Gender Equality is about having a voice and choice in society!
Gender Equality is about having a voice and choice in society!
By: Padmini Venkataraman
My journey from Singapore to India, leads me questioning the huge differences in the way woman are treated in different parts of the world. I was born in India, but was raised in Singapore most of my life. While I did a 1.5 years career stint in India, I recollect the feeling of being a woman in a Senior role, managing a team of 6 – Single, Childless at late 30s, and how that was viewed in India.
While nobody said anything openly, I could see reactions of people who wonder “Why could she not find someone, she looks nice, she is intelligent, she is perfectly fine”. I bump into another woman in India, who was 10 years younger in her late 20s. This woman was almost getting into depression. As I sat with her in Starbucks one day, she started opening up about how she was under social pressure to find a husband and settle down in her late 20s.
Every vacation with her cousins, was about attending a marriage and them finding her a potential boy, while most of her cousins close to her age, were already married, the stress was big on her. Then she made this comment, that every man in India likes these Skinny girls –but we women, we love to eat! Sigh I felt the same way, why do woman in India get portrayed as “BEAUTY OBJECTS” for men to pick out of a matrimonial site.
While I reflected on my own parents arranged marriage, they met barely 3 hours and my mother was astonishingly a beauty –fair-skinned– my sister and I – were more dusky – while my mother was the typical, original “Bollywood Actress Clone” in full form, the fair skinned beautiful Female.
Those days in India, the men were really educated, earned well, always got the most beautiful women. Nevertheless the Men of those days also had better moral values, they respected family – it’s the family who decided who they should marry and It all fell into place fine.
Today’s generation both in the East and West– we go through a lot more confusion, for one women are independent, more educated, successful. I always wondered is that good or bad, to be an educated, successful, modern woman of today’s times. My grandma I remember used to tell me every time I faced stress in the office, “Oh you don’t have to work so hard, or become a CEO. Women are like a flower, delicate, just find a man and settle down”. While I reflected on those words, I realized as a modern woman I was torn between two worlds. The world which said family comes first, it’s alright to marry a rich man and stay at home (you know what I agree too actually!). What’s wrong with taking life easy if your husband makes a pot of wealth. I would not struggle in a tough corporate world if I had a rich husband, why should I. Then the second world which says woman should be successful, independent, monetarily self-sufficient. (which I also agree with, it gives me the choice to make my own decisions!). While I thought about these two worlds, which one do I really belong to, was ringing in my head.
I constantly get judged as an ambitious, career oriented, running behind my passion type of woman. This is a stigma/bias that is created by people who observe me externally, who know nothing of my real self. While, it’s true that I am ambitious, a dreamer, go getter, well-educated, talented.
However to say I only want career that’s why I am single in late 30s is an unfair statement of judgement by many who do not know me.
I constantly get asked, “So why did you not get married, don’t you want kids. Late 30s is late enough. Oh my today’s generation thinks marriage is not that important right, because women like you can make your own money, then why marry” I stare blankly not knowing how to answer such a question. Because, there is some truth in it too. While a lot of my mother’s friends who are home-makers look at me and wonder, why is she not settling down, isn’t the biological clock ticking. However is it fair to just marry any guy from some site, basis his picture, profile and couple of phone calls – without any chemistry that lasts a life-time. While the older generation would argue how long does chemistry last, we all end up changing diapers, just marry a responsible guy. I have reflected on those statements, being caught between the East & West, I am a perfect blend of both worlds. I finally came to the conclusion, that Chemistry does count, so does marrying a responsible man, however we still need to be attracted to each other to make the marriage last a life-time.
I was wondering, do women face pressure to settle down only in India, then I came across the popular SKII advertisement in China, realizing there is no difference between China and India. Even Taiwan and others too – there are articles that talk about women being 3rd gender, because they do their PHD’s and choose to marry much later and are condemned for that. While Singapore and Hongkong tend to be open societies, more Americanized, rest of Asia is not different from India in how they view women as “beauty objects” or believe that women primarily stand for motherhood. While I really love babies, I cannot marry the wrong guy just to have babies, I would not be happy I know that, that is the change in mind-set of my generation. The popular SKII advertisement that talks about the marriage market – how woman are match-made in a bazaar fashion where their profiles are all around in the open market place for the father’s and mothers’ of potential boys to choose the best women for their son. While fathers even comment, that a woman is like property – to be good property you cannot be over-valued, over-educated, that may make the man insecure in Asia. Even Asian movies depict the same of how women should support the men not the other way around.
