WE, THE WOMEN

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This year’s International Women’s Day falls on Sunday, March 8. The theme this year is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”, which is aligned with the UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The year 2020 is a pivotal year for advancing gender equality worldwide, according to the UN.
The Indian Weekly takes the opportunity to talk to a cross-section of women from diverse professions and backgrounds about their views on how they are taking on gender inequality as also the challenges women of the diaspora face.

AMITA GILL
Gender equality lifts everyone. If you want to lift humanity, empower women. All humans are born equal. Therefore, there should be no inequality in workplace, social environments and in terms of opportunities. There was a very significant gap in yesteryears but due to awareness, education and by women proving themselves in almost all the fields, the gap has narrowed down, although there is still a lot of work to be done as no organisation, industry, and governments can claim gender equality.
In my work life, I have, at times, felt the overbearingness and domination of men but I have overcome that through sheer grit, determination and going the extra yard. With time, the attitude of the opposite sex has changed and they view me and treat me as an equal.
To be honest, a large number of women of the diaspora are not proficient and fluent in English, thereby causing a bit of an issue with their self-confidence which impedes their progress in the workplace, which, in turn, leads to gender inequality. Secondly, assimilation into the environment takes a while for women of the diaspora. If women can overcome the above, then the inequality will be reduced to the bare minimum.
(Amita Gill is an educationist who ran her RTO till 2018. She’s actively involved with the Liberal Party and supports and volunteers with various charitable organisations. She recently founded the UniSoul Foundation)

BARINDERJEET KAUR
I grew up watching my parents give unconditional support to everyone around them and I consider myself lucky as I married into a family with the same values. Having said that, I believe women are pretty much stronger than men. But it is unfortunate that we are still looking for equality, we need to stop looking for that validity and respect as we are already a higher personality, we give birth to a child! We are the backbone of the future generation as well, so let’s not be confused and let’s not keep looking for equality. Instead, we need to focus on finding a higher purpose and discover our own uniqueness.
I believe God has given every one of us the ability to achieve anything in life, but it is up to us to unlock our true potential. Not focussing within, just comparing outside and looking for one’s identity through other people’s eyes – that’s where women sometimes are stuck in.
(Barinderjeet Kaur is a life coach and human behaviour specialist and founder of Empower Your Destiny)

DR DOLLY KIKON
All generations have focused on pushing for gender equality. The fact that we have an International Women’s Day is due to an amazing women’s movement in the early part of the 20th century. Standing together and understanding the relevance of history, its depth, and its spirit to push for an equal future is important. The idea of generation equality, in that context, means recognising the inter-generational assertions of gender equality. Be it voting rights, equal wages, maternity leave, and policies of inclusion and diversity, we have to see the movement for equality as a wholesome process. In that regard, concepts of intersectionality, indigenous feminism, Adivasi feminism, women of colour movements, including trans and queer rights are all part of this generation. They are part of the equality movement.
The biggest problem today is our blindness to caste and class and sweeping everything under the Women of Colour category. Many diaspora women from India come from privilege as do many who come from hardship and marginalised communities. It is not enough to have a Women of Colour theme where upper caste and upper-class women wave the flag of discrimination and victimhood.
(Dr Dolly Kikon teaches at the Anthropology and Development Studies Program, University of Melbourne. She is also a Senior Research Advisor at the Australia India Institute, Melbourne)

KAUSHALIYA VAGHELA
I am proud to be a part of the Andrews Labor Government which holds gender equality very closely at its heart. This is reflective in our policy of 50 per cent women intake in the cabinet.
Australia’s first Gender Equality Bill was introduced in late last year and The Gender Equality Act 2020 was enacted on 25 February 2020. This measure aims to improve workplace gender equality across the Victorian public sector, universities and local councils. I feel honoured to be a part of such a progressive team.
Gender Equality is an issue close to my heart. The biggest issue that is faced by the diaspora continues to be the lack of women in position of power and leadership. That stems from the challenges faced by women who lack support to be able to navigate career and motherhood responsibilities.
As the first Indian-born Member of Parliament, I believe I have been able to demonstrate that women can achieve positions of power and leadership, whilst continuing to fulfil their family responsibilities.
(Kaushaliya Vaghela is the Member of the Legislative Council for the Western Metropolitan Region in Victoria. She is part of the 59th Victorian Parliament and is a member of the Australian Labor Party. Kaushaliya is the first Indian-born Member of Parliament to be elected to the Victorian Parliament)

