Feminists Leading Change: Nitika Pant
Based on an interview with Nitika Pant by Aayushi Aggarwal and Natasha Harris-Harb
Meet Nitika Pant. A woman challenging gender norms and leading those in her community with her, in her revolution. Nitika Pant is a co-founder of SAKAR, India, which was established in 2005. Nitika and her organisation promote gender equality and minority rights. She is especially concerned about the health and education of adolescent girls in Bareilly, India, where she lives.
Women leaders in the organisation
“The presence of women leaders in the organisation gives a lot of hope and scope to other women working in the organization. It positively impacts staff. I feel that it also impacts the men working in the organization. For example, in our organisation, a male colleague has been working with us for the past 13 years and I can see a change in his behaviour not only at the workplace but also with his family. However, being a woman and a leader is not enough, one needs to be a feminist woman leader. “
Challenging gender roles
“As far as SAKAR is concerned, we’ve tried to give space to people and to consciously reverse gender roles within the organisational space, to challenge them. For example, when Shilpi (co-executive director of SAKAR) and I started the organisation, we were a total of 4 people. Both Shilpi and I, another woman staff member and a male staff member. The first year, we conducted an event for International Women’s Day. Normally, in our societies, the men would go around and arrange the venue and other logistical details that would require going out of the office and having conversations with vendors. But instead of asking the male staff to support with the logistics, we asked the woman staff for support, much to the discomfort of both the male and female staff. Because of our social upbringing, they were both unable to comprehend the role reversal at first.”
Organisational culture and deep impact
“Over time, such strategies have had a deep impact on our organisational culture. Our male colleagues are just as easily open to the ‘perceived stereotypical’ women’s role in the office such as making tea, as our women colleagues are to doing the more traditional male tasks. And, because of this change within the organisational culture, we are also able to see changes within the families of our staff.”
“But being a woman leader is also very challenging, particularly in our context. Because when you are in this leadership position, you are always challenged. It is very difficult. Across the table, people challenge you. And I have this strong feeling that a male leader would not be challenged as much as we are. Sometimes, as a woman leader, we have to put in more patience and effort to earn that acceptance from our team.”
Looking at the future of women in leadership
“I am quite hopeful about the future of women in leadership roles. A lot of women leaders have come up in the last few years. Particularly women youth leaders have been at the forefront of social movements in India. The young women leaders who are organising protests and movements across the country are motivational forces for me. I’m sure in the coming years, we will get to see more women leaders. Although politically in India, there is a serious backlash against women and feminist politics, these women keep fighting for social change. Women are speaking up and with conviction. They have strong voices and the potential to lead us all to a bright future.”
Fostering intergenerational dialogue, mentorship & leadership.
“Sharing our stories and learning from each other’s experiences is vital for fostering intergenerational dialogue. We also need to read about women leaders and women who led the way for us and learn from those. These stories then need to be shared within our families, and our communities to spread our oral histories and experiences. Storytelling–media, television, shared learning spaces, social media, facts need to be shared. We also need to create platforms where leaders of different generations can come together and hold intergenerational dialogues and discussions, in our organisations, communities, families and societies.
We need to foster the history of women’s leadership and spread that across.”
“Women role models are important because we draw strength from them. They help us nourish sisterhood, a sense of solidarity and togetherness. Knowing their pressures, their struggles, experiences and socio-political contexts help us learn and grow from that space. Helps us gain strength. That is why we need to know about these role models, and why we need role models.”
Our feminist principles and convictions
“We can make this mountain taller by setting our feminist principles, and abiding by them and practising them in whatever we do, wherever we are. We can collectively make a change. We need to exercise our right to choose, not compromise on that. That will help us make the mountain taller. Because that is the one place where we generally see women giving up. We need to stay confident in our convictions and live by them.”
Natasha Harris-Harb is UNGEI’s youth engagement adviser and Aayushi Aggarwal is the communications manager at Gender at Work.
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