Turning a negative life experience into a positive one

#PRESSFORPROGRESS

You know when you always want to do something but never actually get around to doing it. Well, that was the case for me wanting to write a blog. But, something happened a couple of weeks ago that, let’s say, “inspired me” to write this blog on the occasion of the 2018 International Women’s Day.

I was doing some work on a desk and had my back turned to about 5 men. After a while, I needed a break so I whipped out my phone and started scrolling through Instagram. It wasn’t my intention at all to be listening in to their conversation, but they were being so loud and the room was relatively small. I overheard what they were saying. They were talking about their wives. Now, I far as I know, they weren’t all married to the same woman, but somehow were equating their respective wife’s personality trait to all women around the world. Completely logical, right? It went along the lines of “women are so clingy and come with tones of emotional baggage” or “women these day are so bossy and demanding”. I could feel myself tensing up. Then the ultimate sentence was spoken; “We suffer so much more and are unhappy since all the liberation and change in women’s way of life”. I have heard of conversations along those lines but witnessing it really threw me off. So, let me get this straight, because you have lost the privilege of controlling our lives it is the root of all your problems? Because we have the right to have a career, to vote and to make our choice regarding our own life, everything is disastrous for you? Because we also have a job, you have to “help” with the household work? Oh! Well! I am sorry! Am I the only one who needs clean clothes and food every day? I shouldn’t even have used the word “help”; it is as much your duty as it is mine.

At the time, I completely froze. I could think of so much to say to them but I was scared. Sacred of their reaction. Scared of being targeted even more. Ever since, I have felt guilty and helpless. I could have said something to change some of their thoughts and defend women in Mauritius and around the world. I asked myself what I could do now. And it hit me. I wanted to learn more about a few women in my life and their paths and struggles as women in Mauritius.

Who was a better person to start with than the strongest woman I know, my own mother? The woman who is the foundation of the person I am today. During my conversation with mum, she said one of the things she struggled with was continuing with her career once she had kids. She felt that society put a lot of pressure on the mother having to take care of the kids and the household work even if she was working similar hours to her husband. She never pursued her studies further as she was made to believe it was her sole responsibility to be there for her kids and that progress in her career was not as important as her family duties because she was a woman after all. Every single time she talks about this I can sense the disappointment and sadness in her voice. She wishes that we as a society make enough progress so that couples equally share responsibilities and that women feel like their career is as valuable as their partner. She really hopes that organizations and governments set up appropriate structures for career oriented mothers. She feels like women in Mauritius are powerful and if given the right set of cards could achieve their dreams and aspirations. She believes that efforts put towards earning a promotion or moving up the ladder at work should not be affected by a pregnancy leave. This conversation with mum got me thinking that maybe we should consider extending paternity leaves as well because dads are more than capable of taking care of their kids these days, because of the multiple alternatives to direct breastfeeding such as using a breast pump.

The next stop in my quest was speaking to one of my relatives, Kevina C.R. I remember being at a barbecue at her place a few months back where she briefly mentioned how society held certain expectations as to how her daughter of nearly 2 years old should grow up to be. I also recall discussing such aspects with my brother and cousin about their baby girl recently. So I decided to find out more about the stereotypes Kevina encountered as a young mother. “While shopping for my baby’s arrival, my husband and I had to deal with the baby’s clothing aisle being completely decked in pink, with shirts printed with quotes like ‘Little Princess’ or ‘Darling’ whereas the boys aisle would have shirts with quotes like ‘Daddy’s Little Hero’. There is a gender biased marketing that promoted people’s belief in putting girls into the roles of having to be calm and collected”, says Kevina. She strongly believes we should stop putting our kids in boxes that characterizes their behavior and I couldn’t agree more with her. Little girls around the world are constantly being sent messages about having to be delicate, quiet and respectful. Growing up, I heard a girl shouldn’t be too boisterous and that definitely has had an effect on me till this day. My brother’s daughter recently wore a full on suit with a mini bowtie and to me she looked like she could rule the world. The first comment a few people made of a photo of her in the suit was: “Oh she looks like a little boy”. It really pains me that such schools of thoughts are still around. We really need to stop seeing the world as either blue or pink.

Since the theme for this year’s International Women’s day is #pressforprogress, I also wanted to ask Kevina about the struggles she faced as a software engineering and what gates should be opened to make a positive change for women in such sectors. As another woman in science myself, I could relate with what she said about it being harder at first for women to make their voices heard in a male dominated sector. With some hard work and resilience, Kevina has however earned her place in her field and is working shoulder to shoulder along her male colleagues. She wants girls in Mauritius and around the word to know that it really is a misconception that programming is too complicated for women. She is right; girls can do anything they set their mind to. Around the world only 29% of women make up science and technology sectors, therefore we should work on women’s confidence to have a successful career in such sectors. I think we should start working on this as early as possible in a women’s life.

This is why I got in contact with one of my primary school teachers. As you could guess it was a long time since I spoke to her but as she always appeared as a strong and independent women to me and knew I had to reconnect with her for this blog. Mrs Sylvette Anthony thinks we should bring up the women of tomorrow to believe in their abilities and in gender equality throughout the professional as well as social aspect of their lives. “I believe that teachers should be role models for their pupils by inculcating moral values and teaching boys to respect girls at school so that later they learn to value women in society”. She feels like we can gear society towards a fairer standard and that women have a lot to contribute on the economical and business front. She expressed that the issue on domestic violence against women has not yet been properly addressed. She believes that this subject should no longer be a taboo and sensitization campaigns need to be put in place across Mauritius. To this I can only add that we should offer free self-defense classes to girls and women across the island and teach them how to channel their strength and energy.

I think what I have learned from talking to these incredible women is that there is still room for progress. I am not denying that we have come a long way but there are still several issues at hand such as the gender pay gap, underestimating women’s ability in male dominated sectors, social stereotypes and lack of structural adaptation for women at work. It is important for us to show empathy towards struggles that women face in society and try out best to eliminate the double standard. This year was definitely the year where women around the world spoke up specially with the #MeToo movement regarding sexual misconduct towards women. More than ever we stand united and have awaken some of our male family members, friends and colleagues to stand along us in this very age-old fight for gender equality.

I deeply thank these three women for featuring in this blog. You inspire me day after day. I wish all women across Mauritius and the world a happy International Women’s Day 2018. I leave you with a link to a very strong and empowering song for women.

All the love,

Sharvanee.

I want to spark up conversation by sharing my personal experiences