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Mansi Khandelwal

JWB Blogger

Anita Anand’s CV Travels Across 100 Countries, Knows 7 Languages & Boasts Of UN Women Body

  • JWB Post
  •  October 4, 2016


The World is certainly a very small place! And this I believed, even more, when I spoke to author-artist-social worker-development and communication professional- Anita Anand who JWB randomly bumped into during Jaipur Literature Festival. What surprised me is how we ‘by chance’ found her on Facebook after eight long months and approached. But it’s okay! Bade Bade desho me aisi choti choti baate hoti rehti hai! Luckily it didn’t take her this long to reply!

After having received her resume to have a better understanding of how she does what she does, I wondered what have I literally done with my life in all these years. I would like to mention, that it was one of the ‘richest’ (read in terms of professional experience) resumes I have seen so far.

So, it was the first question I asked her when she answered the phone:

Me: You have been a part of radio productions, have written books, trained journalists and media houses, worked in rural development and gender-centric projects in various countries, have made some really amazing water paintings, etc. And yes how can I forget ‘You have developed a 5 year India Office strategy for UN Women (formerly UNIFEM), India. ‘Now, what is that one thing you haven’t done?

Anita Anand: She laughed out loud and replied, “I haven’t run a marathon yet and gone for hiking and trekking too.”

Me: Having worked on several gender issue projects and status of women in India and other countries, what according to you is the meaning of ‘women empowerment’ based on your experiences?

Anita Anand: A great deal about ‘women empowerment’ is about choices. When I was in my twenties, there weren’t many options available. That’s why people refrained from taking risks. But what I did right with my life at that point of time was to explore all the options available for me. I took risks, left places, jobs that didn’t make me happy. I never for once said to myself, “This is how it is and how it should be. I took risks till I was content.”

Five minutes down our conversation she made me question the things I had told myself during times when I was afraid to take a chance.

Anita reminded me of the last time I told myself, “I don’t have a choice.” And I was glad to hear her interpretation of this giving up line. She said, “It’s not about having a choice or not but us being fearful of exploring our choices. Most of the times, we cut off options because we are afraid of change and afraid to admit that we made a mistake. And what empowerment is – to be able to avail your choices and then to be able to articulate them.

Based on my experiences, well, each country has its own challenges. But the kind of struggles based on religion, social stigma, etc. that women are facing in Afghanistan and in India is not very different. So I mean, women in developed world also struggle. They struggle with discrimination, inequality, perceptions about how women should be and how men should be!”

Anita Anand with her trainers in Kabul

Me: Since you have worked on projects based on gender equality, where do you think our country stands?

Anita Anand:So, on a scale of 5, where 5 is the country with maximum gender equality like Sweden, Norway, Germany, so I would say we are on 1 as of now. This is a result of very little awareness and tremendous resistance to change. So if we talk about Scandinavian countries, they are much smaller in size as compared to India. They are more homogenizing, for example, they will mostly speak one language, have the uniform educational system, and practice one religion. In that environment, it is not difficult to generate gender awareness and talk about gender equality. Whereas in India, we not only have a huge population but several religions, different educational systems, rural, urban divide, caste, etc. Having such diversity makes it difficult to bring changes. Also, we are not just a patriarchal society, but a hierarchal one too.”

At this juncture, she went on to explain me the issue of sexual harassment in our country. “There are two major kinds of workplaces in India – the formal economy and the informal one. In the informal economy that works for daily wages, women are more susceptible to sexual harassment by petty contractors. And in the formal sector (Govt and corporate), it is difficult to make them understand that talking about sexual harassment in a workplace is necessary. Owning it to our ‘hierarchal society’, older men in organizations see nothing wrong in putting their hands on a junior employee’s shoulder and then later saying, ‘we treat them like our daughter.’ What is important here is that you are not their fathers, so stop being one! Same happens with daily wage workers. When they go to collect their wages, the contractors hold the money back asking them to come in the night. So this accounts to vulnerability.”

Me: Taking our gender disparity analysis forward I asked her, “Why do you think there is always a great discrepancy in salaries of women as compared to men across all professions?

Anita Anand:This is a result of our very own patriarchal approach towards things. We are not acceptable to the fact that women are the sole bread earners of the family. This is why the wages are skewed. If a man is on the position of a manager, it is assumed that he has a family to look after. However, in the case of female employees, their earning is treated as pocket money since they already have someone else earning too. So they always remain the ‘Contributors.’”

On a slightly lighter note, I mentioned about a post that caught my eyes on Miss Anand’s facebook page. Though I knew I would sound like a stalker, I still asked.

Me: What’s your take on ageism since you once shared the post that said ‘Women shouldn’t dye their hair’?

Anita Anand:For women, ageing is a great deal because they start realizing that they are reaching a particular age where they will not be any more relevant. To seek relevance is very important for all of us. I have come across several women who are in their 60s but would dress like half their age just to look good, young and important. I find that really odd. Our choice to look like the ‘other’ is an outcome of self-rejection more than the fear of rejection from others.

Just when we were about to end our conversation, she told me she is a therapist too. And I was like, really? At 66, you have travelled over 100 countries, know 7 languages, have worked for over 40 years, you are such an inspiration!

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