Being bold for women and children’s health

Wednesday, 8 Mar 2017
"I think being ‘bold for change’ means having the ability to make a decision that might go against the grain of traditional wisdom; it is about standing up and taking responsibility for what you wish to change."

Shanti Mahendra, Technical Specialist, Options

Who are you?

This question reminds me of Maya Angelou and makes me imagine myself being portrayed through  her poem – Phenomenal Women But on a honest note, I think that is what I aspire to be, and I think I am work in progress!  On a more practical note – I am a person striving to bring positive change in the lives of women, girls and families – both in terms of my professional work as well as in my personal life.  

What do you do?

My day job involves working on programmes focussed on women and children’s health issues and helping to create better knowledge about such issues through research, writing and talking about them.  Outside of work, I am trying to understand more about using different methods to strengthen life skills and educational capacities of children – particularly those who face challenges in the mainstream system.  

What does ‘be bold for change’ mean to you?

I think being ‘bold for change’ means several things - it is having the ability to make a decision that might go against the grain of traditional wisdom; it is about standing up and taking responsibility for what you wish to change. It is also about having the maturity to recognise the change happening around you; it is about having the courage and conviction to advocate for your beliefs.

Tell us about a time where you’ve had to be ‘bold’/ what is your boldest achievement?

I think change happens along a continuum – and that being bold for change is not a one-off thing.

I would like to believe that as women who wish to make changes in whatever sphere it may be, that we have it in us to be bold – in various measures at different times.And I’d like to believe that I have it in my personality to respond to any “calls for being bold” – whether these are extrinsic ones or those that come from within me.

So, I feel I have been bold in ways that probably represent what many in my generation in India may have done. As a young girl I have been ‘bold’ while walking down dark alleys in India; as a woman I have been bold when deciding I would pursue a career unlike many other women in the family; after marriage, I was bold when I left the country to explore and learn more. It is perhaps these small yet bold changes in a society that push it towards progress and gender equality.The ones that receive ‘celebrity’ level recognition are perhaps few and far between. Bold changes that deserve such recognition are the ones that you and I make.

What challenges to being ‘bold for change’ do you face in your country?

Challenges for women in India are similar to the ones faced in the UK or elsewhere –and are about making women’s voices count and responding to them.  One of the biggest challenges that is highlighted in India is the violence women face – within the family and outside it.  It is not just about actual violence but the threat of it as well, which can be very disabling.   Most women have to be ‘on guard’ at all times and thereby living a “stress” free life (with reference to the threat of violence) can be energy sapping.  A safe environment obviously depends on what policy and legal frameworks exist, as well as on what conversations take place within homes and offices which shape attitudes and behaviour. 

Having said that,there have been several efforts from across the country where women, men, transgender people have stood up for rights and are constantly chipping away at making the country better.  

What bold actions would you like other people to take, to see a more inclusive, gender equal world?

Bold actions for me would constitute small (and perhaps sometimes big) rebellions within people’s spheres of influence.   It would be about a mother framing her conversations consciously so that her son picks up the appropriate message – and in that context being bold enough to contradict any traditional values within which she functions.  It would be about a man picking up the coffee cups after a work meeting and not leaving the ‘office chores’ to women without worrying about being labelled.  It would be about a woman in rural India being able to say ‘No’ to her husband if she has to for whatever it might be.  It would be about a girl from an urban slum saying – “I will learn and I will grow and I will bring change – no matter how hard you try to keep me down.”

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