The underlying issues of male domination and the urgent need for a ‘feminisation’ of society and economy are much more difficult to tackle, writes Rajni Bakshi.
At first glance a campaign called “One Billion Rising” may seem like one more pitch to see all Indians as potential entrepreneurs. Instead it is a global rallying call for all of us to become active in opposing violence against women. In this case ‘one billion’ refers to the estimate that across the world one in three women is either raped or beaten in her lifetime.
On Thrusday, 14th February, otherwise famous as Valentine’s Day, the concept of a V-Day dedicated to stopping gender violence will complete 15 years. In the context of the current focus on these issues in India, One Billion Rising events are being planned across the country.
Opposing violence against women is something that many people agree on. However, the underlying issues of male domination and the urgent need for a ‘feminisation’ of society and economy are much more difficult to tackle. How can the business sector respond to these challenges?
“One billion women violated is an atrocity” says the campaign’s website. “One billion women dancing is a revolution”. “V-Day” is the name given to this protest cum celebration of determination - by its initiator Eve Ensler, author of the world famous play ‘Vagina Monologues’. These annual gatherings are intended to energize those already working against violence on women and to raise a broader awareness in society.
As the campaign says: “We are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.” The ‘rising’ is also described as simultaneously being ‘a global strike’ and ‘a new time and a new way of being’.
What would that actually mean in the realm of business and the professional workplace?
There was a time when women’s rights activists hoped that as more and more women enter the work force, acquiring both skills and financial independence, their status and life conditions would improve. To some extent these hopes have come true. But the overwhelming majority of women remain disadvantaged and vulnerable - even after having an income of their own.
This is largely because the criteria for success and ‘power’ remain almost entirely masculine. Women are given multiple signals that if they want to succeed they must act like men. In this context a recent blog post by Herminia Ibarra on the Harvard Business Review website deserves special attention. Ibarra is a professor of organizational behavior at the Insead business school which has four campuses in different corners of the world.
It has been widely acceped, writes Ibarra, that “ women have not been socialized to compete successfully in the world of men, and so they must be taught the skills their male counterparts have acquired naturally. But, at the same time, they must "tone it down" or risk being labeled as having sharp elbows…. As Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg points out, women are perceived as too soft or too tough but never just right, and as competent or likeable, but rarely both. Either way, the research concludes, women are evaluated against a "masculine" standard of leadership that leaves them limited options and distracts attention from the task at hand.
James Robertson, a British intellectual and activist, has suggested that the answer lies in promoting a ‘SHE’ approach to life, society and business. SHE, which stands for Sane, Humane and Ecological, is visualised as the future of the societies across the world. Instead of exploiting and competing ruthlessly to succeed, the core values of the SHE approach are enabling others and conserving resources. It is a shift away from pure money profits to benefiting people and planet - the Triple Bottom Line.
Efforts in this direction are being made by individuals and some companies. But the dominant definition of success – as more money and visible power - remains in place. Still, it is important to note that there are increasing reports of highly qualified young people , both men and women, who are opting out of the ‘rat race’ and seeking to link their working life with a more holistic definition of success. Entities like the Conscious Capitalism Institute in the USA and related networks are part of this process.
At present a campaign like One Billion Rising is almost entirely made up of activist organizations. Thousands of organizations are listed as members of this global movement but there are few companies. Changing that is important but it is secondary to infusing power structures with a more feminine energy.
Perhaps this process will gather momentum as women who were so far voiceless come to the fore. A day before 'V-Day' Mumbai will witness the launch of the website of Khabar Lahariya, ae newspaper that is written, edited, produced, distributed and marketed entirely by eight Dalit women in the Bundeli language of Bundelkhand. The readership of the paper version, priced at Rs 2, is about 20,000. On 13th February the Khabar Lahariya team will be in Mumbai to launch a web version which will potentially reach millions of readers.
This is the ground work which can eventually help to realise the dream of world free of gender violence. One Billion Rising events are planned in cities across India. The Mumbai gathering is taking place at the Bandstand Amphitheatre in Bandra (West) from 5:30 onwards on 14th February. Only a few people may actually attend the event but it is the every day actions of millions of people all year round that will ensure a true ‘rising’ of a SHE paradigm.
Photograph: Kind courtesy, thepoliticalcarnival.net