner-up Manya Singh, an auto driver’s daughter, was told Shakal achi nahi hai

This is just one instance of gender stereotyping. You may have also heard…

‘Barbies are for girls’

‘Women are bad drivers’

‘All women love shopping and gossiping’

‘Girls should be fair’…. And then there are the various socio-economic challenges that restrict the growth of women, further increasing the toll on them.

How women are still treated by society is no secret and although a few steps have been taken in the right direction for their amelioration, the stereotyping and the challenges continue.

Fortunately, some things are finally being brought out into the open and women are feeling secure enough to give voice to their fears and anxieties and openly talking about the traumas that they have faced at the hands of their oppressors. The #MeToo movement is the best example of this phenomenon. Women like Priya Ramani are fighting these battles on behalf of all women. More power to them!

But this is just the beginning…. numerous challenges continue to persist, and we women need to brace ourselves to fight the many battles still awaiting us.

As this year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge, some of the women leaders in the industry want to challenge those issues which need our concerted attention, discussion and action.

Inside article-What is it that Indian women choosetochallenge this International womens day

Societal standards, will they ever change!

If most women were to play the game ‘Never have I ever’…. they would definitely get drunk.

Social stigmas and taboos mandated especially for the female species have stopped them from evolving and achieving many milestones and successes that could rightfully have been theirs. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap report says, women will need to wait for 202 years before they can earn the same as men and have equal job opportunities, if the current rate of change stays the same.

So, we need to think hard about where we are going wrong.

When asked about what she would like to challenge, Vrushali Pradhan, co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Bizydale Nets, a new-age tech and creative solutions company points out that it’s the double standards that we need to eradicate. “Well, if you think for a while there are a number of things that I would emphasize on changing in society, especially the mentality towards women,” she says.

“As a female, I am anguished at the several events unfolding in the country, causing irreparable damage to women’s dignity. The need of the hour is to make women self-reliant and confident and empower them for the multi-dimensional growth of society at large, “she continues.

“I have been thinking this often, why do we have so many underlying problems? There have been plans and schemes by the governments over the years that aimed to craft women-friendly policies and ensure greater opportunities for women. However, regardless of this, the status of women has not quite changed. Societal double standards continue to be a major concern,” Pradhan adds.

“If a woman is molested, she is inviting it. It is her skirt that is to be blamed and not the lust of the man who dared to ruin her vanity. In the workplace, if a woman is ambitious, she is labelled as characterless, or her professional growth is credited to the insinuation that ‘she might have slept with her boss, ‘she further adds.

“This mindset is complicated! Society looks upon women as service providers. The rest is secondary. Are our women really empowered if this mentality persists? I would say “No”. Although a woman is a caregiver, she is much more than that. She is not the weaker sex. Our psyche and societal values need to change drastically. There should be a paradigm on how we raise our children – both male and female. The seeds of equality need to be sown in childhood. Empowerment should be the mindset and must emerge from our core. Women should also realize their immense potential and be determined to make a difference, “concludes Pradhan.

Chase the mental blues away

Wittingly or unwittingly many of us faced the demons of loneliness, anxiety and stress during the turbulence of 2020. Emotional wellbeing and mental health have never been as important and imperative as they are now.

Kanchan Rai, a mental and emotional wellbeing coach and founder at Let Us Talk chooses to challenge the fact that we mostly neglect our mental health. Particularly in a country like India, emotional ill health is associated with stigma, shame, disgrace and secrecy and that is not healthy as it leads to the nurturing of a mindset that looks down upon any kind of emotional or mental problem.

“Deciding to opt for counselling as a career was a challenging decision that I made. The reason I chose this field was because I strongly believe that it is essential to have an open dialogue and discussion on topics like mental health,” she says. It’s a fact that despite there being a tremendous amount of awareness, mental health is still considered to be on the periphery and therapy is relegated to the status of an afterthought.

“People tend to think about therapy as going to someone to get advice,” says Rai. “They continue to be unwilling to share their feelings or suffering or are shy to seek professional help. Even if they have somehow managed to cure themselves, they are not ready to share their experience with those who are still suffering in silence. “She adds.

The revelations made by a myriad of research are concerning too. Just digest these facts…

India accounts for 36.6 per cent of suicides globally and suicide has surpassed maternal mortality. While for men it hiked up to 24.3 per cent from 18.7 per cent as per studies by Lancet. The mental health of the Indian workforce is not up to the mark either, says WHO. On top of that, India lacks the proper mental health infrastructure with a severe shortage of experts. WHO states that in India, (per 100,000 population) there are (0.3) psychiatrists, (0.12) nurses, (0.07) psychologists and (0.07) social workers, while the desirable number is anything above 3 for psychiatrists and psychologists per 100,000 population.

The agency estimates that about 7.5 per cent Indians suffer from some kind of mental disorder. If we go by the numbers, 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million Indians suffer from anxiety disorders.

On this Rai says, even if people talk, there is a very low percentage of people who have actually been cured and have overcome this stigma. Considering the increasing numbers of people falling prey to anxiety and depression it becomes imperative that discussing at length about these issues should be more acceptable. “Being one of the few adopters of this niche career path, if there is one thing that I would like to change, or challenge, it is the mentality of people around the stigma attached to mental health. I wish to bring a change that will encourage people to accept their mental condition and approach a mental health expert for guidance. Dodging the issue will do no good, instead it will worsen the problem,” she says.

