This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #breakthebias, is all about drawing attention to, and challenging gender norms in today’s world.
So what does a conversation around gender stereotypes look like in 2022?
IndianCare speaks with three inspirational, influential Indian women in Melbourne, each breaking the bias and championing this movement in their own way.
Professor Asha Rao, Swathi Shanmukhasundaram and Jaya Manchikanti talk feminism, intersectionality and finding your voice as a woman in today’s world.
On breaking stereotypes in their personal, professional, and academic lives: authenticity and influence were the key themes that emerged.
“We live in a world in which women, people of colour, aren’t traditionally in positions of power – but you don’t need power to be a leader, you lead by influence,” said Asha.
Leading by example, Jaya cited her role as IndianCare founding president, “it was important to me to have women represented on our IndianCare board and to see another woman rise to the position of IndianCare president. I always encourage women of Indian backgrounds to put themselves forward and follow their interests. I consistently provide them with the confidence to put themselves in leadership positions and support them if they’re not being treated fairly.”
Notably, occupying positions of influence can pave the way for more women to carve out room for themselves in professional and academic spaces, and representation makes waves beyond the structural confines of a single organisation or group.
As Swathi noted, “When I began my role, I was the only person of colour and woman of colour on my team. I’ve been able to leverage my role to open these spaces to more diverse candidates. You shouldn’t need to hide aspects of your identity at work. The freedom to be your authentic self can break barriers: existence is resistance.”
With respect to challenging gender norms and creating a safer, more equitable world for girls and women, we saw alignment around the idea that action at a local or community level was essential to initiate a large-scale change.
“I want us to focus on self-care, and educating ourselves. Awards and accolades mean nothing if the work you talk about isn’t practiced in your everyday life. If you don’t treat the people around you with the same attitude you apply to your advocacy, it renders that work meaningless,” said Swathi.
Jaya discussed the way in which small, impactful actions played an essential role in breaking gender stereotypes: “Start with respect, don’t diminish a girl’s or woman’s ideas. Call out misogynist, racist and ageist comments to create a safer environment for women.” She noted that grassroots work to break the bias could feed into greater structural change as well; leading to creating space for more women in decision making roles, providing appropriate workforce training, and giving women the flexibility to remain in the workforce through maternity and their older years.
This idea of implementing micro-changes for macro level impact was summed up by Asha in this thought: “When you interact with women, think of how you’d like to be treated in the situation – not your children, your parents, your partner – but yourself. A safer and more equitable society is only possible when we give the respect we’d expect.”
We want to say a huge thank you to Asha , Swathi and Jaya for their time and their insights.
The fabric of our societies is woven together by strong, inspiring, multi-faceted women, and it’s time we celebrate these women for all that they have to offer.