The Circle Italy

The date is November 2019. As a result of bidding for a charity photoshoot, I become front and centre of the lens… lights, camera, action!

The camera clicks away… I have been dressed in a man’s coat and later choose to wear a saree I wore for my sister’s wedding. In front of the camera is not a new experience. It is one I have enjoyed often, but this? This feels different. I don’t feel natural entering the walkway to the studio with the one and only photographer, Maki Galimbert, who has photographed for Vanity Fair, Esquire, RollingStone and the likes of the Dalai Lama. What could I possible be nervous about? I am in Milan, and of course, it’s raining because the last hair style I am looking for is frizzy! Geez… then there is my body… My body, the one that has undergone so much… The Look… what am I doing here and why? There seemed so much more riding on this. I am not sure I can do the Circle (Italia) justice. But for empowerment and women everywhere, here I am. Maki begins to make me feel relaxed … he simply talks gently about my trip. I remind myself, the control is mine, as is the power. 

Maybe I ought to dial it back a bit and provide you with an explanation. The circle, founded by singer-songwriter and activist Annie Lennox, is a unique organisation which brings a global femiests together to fight for a fairer world for women and girlsI joined the Circle in the UK circa 2018 with total belief in the cause and why not? Why wouldn’t I want to bring a fairer world to women and girls everywhere? Surely, it’s my duty, but in doing so, does that mean I have to always be the strong one with the voice? This time I could feel my vulnerability in abundance.

Over the previous year at the time, my body had undergone various transformations, from recovery of a very serious injury that had left me with little ability to walk to taking control of my health though nutrition, exercise, and mindset. I boarded the plan to Milan, feeling on top of the world thinking this is it – I want to show confidence and strength to women everywhere. You can do it despite setbacks, despite many telling me directly or otherwise “to give up,” “this is my lot,” “how much can I change”. I had built a team around me complete with physio, trainer and dieticians/mindset coaches because I knew I had grit and resilience to move mountains, but it is so much easier and quicker if there is a team doing it with me and possibly finding a better route to the first final destination (we are always striving to be better). I am also a firm believer that we all need cheerleaders! Of course, these are all minor problems I faced in comparison to women and girls globally who were facing a lack of working wage, poor work conditions, and lack of education, through the judicial and community level response, they address issues of gender-based violence, human trafficking, early and forced marriages, corruption and discrimination in employment, inheritance , education and health services.

So, in the studio, I look around Maki’s collection of photos he has taken or collected over time. There is a sense of history, compassion, and a man whose eye captures the essence of someone’s being. I feel better but not relaxed. Maki had already chosen the man’s coat for me. I placed it on, and we were off shooting…. I relax and lighten up. After the shoot I am bold and ask for a favour – to be shot in the saree. He is kind and obliges…… and this is where I feel powerful. The saree is not an alien outfit to me but it’s not my natural skin despite being of Indian origin. The is a scaredness and spirituality within the saree and with my physical strength more on display, I feel alive and powerful. For the first time in a long time, I feel like me, and maybe that is my message… the saree didn’t make me feel strong, the change in body didn’t either. It was the voices I surrounded myself with, the team who were my advocates shouting and cheering “ you got this,” “your situation is going to change.” It’s a combination of belief, consistent change and moving the dial  just that one percent. So, to women and girls everywhere, I see you, and my advocacy for you will always continue. 

Exercise during Lock-down

Photo by Victor Malyushev on UnsplashAs I walk along the path of the park,Nature appears to still be at her best.She does not miss us humans.As I walk along the path of the park,The basketball and tennis courts cry at the silence,They miss us humans.As I walk along the path of the park,People long to gather in groups, craving a touch or a smile,Humans miss and crave one another .As I walk along the path of the park in the time of COVID lock-down …

Photo by Victor Malyushev on Unsplash

As I walk along the path of the park,

Nature appears to still be at her best.

She does not miss us humans.

As I walk along the path of the park,

The basketball and tennis courts cry at the silence,

They miss us humans.

As I walk along the path of the park,

People long to gather in groups, craving a touch or a smile,

Humans miss and crave one another .

As I walk along the path of the park in the time of COVID lock-down …

The Household Burden

The French have a phrase “charge mentale ménagère” which literally means, “household mental burden”. As COVID-19 develops its legacy and imprints itself upon all of us, we have to start questioning the impact that lockdown and furlough has had on our homelife. There is a strong risk that part of the workforce, and particularly women, may be getting thrown back to the cold war times. Of course, many households may say that that they are sharing the chores 50/50 or alternatively, that the other partner is furloughed so they should do the heavy lifting. I don’t believe this approach of allowing one person to take the burden of the household is particularly helpful at any time, and particularly not at a time of crisis like we’re experiencing now.

What we see, and what the French appear to have acknowledged for years, is that often one partner (usually the woman) has to plan the chores, the activities, and tends to be the main ‘go to’ person for everything from remembering birthdays to monitoring what’s going on on the local WhatsApp group. This leaves them with the mental burden of the running the household. In true reflection, this can mean carrying out 75% of the activity simply because they have to act as household and family project managers – and this is often in addition to their day job. One could even say that it reflects many large corporates – where the women often develop, organise, and deploy a project whilst a front person and team come in and take the credit. This is in itself on a level correct, but the mastermind behind the project is often not merely forgotten – because that would suggest they were acknowledged at some point – but simply not seen at all. This is because the project was seamlessly achieved, and the work is often done and always has been done; it is part of the everyday fabric. They become the “doers” but what businesses are overlooking to their detriment is that those who are doers at this level are also often simultaneously strategic planning, organising and more. The doing was a simple icing on the cake – the label of doer is therefore not fitting.

Businesses have form in overlooking women in a crisis – look at the 2008 financial crisis which had a disproportionate impact on women. The gender stereotype has been with us for years, and I would hope that we have moved on from such times as World War II where women had made progress in terms of employment, albeit out of necessity, only to then have that progress reversed. The issue was not just with the employers when the men returned from the war, but also men’s own viewpoint of how the household should be run. The division of labour at home was so ingrained within society it was unfathomable for them to think of staying at home or having the women not at home.

We have of course now moved on from this but how far have we really come? Are the men that have been furloughed feeling some form of resentment for having to take on more responsibility in the day to day household tasks? Or are the women who are left alone all day with the children feeling the resentment? No one has been left untouched by this epidemic. We are all suffering from the effects of the virus in some form. Research from Kings College of London found that women are suffering more in terms of feeling the pressure of work and keeping on top of home demands such as domestic chores and childcare. The issue of gender is also not the only on the table for employers, but also one to be addressed at home.

We are in the centre of a critical moment, on the cusp of turnaround and possible pivoting in terms of domestic life. . That which is so ingrained within our beliefs, unconscious bias and prejudices are slowly bubbling to the surface.

At times of great stress and crisis we begin to question and look for new ways of being. On a more micro level, we are having to find new ways of structuring our home lives. With grandparents no longer able to offer the childcare support so many families rely on, and schools and other childcare options still extremely limited, responsibilities and roles are having to be readjusted and redefined on an almost daily basis. Likewise, negotiations between employers and employees with caring responsibilities are requiring new levels of openness, creativity and understanding. Work and home life are now more intertwined than in generations.

Can the threads of our relationships remain intact and our opinions and perspectives change? Can we Stop and pivot to create a more balanced and inclusive working and home life that not only gets us through the crisis but endures and creates a better way of being in the future?