From girls in hijabs to men who cook, it takes collective action to break the bias

by Aditi Seshadri

As I reflected on this year’s International Women’s Day theme, my first thought went to the hijab controversy that erupted in India at the start of 2022. Even though Covid was surging through a third wave, several parts of the country went to vote, and the world was holding its breath over a possible war, the hot topic of the season, yet again, was women’s clothes and how they choose to express their identity.

When girls are being prevented from getting an education on account of their identities as Muslims and women (and this is not a situation exclusive to India), it’s a clarion call – to not suffer anymore stereotypes and discrimination, to celebrate differences and diversity, and to band together for equality and break the bias.

And that is why this year’s theme struck home because I realised that in many ways – small and large, deliberately and unknowingly, personally and professionally, individually and collectively – the women and men in my life, myself included, have always been and will continue to build a gender-equal world. For many of us, every day is women’s day.

 The personal is political. The best role models maybe on Instagram but the most valuable ones are around us in our homes, families, friends’ groups and other social circles. It’s in my husband who cooks every day – not the chef-y showoff-y man vs meat kind of cooking that gets a lot of external praise, but the daily, nutritious sambar-veggies-rice kind of cooking that is needed to feed our home. It is my divorced single mom friend who raises her kids to be incredible humans while also providing for them financially; a brother-in-law who made the difficult choice of being the stay-at-home caregiver for his kids in their growing years; the queer friends who live life openly knowing that society is not giving them the equal rights they deserve, and so many more all around me.

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. I have been lucky in my role models, but I have also always been very aware that this is an ongoing journey, that we need to keep steering this forward. A relay race for equity, if you will, with every passing of the baton bringing us closer to the finish line.

Organisations like FlexibeesSironaAvatarPeriFerryStandWeSpeakSheroesi-Saksham do this overtly, through their very existence every single day, while many others, like Stanford Seed, Tata, Nivea, Amul, do it through their culture, people, empathy and voice. At Unlock Impact too, women have always been front and centre. Apart from the fact that we are women-owned and led, Unlock Impact has been actively creating workplace opportunities and diversity through our Comms Ninja initiative. This virtual, flexible model that has mid-career women working as communications specialists has now helped nearly 20 impact organisations grow their presence across regions and time zones.

More recently, we are taking this commitment further through Nüshu Network, a platform that aims to break all kinds of biases that exist around women, entrepreneurship and investment today – from who can be an entrepreneur and how to do it, to what is worth investing and who are the right people to do it. It’s early days still for us, but the response and support we’re seeing has been heartening.

This is a human fight. Unfortunately, like many issues that are complex or layered, the fight to break the bias is often seen as something that affects one half of our population, but it really does affect everyone – ask the men who want to become artists not engineers or the boys who want to cry without being called sissies or even the male gender advocates who want to participate equally in this movement.

We are all responsible, in our personal actions, calling out what’s wrong and speaking up for those who need support, so that young girls – whether in hijabs, saffron scarves or rainbow-coloured bikinis for all we care – are simply able to make a better future for themselves.

(Published on LinkedIn; Mar 7, 2022)

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