MITU BHOWMICK LANGE
Firstly, I really don’t believe in women’s day because every day is women’s day. But it is good to be acknowledged and remembered and it is good for everyone to come together to try and eradicate gender inequality and any other inequality which we have in society – be it based on race, sexuality or disability. The only way to move forward is for everyone to have equal opportunities. At work, women are, of course, always at a big disadvantage. The reason being men (with no offence to them) have no added home responsibilities but our conditioning is such that if we miss out on something, we feel guilty. If a man helps out, we think he is great but nobody says we are great if we are doing housekeeping, cooking, and working. That outlook has to start changing both in men and women. There have been lots of positive changes, but it is not enough and women really need to support women more.
Women, not just of the diaspora, but at large, have evolved a lot faster. However, there is a constant conflict between expectations and social conditioning and our personal dreams and ambitions. And trying to balance that is the hardest. My mother told me that work-life balance is a myth, something that does not exist. So, yes, sometimes work takes precedence over personal life and vice versa. That is OK because life is about balance and imperfections and doing what you think best at that point of time. But the fact remains, the biggest challenge before us is this big conflict between what we want to do and what our personal ambitions are versus society’s expectations and pressures and our very own conditioning that we were brought up with. Through it all, we put ourselves last. That conflict is of the biggest challenge we face internally, externally there is a lot more.
(Mitu Bhowmick Lange is the founder of Mind Blowing Films and director of the director of Indian Film Festival of Melbourne)

Dr POOJA SHARMA
Growing up in a family with two sisters and a mother, I was treated just like a boy would have been, learning women empowerment from early on. My parents always encouraged me to compete not only in academics but also in sports, debates and stage events. They also encouraged me in making all my major life decisions myself such as career choices and choosing my life partner.
When compared with other specialties, dermatology has fared better in reaching gender equality. There is reason for optimism as the number of female dermatologists is fast growing. At meetings and conferences there is usually no manels, but panels consisting of both men and women. Data shows that the percentage of female speakers has increased consistently from 2010. I have been a proud member of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, and can say with pride that I have never faced discrimination due to my gender at my workplace, at any stage.
For the women of today, the biggest challenge when it comes to gender equality is the fact that a whole generation worked towards women empowerment but did not teach the men to learn to live with empowered women!
(Dr Pooja Sharma is a consultant dermatologist with 15 years’ experience. Currently, she runs a specialist Hair Clinic at Skin Health Institute and works at Austin Hospital in Melbourne)

PREETI DAGA
This year’s theme #I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights# is a powerful slogan. In the professional context, it means mobilising collective action to ensure there is access to equal opportunity and commensurate recognition for women in the workplace similar to men – be it in the boardroom, senior positions or at the frontline of service delivery.
The biggest issue facing women of the Indian diaspora is that of inequality in all spheres of their lives which is sometimes manifested through violence by the opposite gender. In a country like Australia where migrant families are starting from the start, both husband and wife need to work in most cases. In such a situation, women are also faced with a challenge to navigate career opportunities whilst fulfilling all the other traditional roles society expects of them as a homemaker and a mother.
(Preeti Daga is the global head of corporate communications at Community Housing Ltd. Her voluntary roles include: President of the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) Victoria, member of VMC’s Regional Advisory Council for the North West Metropolitan Region until 2021, and Chair – Industry Advisory Committee for Public Relations at RMIT University)

RADHIKA AGARWAL
#I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights# is a powerful reminder of how there is still a lot that needs to be done to realise equal rights for women in terms of equal pay, opportunities for promotion, board representation etc..
The biggest issue facing women of my age is trying to find a work-life balance (balancing professional workload with personal commitments and responsibilities).
(Radhika Agarwal is a doctoral candidate researching on Indian equality law at Melbourne Law School)