A wishlist to #BreakTheBias

8 March 2022

by Priya Sharma
School of Business

The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #Breakthebias. Whether intentional or unwitting, bias makes it difficult for women and girls to move ahead. While it may not be in plain sight to many of us, bias tendencies have been deeply ingrained into our lives. Such behaviour impacts almost all spheres, from our interactions to our working norms — influencing the way we make key decisions in practically every aspect of our lives.

Knowing that bias exists is therefore not enough. How can we take action? Where can we start? Here is my wish list of changes I would like to see to break the subtle yet harmful biases that exist for young girls and women.

1. Girls should be good looking and have perfect bodies.

Every so often, young girls equate their self-worth to the number on the scale or on a clothing tag. People don’t realise the impact these issues have on young girls as they become women, the life-long struggles it poses for them around body-shaming and body-dysmorphia. Body dissatisfaction is one of the biggest concerns for many, particularly in girls. Women who face such pressure have portrayed low self-confidence and a negative self-image.

As a collective, we need to start thinking about what can be done early on to nurture a positive body image to help young girls become healthy, well-rounded women as it affects the way girls and women conduct themselves in society, at work, and in relationships. It affects their confidence to speak up for themselves and, ultimately, the choices they make in their personal and professional lives.

Together, we share the responsibility for driving this change – from brands embracing different body types, to the media opening up honest conversations, to mothers being both smart and sensitive about how they educate their daughters, dealing with issues around objectifying girls and women and even looking at the role of educators in instilling healthy confidence in young women and girls.

2. Girls are well-behaved and shouldn't speak back.

For so long, being a woman has meant to fold into yourself, make room for others, literally and figuratively, to put others first, being unnecessarily apologetic or playing your talents and capabilities down.

You may think people won't like you or that you are too aggressive if you come across as confident - or if you push your product, or talk about what you know or claim your space as an expert. It is still in many girls and women to want to reduce themselves for fear of what people may think or offending the norm.

How can we change this? How can we encourage women and girls to take up space? Having more conversations, education and raising awareness is key. Girls and women need to recognise and realise that it is their inherent right as a human being to take up space, evolve, change, bloom, flourish and become all they dream of becoming. This includes learning and practising how to be brave in exercising options– whether it’s having the ability to choose when a woman wants to become a wife or a mother or having access to an education or making choices in their workplace.

3. Gender equality is a women’s issue.

Although women empowerment is a critical element of gender equality, gender equality is not just a “women's issue”, nor can it be taken forward solely through women's efforts in public or private spheres. Men are important allies to this agenda.

Being an ally means educating yourself as much as you can about the issue at hand. Men and boys are important actors who can share the responsibility and participate actively in empowering girls and women. Men, especially as allies, are necessary as they continue to hold most of the influential decision-making positions in many areas. For example, through working in alliance with women, male parliamentarians can be revolutionary in transforming the political cultures and institutions that support harmful gender norms.

Despite the above stereotype and biasness, it cannot be denied that, women and girls in today’s world are presented with unprecedented opportunities. However, we cannot also deny that these opportunities come with an array of pressures. To young girls aspiring to make a mark in the world that #breakthebias, I hope you will be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to yourself, and strong enough to live the life you’ve always imagined. To this end, I’d like to quote Marianne Williamson, who said.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”