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Women’s Day: Demanding a diverse, equitable, and inclusive world

When your social media feed is full of adverts and long posts dedicated to the power of women, you know it’s time for Women’s Day. It is yet another year of cringe-worthy ads and tokenism putting women on a pedestal—she can be anything she wants to, she can do anything she sets her mind to, so on and so forth. But what if she wants to be a lazy sloth and not a self-sacrificing mother or a go-getter CEO? Would that be acceptable?

What is women’s day?

On March 8th every year, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. We look at the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women worldwide, past and present. It is also a call to action for accelerating women’s equality globally.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is Break the Bias #BreaktheBias

“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Celebrate women’s achievements. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

IWD

Why do we still need to celebrate Women’s Day?

Most women reading this are privileged enough to have had an education. Many are still denied education and many other opportunities solely based on their gender. It is a day for raising awareness about how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go in our quest for gender equity.

What about a day for men if you want equality, you ask? I call that ‘the rest of the year’! Men are still preferred over their women counterparts for leadership roles. Men do not have to think of a million things, such as their safety or clothing choices, before stepping out at any time during the night or day. And no matter how much women succeed in their careers, they are still considered the primary caregivers at home.

Till these issues are addressed, we still need a designated Women’s Day.

How do we promote a gender-equal world?

Companies: Do you hire enough women at all levels? Do you promote them to senior roles? Is your work culture safe for women? Are you biased against women because you think they’ll get married and have kids, so they won’t make work their priority? In an interview for a role, would you ask the same questions to a man? 

At home: In most households, even if both partners are working in an office, a woman bears the majority of household and child-rearing tasks. Look into your own homes: What’s the chore distribution like? If the house help doesn’t show up, who cooks and cleans? Who gets called from school if your child is unwell? Who takes the day off to take care of the child? Make a list of things both partners have done through the day (even the stay-at-home ones), including micro tasks like picking up the towel from the floor. Would you be able to take care of yourself independently without your spouse?

I attended a training session over the course of a few weekends. It was led by a woman. She was sometimes interrupted by her kids or activities related to her children even though the father was home. If a man were teaching the class, he would’ve ensured zero disturbance, and we would’ve called him professional. Why can’t women be offered the same support? Or we just accept that people of all genders cannot cut off from their lives even while at work, and take these minor interruptions in our stride.

As a woman: It took me all of my 20s to realise that I don’t need to add society’s expectations of me to my to-do list. I thought it was my job to do my job then come home and take care of my husband. I used phrases like “stop screaming like a girl”. I am so over that!

It is not my job to be a mother to my husband. He is very capable of taking care of himself if I let him. Ask yourself, how do you celebrate women, including yourself? Do you over criticise yourself and other women as compared to men? Do you have a different set of expectations from men and women? Do you stand up for yourself enough?

Women’s Day books: Some books for and by women

Non-fiction:

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: I identified with her feelings that many women writers have not lived up to their potential because they haven’t been given the space to pursue their work. 

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: There’s no right or wrong way to be a feminist. You can like pink frills and still want equal pay or not be judged for the amount of sex you have or don’t have.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez: This should and will enrage, surprise, and sadden you. But hopefully, it’ll also make you aware of the inequities and biases women face in every walk of life. That, in turn, would hopefully make you point them out, fix them, and stop them when you see them being repeated.

A Life in Words by Ismat Chughtai: This book is a collection of essays from her life—her observations of people in her family and the country going through a tumultuous phase; and her experiences growing up as a girl in a Muslim household. It gives us a glimpse of how life was and how this girl knew she had to rebel against many barriers and customs to make space for herself and her ambitions.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: Open, honest, surprisingly revealing, funny, and just a whole lot of adjectives that can describe this remarkable book. Not only does it give you a peek at life in the White House, but she also discusses racism and sexism, dealing with infertility and going through a rocky phase in her marriage. 

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates: A good insight into how bringing diversity to the table benefits everyone. It has a bit of her biography, her experiences in her work and home life, and experiences of other women around the world. She talks about gender parity and diversity in all spheres, from farming to AI development.

Fiction:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: Having read contemporary books that depict girls and women as self-pitying creatures only interested in bagging a boy, this age-old book was such a fresh breath of air. The dialogues of a woman secure in her independence and self-worth fill you with pride.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I re-read this classic and was blown over by it again. It is a book that gives you something different each time you read it in different stages of your life. The first time I read it, I looked at it as a love story. This time I saw how the strong-willed Elizabeth stood out compared to her sisters and friends. 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo: Women who fail to conform to the cultural norm often become the subjects of intense scrutiny. The pressure to live up to expectations can be brutal. It’s considered a feminist novel mainly because it discusses the patriarchal mindset we live with.

Fantasy-fiction:

Circe by Madeline Miller: The re-telling of mythology from the woman’s perspective makes you rethink many things you’ve been told all your life. Is that woman a dangerous man-eater, or she’s just a woman painted that way by men who couldn’t have her? Circe is an empowered woman protagonist and the story of how she becomes that with the right mix of magic and fantasy.

The Forest of Enchantments and The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: these books look at the Ramayana and Mahabharata from the leading woman’s perspective; Sita and Draupadi, respectively. These books voiced so many of the questions I had while originally reading or listening to the epics…and these books gave me new things to think about. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: I loved how characters usually sidelined or are token characters are very matter-of-factly placed front and centre across the storyline. The story itself is full of twists and turns and is exciting but also an insightful look into the thinking of pious reigns. 

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

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