By Dr. Devika Brendon
International Women’s Day is a time for affirmative action, to continue to challenge the gender inequities in our society and communities.
How can we support women? Not just on one day of the year, but as a regular practice?
By not shaming them, undermining them or blaming them. By giving them the benefit of the doubt, in situations where a woman is being attacked, mocked or defamed. By appreciating their multiple aspects and dimensions, and not reducing them to their body parts or focusing solely on their physical appearance or speculating about their romantic relationships.
Without drowning them out
By listening to what they have to say. Without interruption. Without drowning them out, whatabouting them or selectively mishearing their words. I’ve been told by several business leaders from England and the U.S. and Australia how they have noticed how often men in South Asia interrupt and talk over women. It’s a sign of ungenerosity, egotism and selfishness. It’s an expression of weakness, and we lose by it.
We should respect women’s professional and personal boundaries. By not assuming that they are always available to answer a phone call in the middle of a working day - when they are balancing deadlines and competing demands of work and household in a way few men are required to do. Text them, or email, don’t call. Respect their time. Respect their energy and the work they do. Their excellence and capability does not lessen us, it increases us as a whole community.
A brilliant initiative was founded last year called ‘Balance The Panel’. Women were asked to nominate women of talent, skill, and genius, with earned qualifications, expertise and a record of excellence in their fields of endeavour - and to include themselves, too - to showcase their skills in a large digital platform. This makes women’s professional profiles accessible to those choosing line-ups for speakers and panellists for public events, so that women are not under-represented or invisible or voiceless on these significant public stages.
Women are 52 per cent of the population, and deserving of full recognition by the nation for the major contributions they make in every area of life. They are not ornamental, they are not mere background support figures. They should not be underestimated, overlooked or dismissed.
Absence of women in decision-making positions is a loss of value to the whole country.
We can remedy this shortfall by appointing women to impactful positions in the public sector; and by supporting women’s SME and independent, entrepreneurial business enterprises. By subscribing to their podcasts, blogs and YouTube channels. By watching their FB live broadcasts, and actively participating in the discussion and commentary, if we think it is valuable and interesting. By furthering their reach.
We can stand up directly and openly when we see a woman being attacked on social media, and speaking in support of her. Even if she is expressing an unpopular opinion.
It is easy to make negative and biased assumptions, and jump to conclusions about others. It is far more effortful to think through another person’s statements and try to understand their intention - and not malign them. Let us make the effort. It will benefit all of us.
We can amplify the good things we think and feel about what women do. Social media is a perfect instrument for this. We can tag women doing excellent work - and their organisations - into our positive posts on Instagram, FB and Twitter, and on our Stories on FB, Linked In and Instagram, and send them our congratulations and celebrate their achievements and career breakthroughs on our social media platforms.
We can actively promote and highlight the good work they do - by sharing their articles, their interviews, their Facebook live videos via email and links on digital platforms. By highlighting their community-building and their ongoing work for the improvement of society.
Let’s make this a regular practice. This will go a long way to building up the capable and productive women in our society, which will lead to the improvement of our whole community. We can decide to consciously increase the public profile and digital presence of women whose work we value, and create vibrant and positive energy around women of all ages whose presence graces our nation.