8 times these accomplished women spoke up and broke gender biases
Google India’s Search For Change panel discussion, hosted by Tweak India, presented a blueprint toward gender parity
When I think about women who’ve broken barriers and stood up for themselves, the first person that comes to mind is my grandmother. She was 13 when her parents decided her brother’s education was more important than hers and plucked her out of school. But she spoke up, fiercely demanding her right to education. After months of brutal battle, her father finally agreed, and she became one of three girls in her class.
People often ask bolne se kya hoga? But when you grow up listening to a story like this, you are compelled to believe that bolne se sab hoga. Every day women are using their voices to stand up for themselves, search for new answers and to broaden their horizons. This is the idea that Google wants to drive home with its campaign #SearchForChange, highlighting how speaking up and asking critical questions — using technology like the voice search function — can propel us forward.
It was one of the clearest messages of the Google X Tweak India Women’s Day panel discussion hosted by our editor Rochelle Pinto.
Each of our remarkable panellists are game-changers in their own fields. They included – Neena Gupta, Huma Qureshi, Anuja Chauhan, Sapna Chadha, Chetna Gala Sinha, Leeza Mangaldas, Ananya Tiwari and Tashi and Nungshi Malik. These incredible women came together to swap stories and inspire us to search for change.
8 steps to shattering gender biases
“Humko to bachpan se sikhaya hai ki modesty is the best policy, modest rehna chahiye. Mai to kehti hoon besharam hona chahiye aaj ke zamane mein.”
If anyone knows how to be their most confident self, it’s actor Neena Gupta, with her too-cool-for-school style and bindaas attitude. A few years ago, she made an unprecedented move when she publicly asked for work. People lauded her and called her brave. Today she is enjoying her career’s second act and all because she didn’t shy away from tooting her own horn. “Kisi ne bola bada accha kaam kiya aapne, I used to say nahi nahi woh theek hain par yeh aisa kar sakti thi main… Why? Say I am good.”
“It’s not access to finance but control on finance.”
Chetna Gala Sinha has been fighting to provide women with financial independence for decades now, founding India’s first rural women’s bank, Mann Deshi. She recounted an anecdote about a bright young woman, Rupali, who had been financially exploited. But because she kept meticulous detail by using chequebooks, they were able to fight her case. Gala hired her and Rupali helped other women gain confidence in digital banking by suggesting they use biometrics instead of a pin number because a fingerprint was impossible to steal. Gala said, “Our women were saying, it’s not access to finance but control on finance that’s important. They were teaching me, never give poor solutions to poor people.”
“Nobody is going to pick up a book or watch a film because it’s a moral science class. You have to entertain as well.”
It’s very important to know how to navigate serious topics without coming across as pompous. This is something that we at Tweak try to do and it’s something that best-selling author Anuja Chauhan does very well. “That’s the way I try to battle this particular thing and say, oh you have a notion of what sort of books women write? Well, I’m not going to fit in your little box. I can write about anything.”
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“First of all use your voice. Pump up the volume.”
Leeza Mangaldas says, “Growing up, I think we constantly get the message that we have to make ourselves small and quiet. Tone it all down. I think first of all use your voice, pump up the volume.” The pleasure positive digital creator believes that this generational conditioning has hampered our confidence in speaking up about what we want, especially in the sexual health and reproductive rights arena. We are too scared to ask for what we want and express our preferences out of fear of judgement. She says, “I hope that we can use our voices to navigate consent and absolutely feel entitled to expressing ourselves in that.”
“Choose your battles carefully, fight for what is important.”
When Ananya Tiwari, co-founder of the SwaTaleem Foundation, was in school, her teacher gave her a mantra that has guided her through her life. “If you’re in your house and your parents say don’t wear this, don’t wear that, don’t make your hair in this manner, obey that. But just make sure that your education continues so there you speak up because that is the real thing. So, I kind of started paying less attention to things that can wait because I can do those things now.”
“A voice is only as potent and inspirational as the accomplishment of its source.”
We’ve all faced metaphorical mountains but Tashi Malik and Nungshi Malik have scaled physical peaks. The Everest Twins have never let anyone tell them what they can or cannot do. They know how to wield their voice, like a magic wand, to make an impact. Nungshi Malik says, “A voice is only as potent and inspirational as the accomplishment of its source and that voice gets traction when backed by others. That’s from a personal experience such as ours. So, on one hand, I think what women should do is we should constantly raise our bar in whatever we are doing and on the other, let’s actively support and make each other’s work visible.”
“We have to just unburden ourselves from the expectation of others.”
Huma Qureshi knows what it’s like to bear the weight of others’ expectations. “I think a lot of conversations have today is about like how we judge ourselves because we’ve been conditioned to think of ourselves a certain way. Our achievements, our choices, our lifestyle, our morality.” The award-winning actor believes that these harsh expectations are even depicted in the kind of movies our industry churns out. She goes on to say, “Even in the films that we make, either we put women on a pedestal or they are vamps. So I feel like we have to unburden ourselves from this idea of what it is to be a woman.”
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“I think you can break the myth, only if you get confidence.”
When Sapna Chadha, VP of marketing India and Southeast Asia for Google, got an opportunity to advance her career she hesitated to ask her husband if he would move across the world with her. She had always seen women uprooting their lives and moving for their husband’s careers, never the opposite. But confidence was the key. Chadha says, “I didn’t have any examples of this happening and I brought it up with him and he was like yeah, why not, let’s go. And so, I think you can break the myth only if you get the confidence.”