How would you react if someone said you needed to “look” better for work? Would you acquiesce or question it?
Most of the world is under different stages of working from home due to coronavirus. While Asian countries like China, Indonesia and South Korea are undergoing different phases of reopening after months of lockdown, Malaysia’s work from home “suggestions” from their government during COVID-19 has sparked some controversy.
Back in March, Malaysia was placed under a Movement Control Order (MCO), as a way to control coronavirus. Since people who could work were able to do so from home, the Ministry for Women, Family, and Community Development posted some posters on Facebook and Instagram with “suggestions” for women to make themselves presentable by wearing makeup when working from home. In addition, they were asked not to “nag” their husbands about housework or childcare since they would be coming home tired from working to provide for their family.
For most women, the idea to entertain this idea of putting on makeup and not “nag” their husbands about household chores is ludicrous. It is another way of undermining the status of women in the business world as well as in their home. Isn’t it bad enough that men and women have to go through this pandemic without having to cater to the “suggestions” of the government?
How are these ideas helpful? If anything, these suggestions are offensive and stereotyping the role of women. What’s worse is that the person in charge of the Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development, Rina Harun, didn’t think this would be an issue. While the suggestions have since been retracted, it still created negative feedback.
Women activism groups took the government’s handling of this to task. They demanded that the posters be taken down or modified. Harun maintained that the posters were aimed at giving positive pointers during the pandemic, but were they? To me, these posters added to the stress of navigating through these unprecedented events and may have even affected their home life negatively.
Was the Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development well-intentioned by creating these posters? They may have thought so, but in my opinion, it backfired. While I don’t claim to know how foreign governments are run, the way the Malaysian government has been treating women during this time is discriminatory and uncalled for. I don’t think that women alone should have to shoulder the responsibilities of working as well as maintaining the home if they have partners. In my opinion, the ideas put forth by the Malaysian ministry stem from patriarchal ideals, and that’s what needs to be addressed if both men and women are to live in close quarters during this pandemic.
As we all try to wade through the chaos brought on by Coronavirus, it has also given way to other sentiments that are less than desirable: gender inequality.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, there has been a large number of women who have been affected the most by it. Women who have jobs have had to cut back or leave their jobs in order to care for their children as a result of school closures. Service jobs that are held by women have had to endure work with less pay or no pay at all if they leave their job. The fallout from this outbreak not only affects women but their families.
Women from China, South Korea, and Japan have had to choose between working in spite of the outbreak or not working which takes away their pay and benefits. Recent statistics reported from an employment-oriented platform Zhipin, states that on average, women earn 84% less than men. That statistic takes into account the differences in industry, years of experience, and occupation. Since levels of education are used as benchmarks to garner one’s earnings, the pay gap is even less if women had earned a Ph.D. or Masters’s degree. The flip side of earning a decent living is not having the time to care for their children if the job requires long hours. While their contribution to the workforce is valuable in principle, the reality is far from it.
The age-old ideal of patriarchy is still alive and well in so many countries, but to see how it still controls women and their daily lives during this time is unbelievable. These women are willing to provide for their families but at what cost? It is unlikely that whether they keep working or not would make a difference since there are cultures who still see and treat women as burdens, not worthy of being cared for by their society.
What is just as unfathomable is that even if these women had jobs, they are still expected to take care of the children without help. It’s the notion that men bring home the paycheck and even if women did make money, it wasn’t seen as substantial enough to provide for their family. It’s not fair, but women who rely on a paycheck may back down from being assertive at their job, to ensure that they don’t get laid off or fired.
In this time of uncertainty, gender inequality should not be an added stressor or have such importance when it comes to providing for one’s family, but unfortunately, it is.
I’m not saying that every Asian culture discriminates against women, but there are people in these cultures who don’t value women or their contributions to their society. How are these women being protected by their country during a pandemic if their society doesn’t support their needs? How can women feel empowered if their culture still considers them as second class citizens?
Gender inequality is also present in the United States, not just in some Asian countries. While the treatment of women in the States is not as brutal as parts of Asia, it is just as palpable. Women in the States make less than men because they are perceived to be less committed to their jobs, especially if women have children. According to PayScale.com, in 2020 women earn 81 cents for every $1 earned by men. Men have been seen as being more productive than women due to their physical makeup or the perceived lack of commitment when it concerns childcare. In reality, women have been able to do the same jobs men can do in almost every occupation, regardless of their domestic situation.
They are faced with these notions even during a pandemic and it’s not going away anytime soon. So long as companies or society see women as less productive than men, women will have to keep fighting for their rights and risk their health until perceptions are changed. I do hope that it doesn’t take another natural disaster for women to be taken seriously or given the right to take care of their family without being penalized by society.
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It was almost the end of October but high temperatures heated up across Southern California. It made me think about global warming.
Last month young people across this country organized strikes and marches in many cities, suggesting that adults have not done a great job looking after the planet and that needed to be changed. The series of inspiring events gave me—and many others—a speck of hope for the future. A great number of my mom friends enthusiastically took their teenagers and even younger children to participate.
Days before the strike in our city I asked my first grader if he was interested in being part of the movement. I told him that I would be happy to sign him a permission slip that was required by our school district. He said no, adding that the strike was “silly.”
I was surprised. Yes, he was only six years old but he knew exactly what the strike was all about. He also cared about climate change; he liked polar bears a lot and understood what the rising of global temperatures would affect his polar bear friends.
Yet he said no to climate strike. I wondered why.
“I don’t think the kids in our school really know what we need to do to stop global warming!” He said. “They don’t sort their plastics in school. They throw the crust away when eating pizza. They ask their parents to keep engine running and air conditioner on when waiting for them outside of school at pick-up time. And they are doing a climate walkout! What’s the point? That’s just silly!”
As he talked, he got faster and faster, louder and louder. He told me that many of his friends complained when our city banned plastic straw earlier this year. “When the grown ups say, ‘okay, now let’s not use straws,’ they are not happy. But now they are going to have a walkout to ask grown ups to fix climate problem! That’s just super silly!”
My heart sank. I thought my son was trying to say “hypocritical” when he said “silly,” but he hasn’t learned the word “hypocritical” yet. It did sound very hypocritical to me, but I believed what he described would only apply to a small number of the children.
Recently, however, I witnessed something that made me come to a realization.
At a local mom group I belong to, a member proposed that instead of using bottle water and paper plates, we should all bring our own drink and reusable table ware to future meetings. I seconded the proposal and expected it to be approved by the group without much opposition. But I expected wrong. The group voted no. Most members still preferred the convenience of bottle water, plastic utensil and paper plates.
Now I was feeling the irony that my son was feeling. Half of the members in the group took their children to the climate march, yet most of them would choose convenience over sustainability in everyday life.
There are adults who didn’t make climate-conscious choice in daily life but wanted to march and asked those who are more powerful—for us it’s global leaders—to fix the problems for us. There are children who wouldn’t make climate-conscious choice in daily life but wanted to have a climate strike and asked those who are more powerful—for them it’s adults—to fix the problems for them.
So we saw the irony lingering from global climate strike: In Boston, cardboard and paper “climate change” sign were found everywhere in trash cans on Boston Common. In Toronto, an idling truck promoting climate strike angered people.
Greta Thunberg inspired the world not because she organized the global strike, but because she lives according to her conviction. She is a vegan. She traveled by sailboat instead of flying. As for most of us, we travel and eat without thinking much about our carbon footprint and the actual consequences of our daily life in spite of the believe that climate change is an urgent threat.
Thinking of that, I was ashamed. My son was right. Awareness should be both knowing and doing. In addition to a strike, there were much more basic things that we could, and should be doing. Still, I think the climate strike was a good thing – better to have the right value, which might one day change what we chose to eat and eat with. We have to stay climate conscious after the strike.
Oh, and what we did on the day of our city’s climate strike? I walked my son to school instead of driving him. He made a “Save a polar bear! Do not keep your engine running when picking up/dropping off your children” poster, and posted in front of his little brother’s day care. No, we did not participate in the climate strike, but we tried to do our part.
Sometimes, when the breeze passes through the trees, I ask my children if they hear the wind and the leaves make music and if they see them dancing. Have you ever heard this music? Have you ever seen this dance? I hope you have. It’s quite beautiful. This past July I went to India for a few days. My first stop was in Hyderabad; specifically an ashram called Kanha Shanti Vanam (Kanha). I had seen photographs of the place, and the plant life looked beautiful, but you know… it looked just as beautiful as I have seen and felt plant life thus far. I was not at all prepared for what I would experience in Kanha, but I heard my heart and it said: “Listen. The trees are talking”.
It was around 11 pm when I arrived at the dormitories in Kanha. There was a very light drizzle and the grounds were quiet… sort of still and calm. I was shown to a dorm where I quickly set my things down on a bunk bed, took a shower, brushed my teeth & went to sleep to be ready for morning Satsangh (a type of group meditation). The next morning, as I was walking to get chai from the cafeteria, I heard that familiar song made by the breeze and leaves. I looked at all the trees lining up the roads, and they were gently moving with the wind. Monsoon season was upon us, but we only had a light drizzle that would just begin and end now and again, and a consistent cool breeze in the 80(F) degree weather.
It’s interesting writing about this now, after going through the experience, because I have had time to contemplate on it and understand my feelings. A month later, it still is hard to put it all into words.
See, in Kanha there are so many things going on. There are volunteers who live there, those of us who visit and volunteer, construction workers who sometimes work through the night, there are people taking care of plant nurseries, people planting trees, there is a school for children, seminars, workshops, apartments and houses being built, ponds being created, meditation halls being constructed. However, the one thing I noticed as I walked around is that plant life seems to be the priority in Kanha. Not to devalue other priorities, but I don’t know how else to say it. Plants seemed to be valued so highly that it looked like construction was planned around them. And while walking on the tree-lined streets, I could not help but feel like the trees were not only dancing and singing with the wind, but like they were actually talking.
Let me back up just a tad. Kanha is a place in Hyderabad. It is the Headquarters of the Heartfulness Institute. In 2015 this land was barren. There was nothing there. To experience it today, it’s just completely amazing! I mean, there are all sorts of trees, from various places of the world! The majority of the food eaten at Kanha is grown on property. The pictures don’t do this place any justice, and the feeling that you get while there, is one that stays with you and makes the outside world feel…different.
Let me say, I didn’t hear the trees say anything in particular. It was like how you know that the Earth is a living thing, right? That, so is the grass and the flowers we see, and the bushes and trees we see. We know they are alive. I have never felt them as alive as I did in Kanha; nor as respected. It felt like the plants’ level of spirituality was higher than of the humans walking among them.
Now being back in the outside world, there is both a feeling of longing for that experience, as well as a reminder to respect and value plant life in our own back yard (so to speak). The heart keeps talking, trying to communicate and help us lead a beautiful life with experiences currently beyond our comprehension. All we need to do is listen. The more we listen, the clearer the heart is heard, and the voice grows louder. This is something I have learned from practicing Heartfulness meditation. As I am finishing up this article, it seems apparent that what I felt at Kanha with the plant life there was an expression of love.
The way that nature is incorporated in the planning of the development of the land in Kanha, makes total sense. It’s something that is doable and would be functional in other places too; cities and rural areas alike.
Although the language of the trees felt like one I hadn’t heard before, the feeling I got from it is that they definitely are our ally; if we would just listen.
The mediocre teacher tells. A good teacher explains and a superior teacher demonstrates and a great teacher inspires. (A quote by Arthur Ward). “Mine was the one who inspired,” says Amudha Renganatha, founder of Canopo International. I have made it to the top now. But, how did I reach here? I am not the one who tops the class in grammar or Mathematics but a slow learner who has felt the pain of learning difficulty right from the time I stepped into school. What I am today is because of my teacher, who has held me in her heart and guided me till now, says the 30-year-old.
ha Renganatha, founder of Compo International. I have made it to the top now. But, how did I reach here? I am not the one who tops the class in grammar or Mathematics but a slow learner who has felt the pain of learning difficulty right from the time I stepped into school. What I am today is because of my teacher, who has held me in her heart and guided me till now, says the 30-year-old.
“Till I met her, I always had a fear in me and never felt good about myself. The minute she came into my life, she changed it with her wand of unconditional love,” said Amudha.
“I was very bad in academics and scored only single digit marks. I suffered an epileptic attack at a young age. As I was put under a lot of medication, my parents were also told that it was not possible for me to do well in academics. They too did not force me. More than seizures, I was seized by inferiority complex. When I failed my grade 9 my parents took me to meet this wonderful teacher. The moment I met her something positive stirred in me. Next when she began to speak to me she made me believe that I CAN and I did,” explained Amudha with confidence brimming in her eyes.
Do I need more to get in touch with this inspiring teacher? I began to comb the metropolis of Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India) to reach out to the revered soul.
As I walked into a serene street in Chennai, my attention was drawn to a slightly mentally-challenged child trudging along with a school bag hand in hand with her parent.
I immediately reminisced interviewing a lady, nearly a decade ago, who was keen to train slow learners to write exams conducted by the Indian government for Class 10 and 12.
I followed the child with little hope of locating the innocuous learning center, which then coached a small group of children with learning disabilities. I was sure that it would not exist as I strongly felt that somebody who was hell bent on going the extra mile, despite financial constraints, would have climbed the ladder and relocated to a premises with more facilities.
With curiosity taking the better of me, I followed the kid as it turned round the corner. My efforts did pay me off and a familiar old building caught my attention. I quickened my pace fell in step with the child and entered the porch with her. I was surprised and happy to see that it was the same center I had visited years ago. A familiar sight of a slim lady engrossed in teaching a child, with visible physical disability, welcomed me.
Before I could open my mouth for formal enquiries, the lady gestured me to wait so that she could finish her class.
As I waited, I glanced around and found that nothing had changed in 10 years. Plaster was feeling off, the walls needed a dab of paint and the doors were almost off their hinges. But what had not changed was children occupying the classroom and in fact their numbers had increased.
In a few minutes, the lady walked towards me and introduced herself as Vijayalakshmi Rangapathy, the founder of Samrutha Vidyashram. My jaw fell to the floor and I could not but admire the transformation in her as she had dropped several sizes off her clothes. As, poor me, had piled up many kilos she could hardly recognize me. So, I had to introduce myself as the young correspondent who had splashed the news about her diligence and perseverance, to train special children, in a leading national daily , a decade ago. I also immediately understood that it must be Amudha’s teacher.
“Many of my students or ‘special children’ are now CEOs, directors and hold plum posts in various organizations in the city but I continue to be part of their lives forever,” she said proudly. She then rattled on about her decade-long struggle to train every one of them.
Years ago, I took up children like Amudha and others into my fold as they were slow learners, as dyslexics and with other learning challenges. Yes, Vijayalakshmi Rangapathy (Viji) had been an inspiring teacher and a savior for all them. The children were badly shaken as they were sent out of their respective schools as they could not grasp the curriculum and cope with their peers.
The idea of beginning the school dawned on Viji, when she saw a parent break down before the principal’s room as her child was sent out by the institution because she was dyslexic. “The parent and the school waited for a change in the child and it did not happen. But neither of them had taken any effort to help the child. As she had to appear for the Government board in the next 10 months, the school resorted to the easy option of sending her out,” explained Viji.
“Schools do not have the time or resources to assess the learning abilities of children like us mainly because the teacher-student ratio in the Indian scenario does not all give them time, said Amudha and Harsha Vardhan ( a physiotherapist now).”
To extend a helping hand to these special children , Viji enrolled in psychology and teacher training programs and completed the courses in two years. She quickly made inquiries with the Education department and connected with schools and parents of slow learners, those with delayed development parameters and specific learning disabilities and offered to coach the children.
Not wasting a second, Viji developed a novel way of teaching the children. Her dozens of honed skills covered everything from discipline to making sure the children understood the concepts.
Viji is a the product of a new way of training special educators. She and her peers are drilled in the craft of the special classroom.
According to Viji, many factors shape a child’s success. “As far as schools are concerned the quality of teaching matters. Parents care a lot about class size, uniforms and extra curricular activities and schools are concerned with streaming the children by ability. But both know little about how all these would make a difference to the special children. It is the teacher-expertise that matters,” she explained.
Passionate about the fact that some of these children are not given a chance to enjoy childhood , Viji believes that first of all parents of slow learners and those with specific learning abilities should accept that their child has a problems. “Over the years, I realized that my hard work with the children will pay off only if I counsel the parents. I don’t want to blame them too as they face a lot of societal pressure and therefore consider academic performance as a key parameter for a child’s accomplishment,” she explains. Therefore, she works in close coordination with parents and educational institutions.
With a heart swelling in pride, Viji said, “It’s heartening that some of my students are well-placed and working as CEOs, chartered accountants and journalists.
Sindhu, Amudha and Harsha, who are now globe trotters in their field opine that years of struggle by Vijayalakshmi have made them what they are today. “Above all, she has slipped into the role of a mother and stood by us rock hard during times of crisis and instilled confidence.”
Amma or Mother, that’s how all her students call. This one word speaks it all. How much she means to us? “She is our guiding soul and will forever be.”