“What does the word Respect mean?” Hans Billimoria, the keynote speaker of the day, asked the audience at the recently held APEX workshop conducted by Global Tutor. Held at the MAS Innovation Center AKA “The Hive”, on the 1st of February 2018, the workshop kicked off with this pointed question. The main theme of the day was female empowerment.
It’s not easy to come up with a definition. There are different aspects and different meaning for each of us. One of the most important definitions that came up was for self-respect. Self-respect is about being happy with who you are. It’s a very important aspect of dealing with yourself. If you can’t respect yourself, then you can’t respect someone else. If you don’t like yourself, you won’t like anyone else. Especially because you spend a lot of time with yourself. These were the various answers put forward to start off the discussion.
What do the words trust and consent mean?
Trust in crossing the road with your eyes closed but holding on to someone. If you feel like you are in a relationship with someone you feel comfortable with, then that would mean to trust them. But then again, you must first learn to trust yourself, else you can’t trust anyone else. Consent is the permission given to do something having the full knowledge of it and knowing the consequences of your actions. Typically, you would only give your consent about something to the people you trust.
How does violence relate to gender?
As human beings, we have normalized violence, Hans says. He went on to state that unfortunately, before being looked at as a human being, you’re looked at as a man or a woman. Violence is most often from our hands, mouths, fingers. This applies to both genders.
It’s not that men are violent by nature, or women are gentle. But that is what we are taught. He went on to talk about how gender stereotyping happens. Why is “like a girl” an insult? Why are you insulting yourself, he asked the students present.
Hans then spoke about the organization he is working at, Grassrooted. They conduct workshops on Cyber Exploitation and Violence (CEV); Gender Based and Intimate Partner Violence, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
Rather than treating a child as a girl or boy, he emphasized that we should treat them first as a human being. He shared his life experience of when he went to buy a mosquito net and the seller wanted to know if he wants a blue or pink net.
Hans went on to say that people were disappointed that he had a baby girl and not a boy. He emphasized that being a girl should not lessen your status. Another interesting point he spoke about was how males supposedly eat more than females. He debunks the theory. When energy is used, energy has been expended and needs to be replenished.
From catcalling in school vans and public transport, he spoke about how females, (be it a girl or woman) get harassed but simply brush it off saying that it’s a “kolu thing to do”. He encouraged Global Tutor to bring in young males as well to talk about these topics.
Cyber exploitation and technology
Take the topic of the Baila “Surangani” for example, which has a bastardized version. The topic of the song is about the absolute degradation of the female, dehumanizing and reducing her to a piece of meat, objectifying them, Hans says. He states that we need to start holding young men accountable. If they’re not, then that is a lack of respect, he argues, which means they lack respect themselves. This is a cultural thing, Hans says. It’s not just a Sri Lankan thing, but more of a global thing. Cultural norms hold the man above the woman. But that is absolute and utter nonsense, he says.
He spoke about cyber exploitation. This is another topic that Hans and his organization work for. From smartphones to WhatsApp to Viber, Hans went on to talk about all social platforms. Camera, Phone, Internet, Relationship. A boy and girl. All these can be a form of pressure that can be applied to you.
This is a key recipe for cyber exploitation. The boy uses trust as a weapon (Don’t you trust me?). Hans emphasized the words, “No”, “Okay” and “Fine”. He feels that girls don’t use “no” when needed, for fear of being regarded as prudish or immature. Hans also spoke about how boys gather details of their partners or even stalk girls and have a collection of their photos. This exploits female. From blackmail to extortion, the list continues, painting a not so pretty picture.
He went on to say that when you give your consent to someone, that consent must not be violated. It is done on trust. You need to make sure that your level of trust in someone doesn’t require a photograph. Anyone who has fallen victim to this is not being sensible. What you are seeing with cyber exploitation, is the objectification of women by men. It’s just that now there’s technology to back things up.
He also touched on the subject of rape and how the reason for rape is the rapist, not the other party. It’s not what you wear or how you walk. It’s just that there’s something wrong with the rapist. According to the UNFP/UNDP 90% of females are sexually harassed in public transport. By his logic, this also means that 90% of males are doing the harassing.
In conclusion, Hans emphasized that the three words he spoke about should always be remembered.
Teaching students the importance of teamwork
Fo1llowing Hans’s keynote speech, the participants were broken into 5 groups to perform 5 group activities. The group activities were devised in a way to improve the mind of the students in the following areas:
- Character development
- Visual memory
- Historical skills
- Geographical Skills
- Language Skills
- Deduction skills
Throughout the activities, students were highly engrossed and gave their utmost to be a part of the winning team. It was indeed heartwarming to see the level of dedication from these students.
Breaking through the glass ceiling
After that was a lively panel discussion conducted by Ms. Amra Iuoop, Ms. Pradeepa Kulasekara, Mohamed Fawaz and Yashinka Jayasekara. The panel discussion revolved around gender stereotyping and the challenges in overcoming these issues. Even the matter of gender roles is questionable. Rather than becoming a better woman, man, or a religious person, you should learn to become a better human. Fawaz’s views were similar where he said that if you have the capability, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man, woman or an Apache helicopter.
Yashinka’s views were to believe in yourself and to always challenge yourself in whatever you do. Do as many extracurricular activities as you can, he says. Explore as many avenues as you can and pursue that. Educate your parents on what your expectations are and get their opinion as well.
Yashinka also spoke about her experience when it came to raising a child with her employment. She thought about it and managed to find a balance. She emphasized that you must do what is right for you and also what you feel comfortable doing. An important note was that you should find a partner who supports you and understands the decisions that you make.
We face an issue in attire and attitude. If you have the right attitude, no one can question you or your work, Fawaz said. It’s all about proving yourself, Pradeepa added.
Amrah shared her views on her education where she was one of the first in Sri Lanka to enroll in a degree programme for biomedical science. There was no path drawn for her and she had no idea about the employment opportunities in Sri Lanka. Having seen that the Sri Lankan industry had no employment opportunity for a biomedical student, Amrah went on to complete her Masters as well. From there, she joined Global Tutor. She was lucky enough to step into an industry that empowers women and credits Fawaz for being her support.
Never underestimate a woman
Never over or underestimate a woman. Give them the stage to dance. If they are good at it, they will know how to handle it, else they will just back away. Shattering the glass ceiling was a key concept that was talked about, breaking through invisible barriers to get where you want to go.
Head of Marketing at MAS holdings Niki Gomez and Head of Finance Rasika Srilal were up next. They spoke about their new platform, Twinery. It’s not exactly a standard product, but rather something more disruptive. They both shared their life stories and how they overcame the challenges they had in life, especially regarding gender roles. They spoke about how sometimes in life, you really don’t know what to do, but it’s important to focus on what your family and friends say because they may see an opportunity you don’t.
Bernedine Jayasinghe, the managing director of Sirius academy (pvt) ltd. spoke about her life and her childhood. What she had to say was, respect yourself and believe in yourself. Age, gender don’t matter.
Whatever you’re doing, put your heart into it.
Once the discussion was concluded, an award ceremony was held for the teams that won the group activities and tokens were given out. With that came the close of the APEX workshop about female empowerment.