While I look at America, everyone is making noise about Gender Pay Gap and Diversity at C-level, American men never said their women had to “support” them at home, it’s really equal that they will mutually support each other at work and home after marriage. That has triggered a new set of Asian women marrying American men, as they find them more open to equality in marriage. I hear of divorced friends leaving Asian men for American men. Then I hear Asian men complaining how even Singaporean women have white fever, meaning an attraction to white men over Chinese Singaporean men. True enough, I know Chinese women, who only want to marry western men.
All this makes me wonder as a woman where I stand in the world. I have worked and lived in USA, Singapore, Philippines, India, Indonesia, seen and travelled the entire world. When I was working in India for just a year and half –I used to employ a maid to clean my house on weekends, from a startup called “mydidi.com” means “My Sister”. I still remember the time when 2 maids came home to clean my entire house and told me they worked very hard to make a living because their husbands had a bad drinking habit and they did not like to work. I was shocked, I asked them:
“Then why do you still live with him, if he is not responsible” and she said
“But Madam, he is a good man, he does not womanize or have any other bad habits, he only drinks and does not work, I have children with him, in my society we cannot walk out, it’s a stigma”.
I understood exactly what she meant at that point. It’s tough to be a woman (even Single woman with kids, without a husband) in a country like India – where there are rape cases happening every minute. Many women in the lower strata, marry for protection not for love, when a woman has a family – it’s a signal to rest of man-kind that she is protected, he cannot toy around with her. Keeps the wrong men away. Imagine in a slum in India – how safe would you be as a Single woman – even if let’s say that’s your choice to stay single. Would you have a choice to be Single women in a Slum, likely not, even if you are economically independent, women needed to be protected in many cities in India, and a husband, or marriage gave women security in society.
So should we all have a choice, as a woman to live the life we want?
I thanked god that day that I had a choice to be whatever I wanted to be. While I have had my ups and downs in life, however I have still had a foundation where I never fell below a certain level. While I reflected what gave me that choice to live my life the way I thought was right. While I am not saying everyone should be a Single woman in her late 30s, ideally if I met the right man I would have settled down & I still would if I met someone right today, but I just did not meet the right man yet, I do not want to settle for the wrong person who I will not be happy with, while I am still the compromising type however I cannot compromise my entire life to be with someone I do not connect with. I was lucky, that I was not forced to settle down with anyone wrong, just because of social pressure or because I needed protection. I did not have to settle. While some would say you were lucky to have parents who never forced you into an arranged marriage, that is true. I equate my dad to MALALA’s father, he always gave us choice to live our life the way we thought was right. That was one, second important factor that gives woman choice is Education. While everyone pushes for woman empowerment via entrepreneurship. Sorry I beg to differ, woman running business, with no literacy would not change her poverty circumstance, or maybe at times it may. However remember if you are not educated or literate, from doing up a business agreement to everything – you are dependent on someone else. Even if people cheat you with a wrong agreement or wrong knowledge– you may not know what are the right questions to ask, who are the right people to approach – that is where education plays a big role.
Education is the future of women’s empowerment.
An educated woman – knows what questions to ask, how to solve a problem, even if she doesn’t have great money – she would still be respected for her education and knowledge. Even if she was a stay at home mother, her education still allows her to bring up better children as she will understand what challenges her children face in society and be able to guide them as they grow up. Besides this, Education brings opportunities, it allows a woman to find her voice in the society to put out her thoughts. Lastly education also allows for economic independence and to have a choice in marriage decisions, save a million woman out of forced child marriages, abusive spouses, sexual harassment.
Send every little girl to school today over sending them to work at a tender age – while in a poor community it feels like the girl child, would be more supportive if she went to work from young to economically support the family – don’t forget your killing her dreams to get beyond a ceiling if you just let her start working over going to school at a younger age. I read about the touching story of how Oprah Winfrey said her mom, grand-mom everyone was a maid, they thought a black woman from a small town in Misissippi would only end up a maid but she became Oprah Winfrey.
To me gender equality starts with first ensuring every girl is educated as much as a boy from a young, tender age, that’s where the foundation lies, with education – her dreams can grow – it’s the seed funding to grow a much larger dream for any girl child. Let us support the fight towards getting every girl in school today, spreading this awareness in society, starts with you and you can play a part in this too.
Padmini has 15 years experience in the Banking Field, having lived and worked in various parts of the world: Philippines, Indonesia. She has a Bachelors in Business Administration from NUS, Singapore and Masters in Business Administration Institute of Management, Manila. A Startup Mentor, advocate and Speaker at Woman forums, she brings a diverse perspective to social issues including the equation on defining the lack of Gender Equality across the world.
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