HOW TO IMPROVE SOUTH ASIAN AMERICAN GENDER DYNAMICS IN 6 SPECIFIC WAYS
Let’s be honest. There are unspoken rules when it comes to gender dynamics in the South Asian community. Men get several privileges while women do not. Talented women are treated differently because they don’t fit into a stereotypical mold. Our community perpetuates this cycle without even knowing it. You and I must do something differently. Here are 6 ideas you can implement:
#1 Increase awareness with safe conversation
The first step to increased gender partnership is to increase awareness. You will be surprised how many men do not even notice areas of inequality. I had no clue until it was pointed out to me! For example, the following questions may help jumpstart your conversations:
Consider all of your up-front speakers over the past year.
- How many of them were men?
- How many opportunities were made for women?
- Why did this happen?
Consider all of the main decisions made in your organization or church.
- How many of these decision were made by men?
- How many were made in partnership?
- Why do you think it happened this way?
Consider how many teams are being led by women in your organization.
- Are women taking leadership?
- Are there opportunities?
- Why do you think this is happening?
I suggest sending these questions to a group of men and women a few days before the conversation. Be sure that it is a safe environment so that everyone can share honestly and graciously. I suggest asking for forgiveness when appropriate. Make room for awkward silence. Do not assume that everyone has the same answer. Leave plenty of room for discussion. Pray together.
#2 Encourage women to input their ideas
I have been on many teams with women. All of these experiences have been enriched because ideas were shaped by both genders. When you only have one opinion, then the outcome can be flat, boring, or unhelpful. In South Asian circles, women tend to remain quiet through conversation. I think this is a cultural response.
I believe men should be aware of this dynamic and make room for women by asking for their thoughts explicitly. Or men should make space in the conversation so that women do not have to fight for air time. It can be extremely frustrating for women when they don’t have an avenue to share their ideas, questions, or concerns. Encourage women to share!
#3 Eliminate inappropriate vocabulary
Without even knowing it, your vocabulary or word choice can deflate the hopes of great gender partnership. Many South Asian men, including myself, can try to be funny by teasing others. As I was growing up, I constantly made fun of my younger female cousins as a way of showing affection. I realize now that those words have impact — often negative.
Words meant to be funny became confining! Ask your female counterparts which comments were actually funny and which were demeaning. You may be surprised. Identify those words and remove them! Change how you speak and address women.
#4 Offer developmental opportunities for women
I am the father of a cute, extroverted, witty three year old daughter. I want her to have opportunities to become whatever she wants to be. Many times my daughter will say that she is going to be a preacher, a doctor, and a rockstar. I tell her that she can easily do those things. But I know that she will need to be developed — just like I was developed as a child.
How often do we develop our women to be the next great preacher? How often do we prepare women to be leaders of organizations? You must start creating development opportunities for BOTH boys and girls. Do not place one as priority over another. Let both become awesome. Does your leadership development pipeline make room for women?
#5 Create platforms so that women have equal influence
While planning a South Asian student conference last year, my planning team consisted of two women and two men. When it came time to choose up-front speakers, we deliberately picked one man and one woman. When choosing worship leaders and testimonies, we ensured that there was at least one or more women in each category. When choosing an MC, we made sure that there was a woman.
Ok, what was I trying to do? It can seem that my team and I were being a bit rigid with the rule to always include women. Perhaps. But it made for an awesome conference experience! In fact, the two moments that I distinctly remember were done by women. It was powerful. It was enriching. It was needed. And it was deliberate. I urge you to create platforms for equal influence.
#6 Advocate for women especially when they are not present
It is awkward when men only consider women’s needs if they are present. Men should believe that partnership is important — not simply to meet a quota. Men must have a theology, a framework, a deep understanding that women are needed in God’s Kingdom. Men should advocate for women because it is right.
One of my female coworkers said that it was extremely rewarding when she found out that a male counterpart advocated for her especially when she was not present. Will you become a voice for those who are not present? Are you creating that type of culture? Are you opening doors of opportunity? Will you become advocates for one another?
Partnership will take us to the next level!
I hope that you take my ideas to heart. I know that you and your organization cannot make all of these changes at the same time, but I hope that you will take that first step together. You will make a greater impact on the world when you work together in strong gender partnership! Be the change. You are an Everyday World Changer. Start today!