October 6, 2008
Tilly Samuel Sojwal
I grew up in urban, middle class India, with the privileges of a secure, stable family and good education opportunities. In my adult years, I have had the enriching experience of living and working in multiple countries around the world, including my own. With continuously expanding paradigms, I have come to enjoy the sense of seamlessness I sometimes feel, despite national boundaries, as I travel through. I have also come to appreciate that every culture my family and I are honoured to experience, has some dichotomies.
I think of the dichotomies of my homeland. As a woman in the middle class workforce of urban India, gender was a non-issue – the only thing that mattered was excellence. I remember the sense of surprise I felt during the early years of my travel to the Northern nations, at just how much middle class urban women felt discriminated against in the workforce. On the other hand, I am acutely aware that the non-discrimination I experienced in middle class urban India did not and does not always extend to the uneducated, marginalized woman in India, who is sometimes deprived of basic rights, constitution notwithstanding.
Yet, women in India had voting rights before the women of Switzerland did. The East has produced some of the world’s best women heads of state and government, while the United States is yet to nominate a woman candidate for the Presidency. That having been said, I still believe in excellence over gender. But what I therefore believe in, is empowering and equipping women to achieve that excellence, and equalizing the yardstick by which both men and women are measured.
In my book, equalization does not mean neutralizing gender and pretending it does not exist. Rather, it is celebrating the unqiueness of each, honouring the differences and learning to work together to the greater good. It means breaking down practices and barriers built up by superstition, tradition and convenience.