While we fight for the freedom and equality of all types of women, we must keep authentic representation as our true North, allowing the communities we serve to represent themselves.
The Integrity of Representation
By My Lo Cook, Executive Director
March 11, 2021Reading Time: 3 minutes
March is an important month. For many of us, March 2020 held the last weeks of in-person work before we were sent to work from home for “a couple of weeks or until further notice.” This month marks a painful anniversary.
In many countries including India, March is also Women’s History Month to commemorate the contributions of women to history. Although countless women have played a central role in some of humanity’s most significant landmarks, those achievements continue to be customarily underreported and disregarded. This month is an attempt to reverse that erasure.
In that same vein, when Dr. Swati Mohan announced “Touchdown confirmed” as the Perseverance rover landed on Mars last month, she will be remembered for leading space exploration and charting a new path for humankind towards understanding the meaning of life.
But she did more than that. With those two simple words, Dr. Mohan also inspired young women in India and around the world to firmly believe that their wildest dreams can come true. The power of her representation is important and consequential. However, the nuances of that representation can perpetuate the wrong message.
Successful, prominent Indian Americans like U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Mohan undeniably set wonderful examples that can inspire generations of young female leaders in India who can finally see their faces reflected in places of influence and authority. Simultaneously, these same public figures can inadvertently cement the idea that success can only be found if they leave their country for the U.S.–an idea that is rooted in colonial imperialism.
This is the reason why our network of Shadhika Alum play such a unique role in inspiring our Supports for Success program participants and our Shadhika Scholars to pursue and fulfill their potential, without internalizing a sense of inferiority or encouraging the flight of human capital.
Our Shadhika Alum come from the same ranks, overcoming the same compounding layers of marginalization and vulnerability. They have the same dark skin that colorism–a gendered lens in India–chronically discriminates against. They speak the same minority dialects and belong to the same castes. Our Shadhika Alum are powerful sources of inspiration because they are a genuine reflection of the younger generations of female leaders coming up behind them.
On average, a Shadhika Alum will positively affect 112 young women in their perception of themselves, increasing their confidence to change the world around them; without needing a golden ticket to the U.S. or abandoning their communities to do so.
While we fight for the freedom and equality of all types of women, we must keep authentic representation as our true North, allowing the communities we serve to represent themselves. In the new collection of our When She Leads interview series, Shadhika is holding space for our alum to talk about their personal fight to control major decisions in their lives, effectively becoming leaders for change in their own right. Let them inspire you the same way they inspire the young women of Shadhika.