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What can we give up to create change?

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I visibly cringe inside when men come to me and tell me how they want to 'empower women in their life'; in a tone filled with pity and entitlement at the same time.

In a recent NYT article titled 'Beware rich people who say they want to change the world' by Anand Giridharadas on his book 'Winners take all: the elite charade of changing the world', he gives significant examples of 'fake change'. Taking a systems lens, he talks about how fake change has deepened inequality across the world. He talks about the impact of only creating enough change that the powerful can tolerate, changes only within the existing system. Change that does not mean giving up one's own privilege. And why that's dangerous. "Changing the world asks more than giving back. It also takes giving something up"

Bringing that context to gender norms, is the powerful sex willing to give something up?

Empowerment does not mean giving something out of pity, it often means…

What do you feel now?

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"My son constantly plays video games", the middle-aged man from South Asia named G, said.
"And how does that make you feel?", asked our instructor.
"He doesn't study and he needs to score good marks", he continued.
"Yes, and how does that make you feel?", she asked
"I scold him and then he starts yelling at me", he replied.
"Yes, that's true, that's how you respond to it. How do you feel when he plays video games - happy, sad, frustrated, angry,..?"

And this went on. It was evident that the man was either reluctant to talk about his feelings and sit with them, or this was the first time he had ever been asked that question and he was simply confused.

It was astounding, yet so heart-breaking, as I watch G, and the generations of families before me, struggling to talk about their emotions and feelings. And the impact active disengagement from one's inner emotions has on families, institutions and societies all a…

Looking within - Am I biased?

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In the wonderful art collections of the Aborigines in the Caixa Cultural across the Marco Zero square in Recife, was a questionnaire. A simple bias test.
Which of these groups of people are perceived to be capable at handling money (Economist, Aborigine, kleptomaniac..) , who do you think is dishonest (politician, Aborigine, priest..). A laugh ended up my nose as I read the last question: do you think you are racist? (yes, maybe, the questions are stupid, I have a sneaking tendency I might have racist tendencies!). Most of us educated folks would claim we are not sexist or racist, yet we are. And data all around the world shows us the impact of our everyday biases.
Take the case of gender bias: it surprises me every  single time when people consider gender bias to be a thing of the past, 'out there', happening to someone else, when it is 'right here', sitting in  the room with you and me. And yet, we fail to acknowledge it.

In India, where I come from, families consider …

#LikeAGirl - Small actions, big consequences

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Combining work with fun, I visited GBV (Gender-Based-Violence) organizations in the coastal city of Mombasa, while continuing my journey in Nairobi. Set along white sandy beaches, the city takes one's breath away with its  mesmerizing beauty. 
As I was entering one such center, I overheard a colleague's remark that triggered me: 'If people see me entering this center, they will feel I am a survivor too'. It wasn't just the words, but the tone and the emotion in the sentence that jolted me. When have we made survival such a shameful act in the first place?

One question that has always bothered me is: why are men violent? What are the root causes of violence? Violence is after all a symptom of a  much deeper issue; a culmination of several everyday norms, ingrained into our societies, for centuries.

Being male or female is, after all, a physical feature. But by associating emotions, behaviors and attitudes to these genders and then coating them with culture and relig…

The power of personal experience

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In my scholarship application to my graduate program at HKS, a particular question had bothered me a lot: 'Explain any other special circumstances that you feel should be considered with your application, eg. If you faced difficult challenges, such as being orphaned, or other disadvantageous conditions'.  I was confused: why ask this question to applicants? Should I write my personal story? How does my personal experience matter to my professional application? As it turns out, it does.
I visited HOYMAS, an NGO  that was formed by male sex workers and people living with HIV/AIDS in 2009. It serves both sex workers and the LGBTQ community with practical knowledge on safe sex, preventive materials distribution, general information and also economic empowerment. 
The founder, John Mathange is himself a gay sex worker who got diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. This led him to start HOYMAS, an organization that hopes to reach the disadvantaged homosexual sex worker community, ostracized on two …

Deconstructing systems - the Slum child foundation

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I had the privilege of visiting two organizations, Slum child foundation and HOYMAS, last week. Slum child foundation runs several education based programs in slum areas, primarily Kariabangi and Korogocho, while HOYMAS works in prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS for male sex workers, the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.

As I toured around Korogocho, I couldn't stop comparing the economic poverty and inequality in India and Kenya. This is one of the three largest slum areas in the country, housing more than 150,000 people in an area of 1.5 square Kms. Everyone I know scared me about the place: don't go there, people will pickpocket from you, you will be harmed. While the area does have a history of homicides, guns, illicit liquor and drugs like many other urban/rural centers across the world, I could almost see an invisible barrier deepening the inequality between the urban rich and slum dwellers in Kenya through fear, shame and horror. I, for one, felt extre…

Conversations about sex and sexuality

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When I was asked to join my colleague at UNAIDS, to a conference organized by the National Aids Control Council (NACC), I thought it would be like any other conference; people speaking about AIDS and why it should be eradicated, and nothing more than that. But, I witnessed a discussion that I missed having in my adolescence along with millions of other Indians; a discussion about sex, sexuality and other such topics, essential but considered taboo, between a representative group of Adolescent and Young People (AYP), policy makers and the Church. There was wide representation from parents, NACC, civil society organizations, international organizations, families, parents and many more. Kenya ranks third in the highest new HIV infections among young people in the East and Central African region and has an incidence rate of 66,000 per year. The question was simple: how do we reduce the rate of new infections, especially among the AYPs, to reach the goal of less than 18,000 new infections…