On December 1, I was invited to participate in an online debate organised by the BBC for its ‘100 Women’ project that aims to better represent women’s voices in its news content by highlighting their inspirational stories and challenges. In addition to featuring special stories, debates and interviews, the BBC also names 100 inspirational women, a mix of public figures as well as others. Needless to say, I felt more than privileged and excited to be associated with this project.
Do women feel they have to conform to what is considered to be the ‘right way’ to behave? What are the pressures and expectations faced by women? Are ‘beautiful women’ more likely to succeed? How important is your image? What is a ‘good girl’ or ‘ideal woman’? Most of us women grapple with such questions frequently, sometimes within our minds, but to be able to talk out aloud about these on BBC’s worldwide platform was a great opportunity.
Here we are, all set for the event:
On the day of the debate, I, along with five other South Asian bloggers, focused on the themes of leadership, image and relationships to analyse the pressures and expectations faced by women. We explored examples of how women across cultures were scrutinised for their behaviour (assertive women be damned), looks (so you’re pretty, you must be dumb!) and choices. Public figures such as Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton and Aishwarya Rai are constantly analysed by the media for their appearance. There are endless instances of women being bullied for their weight or shape. Managing a career while looking after children is a constant struggle for a lot of women like myself. And then, there is a constant complaint about not having enough women in leadership roles.
During our discussions that lasted nearly two hours, we also opened up about how our own families encouraged us to be well educated and financially independent but still play second fiddle to a man. There is the famous, publicly cited example of Pepsico’s CEO Indra Nooyi whose mother reminded her that her professional accomplishments should not interfere with her duties as a wife and mother. We realised how this mindset was not limited to individuals, households or specific cultures but was prevalent at a much larger level. As a snapshot example, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2015 report estimates that the global pay gap will close only by 2133, nearly 118 years from now. Even a multilateral organisation like the United Nations has never had a female secretary general since it was formed 70 years ago.
Statistics might be gloomy but change is imminent. The 100 Women project itself stands for that change. There were women from all corners of the world sharing their stories online in the run up to the debate. The group I was a part of included smart, witty and outspoken South Asian women who did not hesitate to share their views on a global platform. Thank you BBC for giving women from all corners of the world a platform as big as yours to make our stories heard.
Here’s my concluding message to (myself) and others: