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Most of us will agree that Gender Equality should be something that should be a way of life, and not just a topic for essay writing competitions. However, the most instrumental thing is to make sure that we, as parents and educators, don’t fall prey to gender stereotyping, through our words or our actions. And one of the best ways to poke holes in gender stereotyping is to talk about role models. ‘She Can You Can‘ by Garima Kushwaha and illustrated by Anastasia Damani is a great attempt at getting the conversations about iconic Indian women, who are the role models we all need today. Team KidEngage got a chance to talk to Garima about the book and more. Here are the excerpts:
KidEngage: How did you go about the selection of personalities? Did you put together a list of women you wanted to write about? Or did you write a list of areas of work that you wanted to dig into?
Garima Kushwaha: The selection process was the most challenging but rewarding part of the journey. Our A-Z format made it more tricky for us as we got so many interesting characters for the same alphabets. So we prepared an exhaustive list of all candidates we could humanly find first and then carefully had to select them based on various criteria like the field of work, region etc. It was really hard to remove a character we really liked for another one but in the end, I am really happy how the final selection turned out as It is a very well balanced list and you can find inspiration in so many diverse areas.
KE: That’s absolutely true. So, was the A-Z format incidental or engineered?
GK: We deliberately chose the A-Z format. We have fond memories of learning from alphabet books. It is such a friendly format for children of all ages. For adults, the format is reminiscent of their childhood days and of learning with an open mind.
KE: Was the decision to not include mainstream celebrities deliberate?
GK: Our media tends to highlight Bollywood celebrities more than other fields. While acting is definitely a great and fulfilling profession, I definitely wanted to present a diversity of professions into this book. Even in the field of “acting”, we have included certain characters in our book that we think are pretty unique and off the beaten track.
KE: Which area of work do you feel are under-represented in the book? Was it because of the lack of a sizable number of role models?
GK: I think Politics/Law was one field which was under-represented in our book. Also, our book does not represent an exhaustive list of all professions. There are many other professions like Architecture, STEM fields, civil services which are highly male-dominated and lack the sizable amount of role models.
KE: Which story was your favourite to write and research?
GK: Uma Devi’s story was definitely my favorite. My jaw dropped researching about her. She taught herself to read and write 3 languages and was fearless throughout her life. In an industry notorious for looking over your skills for your looks, she smashed one stereotype after another. Even picking comedy as her focus was a bold bet I think. I mean, we still don’t have any other memorable female comics till date. I can only wonder how hard it must have been for her to believe in herself and then to make others believe in her.
Her story is definitely my favorite!
KE: A lot of the personalities covered in the book have been recognized through awards etc, though there are a few exceptions like Gaura Devi. How do you think we can motivate children to look towards the unsung heroes to draw inspiration from their work?
GK: Learning about these unsung heroes is very important in today’s world with social media and the culture of posting your achievements on Facebook to get the most ‘Likes’ possible. Telling stories of unsung heroes will teach children how they perceived the acts of service and standards of excellence as part of their job without any rewards. We can ask our children to learn to see how these people focused on the big picture and were willing to sacrifice time and effort for the good of others. They truly teach them to follow one’s conviction.
KE: The book is a much-needed tool for an educator. What is your message for them to get the conversations around gender equality started in the classrooms?
GK: Out of everyone who should read this book, educators excite me the most. Most books present male role models. It is very easy for kids to form a wrong perception. So I hope educators can use this book to give more female examples in various professional fields.
I think even before actually introducing “gender equality” as a concept, educators should make a point to cover female role models as much as their male counterparts. If this is done early and properly, most kids will grow up with a much more balanced view towards gender.
KE: You’re also very active in the space of menstrual health awareness and education. What advice would you give the parents to get this conversation normalized in the family?
GK: Menstruation is a natural biological process. There is no need for it to be hushed. Parents should take a more active part in normalizing it for their children. I really wish more dads talk about it as that de-stigmatizes it even more in the eyes of their daughters. We should also be teaching our boys about it to make them more understanding of it.
Thanks, Garima, for this wonderful chat!
Here are some winning slogans from the “She Can You Can” slogan writing contest for children that we conducted in association with Harper Collins in March 2019!