I was invited to give a talk on #genderequality to a group of young women from Andhra Pradesh. I decided to begin my talk by decoding #discrimination, as I believe, it is discrimination that perpetuates inequality. I thought that trying to understand why we discriminate, or get discriminated against, would form a solid foundation to comprehend equality.
I met this large group of young, bright-eyed, confident 22 yr old women; I decide to begin with something called ‘The Star’ exercise. Each participant was given a paper with a single 5-pointed star printed on it. The task was to cut the star out of the paper within 10 mins. Participants were prompted to be creative and use their imagination. Only 3 students out of this large group were lucky enough to be given a pair of scissors for this task.
Most of this group, pretty evidently, struggled for about 10 mins, whereas those with scissors had a smooth ride. Finally, we had everyone pluck the star out. Most stars were misshapen, with untidy edges. Some were pretty neat, although with a scope of refinement. Only 3 stars were impeccably cut. The group observed all the stars and seemed well aware that the use of scissors led to a significant difference in quality.
During activity reflections, whilst most of the responses around creativity and determination filled my heart with appreciation, responses to one question struck me like a thunderbolt.
“How did it feel to not have the scissors?”
I expected, “I was furious”, “This was unfair”, “Why me?” But what I heard was, “It doesn’t matter whether I have the scissor or not. I still gave my best.” “I did not have the scissors but had creativity and diligence.” “I thought how even without the scissors I can cut the star perfectly.”
I further probed,
“Did anyone think of borrowing the scissors?”
and heard a blank unanimous NO. Even with unequal resources, women were comfortable putting in extra amounts of hard work to achieve the same result. I hadn’t expected this level of naivety in young women who have ostensibly been far more exposed to the world than their previous generation.
To be accepted and seen as an achiever was important for this group. But in doing so, they completely missed out the simpler approach of just questioning. “Why don’t I have the pair of scissors?” “Why do some of us have it and most dont’?” “Why are we not operating with the same rules?”
These seemingly innocuous acts of not asking simple questions eventually lead to a much larger disadvantage for women in their personal, professional, social and emotional life. The consequential lack of opportunity not just gives them a poor start, but repeatedly impacts the quality of progress throughout their life.
While intolerance towards discrimination and discriminators is important, I believe, re-evaluating our own behaviour when being discriminated against, is equally imperative. It is our strongest ally in combating discrimination and further curtailing inequality against #women.
Written by Gauri Mahendra, Co-founder, UMEED.