Isn’t it amusing how gendered language can be, especially in the field of governance? While assertive women in positions of power are often referred to as ‘bossy or controlling," the same men are said to exhibit ‘great leadership skills." Also, how we use words like ‘career-driven’, ‘focused' or ‘ambitious’ more often for women, implicitly means that these traits are not something that comes "naturally" to them; as though it's not their "right" role in society.
Leaders become great not because of their power but because of their ability to empower others, especially the marginalised and the deprived. Challenging the dominant notions ‘powerful leadership’ our #WomenChangemakers redefined courage and strength, which lies not just in raising voices in the boardrooms but also in the everyday battles of coming together, resisting structures and defying norms. In one of the panel discussions during our on-going #WomenChangemakers in Governance campaign with Twitter India, Uma Mahadevan, (Principal Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Govt. of Karnataka) talked about the importance of networks and collaborative frameworks across boundaries and genders— “It is important for women and those suffering to hold each other up. We need to think of ways to come together and just talk about the banal things and know that we are not alone. The need for supporting and respecting each other and creating safe spaces are some of the greatest learnings of the pandemic. "
The theme of teamwork and collaboration was also something that most changemakers touched upon. Jebi Mather (Deputy Chairperson, Aluva Municipality, Kerala) said, "The pandemic was one such occasion where we realised teamwork is the most important thing. If different sectors and stakeholders work together, we can achieve more. " She also added that three things are key in governance: a) teamwork, b) clear division and allocation of responsibility through coordinated effort, and c) use of technologically innovative solutions and also social media to ensure better reach.
These women leaders also re-shaped conversations, focusing not just on the ‘pragmatic policy approach’ and emphasising impact in terms of numbers, but also highlighting the rather inconspicuous force of ‘kindness and humanity’ that helped us battle the pandemic. Sowmya Reddy (MLA, Karnataka) shared, "The humanity of people came out. This was the best thing about COVID ’19. Also, the way people came together on various platforms to share information, raise funds, and help those they did not even know across states, borders, and identities was remarkable”. Some of these women leaders also shared how they wanted to change the conventional notions of police, government, and bureaucratic officers as being wielders of power and exercising force, but rather they wanted the public to see them as one among the people. Vinita Sahu (Deputy Commissioner of Police, Nagpur) talked about the initial friction between the public and police officials at the onset of the pandemic. However, she shares, "People eventually saw a more humane face of the police authorities, so often our awareness marches and campaigns were met with a lot of love, with children and the elderly saluting us, showing us with flower petals, offering us sweets, etc. We want people to believe police are their friends and in no way a coercive force. "
Women's issues are so complex that achieving specific goals for women in various sectors may appear unrealistic.So all of us need to work together in our own small ways, providing equal opportunities to women, ensuring their voices are heard and their issues represented, " shared Ms. Urvashi Prasad, (Director, NITI Aayog, Govt. of India). Women’s exclusion from policy space is reflected in the increasing gender gap in various domains: from access to health, legal apparatus, education, political participation, etc. This disparity was further widened when women and their issues continued to be neglected during the pandemic. As a result, various important concerns that remain obscure in public discourse, particularly during times of crisis, are frequently brought forth by women leaders.
A lot of our nominated leaders spoke about the importance of mental health and the innovative measures they used to ensure the well-being of patients and the general public. A recipient of the Florence Nightingale Award by the Hon. President of India, Ms. Maibam Ranita Devi (Community Health Officer, Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centre, Manipur) shares how she tried to ensure the mental well-being of the patients in COVID centres using innovative tools, especially the dance therapy movement, which has been very successful and has received many accolades.
The campaign helped foreground a lot of such discussions, debates and discourses that are either invisidbilised in the larger narrative of ‘women empowerment and leadership’. It’s a reminder for us to continue working towards the vision of a better, a more equal world through equitable means.
(To be continued in part-3)