By Anesa Kratovac:
It is quite difficult to not be influenced by the state of the world, be it from the negative news coming from the media or impressions of problems in our own communities. The helplessness we feel in those moments comes from the feelings that we are powerless to do anything about these issues- that they are bigger than us and solving them has been attempted by many others throughout decades and centuries. I must say that this is furthest from the truth. That ubiquitous belief alone has hindered progress and has shaped the state of the world today.
Helplessness means defeat. Opposite of helplessness is being proactive. There are decisions each one of us could make that could have wide-ranging ripple effects. If each person did his or her share to live in accordance to the change he or she wants to see, most of our world problems would cease. From individual, to group to society, all change is ignited by individual agents with a passion to make a difference.
This brings me to women’s issues in India. All around me, I see empowered young women and men who are conscious of the gender issues prevailing in their country, but feel very discouraged about the lack of progress in making gender equality a reality. Although we tend to believe that it is the numerous advocacy groups, the government, the non-profits and the media that will be at the forefront to making a difference and altering cultural attitudes, we forget to realize that we ourselves are the most powerful agents of influence on those around us (peer pressure should be owned and made a positive thing).
Instead of wishing, hoping and waiting for the oppressors and the cultural traditionalists to change their minds, we could start with our own agency and ask ourselves what we can do in our lives to reflect those changes that we want to see.
For women, there are numerous ways they can do this. Here, I am offering my own three suggestions in ways this can be done to influence others and promote gender equality:
1) Use storytelling to capture others. The power of storytelling is a marketing strategy used worldwide by organizations to capture the attention of donors and mainstream media. By telling stories, others feel empathy to your cause and could get inspired to think and act in a manner sympathetic to its message. If you know of a story where a woman was demoted because of gender, bring it up, talk to others, express your views, write about it in a blog; discussion will reach others more personally than any news-story will. Be “the media” and spread awareness of issues “you” care about.
2) Be the type of woman you admire. Do you admire a female scientist, politician, novelist, painter or public figure? Then, project the qualities that make this woman great on daily basis. Don’t settle for anything less than that. Be unique and follow your own voice. This type of a person made a difference in the world when others were too busy living prescribed lives planned by their parents and their societies. You owe yourself and your country to be an agent of change, so start today and embody the woman that you admire most; be an example to other girls! In this way, you will do your big part to make India a country that you can be proud of.
3) Defy gender impositions. Gender is a culturally created standard that we are conditioned to adapt to and follow as we grow up. Sure, men and women have different physiologies (are of different sexes), but our views on the relations between them, on the type of behaviour each should have, and the place of both in the society are purely culturally made up and imposed. Think of a society that to you is a utopia. How are women treated in this society? What would your role be? What kind of life would you lead? Even if this is an imagined day-dream, use the premise of this as a guide to the type of life towards which you’d aspire; your imagination is not trickery but a vision of your unique truth and conscious/subconscious desires (your heart is speaking to you). Do your part to challenge others’ expectations of you and give them glimpses of the vision you have for yourself as something that cannot be taken away from you at all costs.
Men, especially young men, have a large role to play in making their country a safer and more equal place for women (their mothers, sisters, cousins, friends, girlfriends and wives). Indeed, gender equality concerns men as much as women, because it is the outdated attitudes of young men (passed from generation to generation) that are perpetuating violence, abuse and discrimination. You are truly in a unique position to challenge the status quo and transform India into a country that you respect!
There are also a few ways you can make this happen through individual initiative:
1) Listen to your female peers about their experiences– what it’s like to be a woman in their shoes. Try to be empathetic and picture yourself on the other side of the fence. What would you do if you were them and if something unpleasant happened to you? What would you change about your behaviour now knowing how the other person feels on the receiving end of this behaviour? Be informed about women’s lives, issues and needs, and this will empower you to be a better man who will pass on good values to the next generations.
2) When you hear someone speak badly about a woman or women in general, don’t be silent; this only encourages the perpetrators to spread vile perceptions as acceptable. Speak up and voice your own opinions; others may feel the need to do so as well, but may be afraid to say something fearing reconciliation. Be the first one, and you will be the hero of the day! Speak up for the oppressed; by being silent, you automatically comply with the oppressor(s).
3) Be the man you admire and respect- be it a public hero or your own family member. Embody his values and live by them. What does he believe? How does he behave? What would he do about social issues in his community? Become an even better version of this inspiration! Not only will you be respected and admired by becoming an example to others, you will be the type of a change-agent that India desperately needs.
Social transformation truly starts with the youth, and youth are the only change-agents we can count on to solve India’s biggest problems. Forget politicians; forget the people who seem powerful and who you think have all the answers. They are mostly in it for themselves and only do as much as their energy for the day commands. They will never usher in innovation and bold ideas that the country needs to move forward.
It will have to be you- your life and your work. Your generation will be power holders eventually and your lives will reflect the values you bring to those positions. Start now by being the change you want to see five, ten, fifty years down the line. Do it for you, for your family, for your community…for India.
A great example of speaking up for others: