Read part 1 of 4 in Insights From Indian Men here.
Read part 2 of 4 in Insights From Indian Men here.
Part 3 of 4
Over the past few weeks seven Indian men were interviewed about their perceptions, understandings, and even barriers to feminism. They were chosen because their work either directly or indirectly correlates with helping Indian women gain opportunity and equality. Though their work and views vary, they each impact women and society at large. In their own ways they dismantle systems and build platforms for women. To add value to their previously shared insights and to show appreciation for their work, Shenomics presents #HeforShe.
Almost every woman has made the call to a friend or loved one; the call is different from most other calls in that its primary purpose isn’t for conversation, but rather so she can feel safer while getting to her destination. Similarly, every woman has been told to send and asked to receive the obligatory 3am “made it home, wasn’t murdered” text after a night out. Unfortunately it’s a reality most women have made room for in their lives, burdens we have learned to live around.
Paras Batra is one of five founders of Leaf Wearables, a technology company focused on improving women’s security through jewelry. Batra and his cofounders were living in Delhi, in the aftermath of the infamous gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, when the issue of women’s safety first grabbed ahold of their collective attention. Leaf Wearables tackles the issue with their signature product, SAFER.
SAFER is a smart device that aims to keep women safe and connected. The device is embedded in everyday casual jewelry and its key function allows women to discretely and quickly send out alerts to pre designated “guardians.” A woman’s network is alerted when she is threatened or in distress with her location and a message for help.
Additionally, SAFER allows a woman’s network, such as overly anxious parents or her friends after a night out, to track her travel and movements in real time. It eliminates the need for the obligatory late night texts or constant calls. SAFER enables a woman’s chosen network to be sure of her safety in a non-burdensome or intrusive way.
Despite being founded by five men, women were an integral part of the process for Leaf Wearables. “We had no idea what women actually wanted design wise. We had to collaborate, and go through many prototypes.” Already receiving praise, Batra is confident that SAFER is mitigating problems of women’s safety and will eventually lead to more comprehensive solutions.
“I believe, if you’re doing the right thing, a social problem can be removed from its roots.”
While Leaf Wearables works proactively to help women, Threads of Freedom works retroactively to help women who have survived despite the odds against them.
Threads of Freedom (ToF) is a social enterprise working to empower and reintegrate victims of sex trafficking via meaningful employment and social support. Pritham Raja, one of three co-founders explains, “after girls get recused from human trafficking it’s very hard for them to move on with their lives – to go get jobs, to go back to their families.” Often trafficked women are stigmatized and spurned from the life they knew before. Additionally they lack the confidence and skills to do most other work. “We work with rescue organizations to resettle women back into society. We do this by getting them jobs. We train them, and work with manufacturers to get and guarantee them employment.” ToF partners with clothing manufacturers to train and employ rescued women. In return, ToF hires the manufacturers to help produce their brand of clothing (ToFU); the revenue from ToFU sales is what keeps the program sustainable. “We also have counselors and social workers to support our women. In essence we give them a path forward, back to what we call a ‘normal life;’ whether that means getting married, getting back to their families, or making them financially independent.” Thus far, ToF has worked with about 40 women.
Flipkart and its subsidiary Myntra are both well-known pro-women companies. Their maternity and paternity leave policies have made a name for themselves, not to mention their progressive messaging such as this:
Mukesh Bansal, Founder of Myntra and most recently Head of Commerce and Advertising Business at Flipkart explains, “from the very beginning we were very conscious of keeping an equal number of women and men employees. It was especially important because of the space we are working in. Having women is essential to building a fashion business. It plays a huge role in our creativity and understanding of the space.”
Bansal highlights some of the lesser-known policies. “We have a policy across various levels that if a woman is working after 7 or 8 pm, she can take a cab home and get reimbursed. She doesn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.”
Additionally Myntra has frequent forums in which women employees can discuss the issues specific and relevant to them. “It’s empowering and gives visibility to the problems they are facing.” Like most corporate companies the topic often revolves around finding work-life balance and how the companies can support this. Bansal himself does a lot of one-on-one coaching. For him it “creates a deeper dialogue and discussion.”
Bansal has seen some very positive results. “Myntra has more women than average at every level compared to most other companies in this space.” These initiatives aren’t just for women, but for the business itself, “We’ve become stronger, and it’s because women are treated more equal and free.”
Pankaj Rai, Director of Dell Global Analytics oversees a team of approximately 400 members. Rai also leads Dell’s Diversity & Inclusion Council and plays an active role in the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. As a part of his work on diversity and inclusion Rai had made many observations on women, retention, and success.
It’s clearly documented that women leave the workforce in greater numbers, especially in India. This includes women who take long breaks and withdraw all together. In understanding these trends Rai shares his insights. “If we look at gender stereotypes and two types of skills, we look at hard skills and soft skills. We have data that shows girls out preform boys academically – thus we know they have the hard skills. In terms of soft or social skills, women maintain stronger social networks and relationships; they are usually the ones connected to family and community. They are anchors.
In this way, I’ve found a woman’s definition of success is incredibly broad. Women consider far more aspects in their definition of success, such as family. Being a good mother, daughter, whatever, is often equally important as their career. I’ve found men view success in a single metric- measured by their performance at the work place.
So we know women have better raw material, but their goals are far more diverse. They don’t focus all their energy into a singular aspect, such as their career.
Should women define their goals differently? Who am I to say that?”
Rai offers a simple solution, “I think we should continue to revisit the goals women set for themselves, and ask ‘Are those your goals because it’s what you want? Or because that’s how you were brought up? Is your environment forcing you into these goals?’ By asking these questions and giving women the space and support to consider them honestly, we are supporting them.”
Milind Soman and Aakash Nambier, both Pinkathon ambassadors, have been clear they do not consider themselves feminists. In regard to their work with the Pinkathon Soman says, “I look at this more from the point of view of our society.”
Soman explains the premise behind the women’s only race “It’s a very simplistic idea. Women are instrumental in lifestyles within the family. If women adopt a healthier lifestyle and understand the value of taking care of themselves, then they will bring up their kids in that environment. India doesn’t have a culture of prioritizing health or encouraging an active lifestyle, it’s necessary to change that mindset. I think women are key to that, because whatever ideas we want to emerge in society, in the future, it has to start within the family. Though, this is just one aspect of it.”
Getting women healthy isn’t just important for themselves but for India on the whole, as the country boasts one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world.
“Most runners in the Pinkathon are first time runners. This year in Bangalore we had about 11,000 women, and say 9,000 were probably first timers. Women get a huge confidence boost from running, and walk away feeling accomplished,” says Nambier. “Running is a great way to push yourself, to become aware of your abilities, and to gain confidence. Women have reached out to me and shared stories about how the Pinkathon and running has made them more confident or successful in several other aspects of their lives.
We say the cause is you, women. You’re running for yourself.” In addition to women themselves being the cause, the Pinkathon promotes breast cancer awareness, is ability inclusive, and give away free health screenings to women.
Writer, Comedian, and stay-at-home dad, Suman Kumar often jokes about the struggles and judgments he receives for choosing to be the primary care giver in a patriarchal society.
“I make it a point to tell everyone that I’m a stay at home dad, though technically I’m a writer. I have a book- Ranga Half-Pants-coming out in April and I’ve written movies and TV programs. But I never say that first because I know that being a dad is more important. When I tell people I’m a stay at home dad, they’re like ‘what?’ Some people ask me ‘you mean you don’t have a job?’ I’m like, ‘brother you have no idea. For the first time in my life I have a job, a full job.’ I’ve never worked so hard in my life by the way.” Unfortunately, being the primary caregiver is undervalued in society. But when dads like Kumar take on the responsibility and share their experiences openly, it helps to validate how much work it actually is to those who have never considered it so. Kumar isn’t just supporting his wife’s career by staying at home, his comedy is normalizing the idea of ‘stay-at-home’ dads, making it just a small bit easier for other men to do the same.
“I constantly urge all my friends, my good friends to do this. I’ll say ‘don’t do this for good, but at least do this for six months because experience is something that you will cherish for the rest of your life.’”
Kumar, who left his corporate job to pursue writing, supports his wife’s career, and care for his daughter, said breaking the addiction of a paycheck was one of the hardest parts of his transition. “So it’s a bit beautiful in the sense that for all the money that I did not make in these four years — all the money that I could have made means nothing in front of this experience that I have.”
In different ways these seven Indian men help to shape a world that’s a little better for all of us to live in, whether they are making us safer, giving us opportunities, getting us healthy, acknowledging our power to create societal level changes, or simply giving us the space and support to be ourselves and pursue our dreams. While it’s important to focus on the work still to be done for true gender equality, it’s also important to reflect and thank those who are by our side, in the trenches. #HeforShe
This article is part three of a four part article series which was originally written for and published on Shenomics.com.
About the Author
Misha Rahman recently uprooted her life in Boston to move to Bangalore, India and work with Shenomics. She is completing a professional certification in social enterprise through IDEX Accelerator’s Global Fellowship Program. She spends her days on facebook, twitter, and linkedin- also known as marketing and strategy. In addition to empowering women she is interested in conflict resolution and human rights work. Misha enjoys traveling, reading, and binge watching Netflix.