Rai firmly asserts that by being more vocal about mental illness, society can finally be purged of the false notions and stigmas that have been plaguing this topic. “Simply bottling up negative thoughts could possibly turn the problem into a bigger issue. I feel if a person has been cured from a certain mental health problem they must come forward and share their experience to inspire others to seek professional help for their own conditions. This is one situation that I would like to challenge and rid it of the various taboos that have been afflicting this topic, “she concludes.

Achieving an equal stature in the post COVID-19 world

The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is to celebrate the enormous effort made by women in managing the pandemic.

We have seen women leaders of various countries efficiently lead from the front to combat the challenges of COVID-19 and their efforts have helped save more lives than those by their male counterparts. Women-led organisations have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 recovery efforts by ably utilising their knowledge, networking and skills. You will find that women are in the lead among the front-line healthcare workers, caregivers, police, and other Corona warriors. COVID-19 also served to multiply hardships for a lot of women. Working mothers especially have faced plenty of challenges managing work and domestic duties at the same time.

“Hence, this year, we should challenge the status quo,” says Manjula Muthukrishnan, Managing Director, Avalara Technologies Private Limited, the India operations of Avalara, Inc.

“We should look for ways to shape a more balanced future for the world while we recover from the pandemic. We should work on integrating female perspectives while implementing the COVID-19 recovery programs and future policies. We are limited only by our imagination. We have come a long way to say ‘impossible’ to anything. Let’s inspire, empower and change. Let us work towards an equal future,” she hopes.      

Sharing a similar mindset with her, Sahiba Singh, Chief People Officer at Acuver Consulting, weighs in with her comments. She says, “There is so much stereotyping. Women are good at tech, women are good managers, women can drive and can read maps. But still there are plenty of societal preconceived notions that are imposed on us. Women are constantly being compared to their male counterparts. Thus, I choose to challenge all those who think like this. Stereotyping needs to stop! Corporates should be gender neutral and responsibilities should be assigned based on the skill set.”

It’s high time that we talk about religious intolerance

We are well into the 21st century and humanity still subsists under the often-suffocating cloak of religion.

Although secularism is the accepted norm, over the past couple of decades, religious intolerance has become an issue that is corroding the roots of our country. Even though our motherland boasts of diverse religions, religious freedom in India has plumbed to new depths in recent years.

And people like Anuja Kapur, a Criminal Psychologist, philanthropist and activist choose to challenge this burning issue.

She says, “Religious violence is on the rise in various parts of the country. The scheduled and organised violence, cold-blooded acts and barbarous attacks against religious minorities are being carried out with full impunity under the eyes of the upholders of our law and order. This environment of religious intolerance and violence has already claimed many lives in India.”

Though it was hard to find any specific data on cases of love Jihad, honour killing and xenophobia that India is witnessing now, according to her perspective it’s on an upswing and the victims are often women.

“Cases of such attacks against the minorities are piling up and it is the duty of the concerned authorities to act and ensure that everyone enjoys the right to freedom of religion and belief. This is what I would like to challenge by requesting ‘India’ to put in place an urgent and comprehensive response. With planned action, religiously motivated violence and violence against minorities need to be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Victims of such barbarity need to be assisted in whatever way possible by the government, “she avers.

Our constitution clearly states that freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by articles 25-28 of the constitution. The Preamble of the Indian constitution, amended in 1976 clearly states that India is a secular state.

Stating this, Kapur tells us, “We are all aware of the fact that ancient India was the epitome of religious tolerance, that being its basic tenet and hallmark. For centuries, people practising various religious faiths have lived side by side in peace, showcasing a culture of social and religious harmony. We have all been witness to the changing scenario in recent times where religious intolerance has emerged as a dominant factor in conflicts.”

Understand what true feminism is really about

Feminism simply states that all humans are equal irrespective of their gender. It’s an attempt to get rid of deliberate dominance and mistreatment, to bring male and female to the same level. Unfortunately, the true meaning of this movement has been distorted and completely misunderstood in India.

Chulamas Jitpatima, a woman entrepreneur and Country Director, MQDC India chooses to challenge this misconstrued notion of feminism. “It is a misconception that feminism stands for fighting for the rights of individuals who are biologically women alone,” she says.

“The concept of feminity goes beyond physical aspects alone and has a vast scope and we need to change that perception. As a society, we need to be able to hold and safeguard the rights and freedoms of every individual, so that they can be what they wish to be,” Chulamas adds.

The prevailing myth is that it’s a women’s movement due to the word ‘feminine’. But it’s the other way around, it’s for the upliftment of all. However, it’s a fact that over the years women have been the victims at the hands of society due to the prevalence of patriarchy for millennia. Also, it doesn’t aim to demean men in anyway or to exercise power over them. This is the perspective of most people now.

The need of the hour is that we must open our eyes to see what’s right and what needs to be done. The times are sensitive, and we are witnessing the rise of the right wing. The upside to this is that there is a growing awareness among people, and it is inspiring us all to do more and be better…irrespective of our gender.