Women of Worth kicked off 2017 by launching a training workshop, “Igniting Young Minds”, at Vedanta Academy, Tirupur, for children of grades 1 to 10. Training has been WOW’s core competency in accomplishing one of its three major mission goals, which is to educate and train people from all facets of life to bring the change we all seek in order to build a harmonious society, devoid of gender inequalities and discriminations.
The question is, How? How can we bring this change and also raise a generation of responsible citizens for the future, when we know children easily fall a prey to societal pressures and discriminations because of which we see so many of them battle confusion, turn into recluses, fall into depression, grow up with low self-esteem and end up as adults who do not voice opinions to problems that matter?
WOW’s workshops address some of the sensitive and controversial issues that children face day to day in a friendly and an approachable way. It doesn’t halt at awareness but delves deeper in an aim to ignite and liberate their potent young minds, evoking a sense of passion and responsibility within themselves, towards others and the community they live in.
At Vedanta Academy, our well-equipped team split the workshop sessions into three categories such as the junior section, senior section and the staff. The junior’s category had a workshop under the title, “Media Literacy: A class on Self-Worth” that educated children on how to filter media messages and the other two categories had sessions on “Anti-Bullying “and “Sexual Abuse” which addressed topics such as ‘How to report bullying’, ‘What if I am a bully?’, ‘Break the silence on abuse’, ‘How to prevent and spot abuse’ and much more.
Every session commenced with an ice breaker and proceeded to address the topics of interest through videos, games, activities, enactments and lots of interaction. Below is a video of the junior’s category interacting with our team during an activity called “Precious”, which aimed to make them understand their unique self.
Picture: The Trainers for the senior category encouraging the boys to do a roleplay on the topic “Bullying”.
We believe no child or individual are the same. Likewise, no workshop we put together is monotonous either. We take great care in customizing our materials to cater to the needs of the school and the issues that looms large on a particular campus or environment. Thus, changing and igniting young minds, one school at a time.
WOW is marching towards its next phase in training by welcoming schools and colleges to be a part of the UN campaign #BeBoldForChange, a drive that is addressing gender sensitization and equality this International Women’s Day month. If you would like us to bring the “Bold for change” campaign or any of our workshops to your campus please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and our team will get in touch with you.
Finally, we extend our commitment and encourage each and every one of you to be a change in your corner of the world; Together we can make a difference!
Lead the change!!
When I stepped out in the sun, my skin breathed, long, life giving breaths, as it bathed itself silly in the slanting, loving sunshine. But, I never truly enjoyed the sun, as I should have, for a fear nagged at me. I’ll tan, I’ll become darker and I won’t be beautiful. So, I ran back into the home. From a little girl who was afraid of the sun, yet loved it like something terrible and scary should be loved, to a young woman who calmly tucks her hair behind her ear, exposing herself more to the sun, almost delighted at the browning of her skin, almost able to hear it like the crackling of a fire, I have come a long way.Everything good, beautiful and divine was fair. All the leading ladies in the films were fair, the angels printed in my textbook were fair, the darkest girl in the class was made very aware of her complexion, and even the brides of my family applied foundations that were nowhere near their shade of skin. The wheels of beauty hurled towards one destination, and that was “to be fair.”
To be fair was a prerequisite that few of our genes failed to fulfill, to be considered beautiful. It broke us down on a level that was much deeper than skin. It broke us down in places where we regretted belonging to a community, to a skin colour, to a race and to an ethnicity. We could be bestowed with the most striking eyes, full luscious lips, a shock of lustrous locks and the perfect nose, but we would still be the ones who were “Beautiful, but dark.”
We smiled coldly at these ignorant compliments. The society was apologetic for us. The kindness killed me. When I looked at a girl, dark like me, older than me, approaching the ‘age of marriage’, I sought solace from her. But, I didn’t get any. I got fear, I got an outpour of woes and I got from her an attentive ear to any “homemade fairness packs” that my mother might know. If the societal apology and kindness killed me, the victim’s self-blame scarred me. I knew my pride wouldn’t survive a hit so savage. So I did the only logical thing one does, when threatened, at least the only logical thing that wouldn’t brand me a coward. I fought.
I fought balancing on the strong shoulders of my friends and family and the edge of my pride was sharp. I still stand, poised, clutching my pride, waiting to see if someone would call me “Beautiful, but dark.” In this stance, I chant my prayer.
I am dark, a shade darker, and three tones deeper
I am dark, not wheatish, and not dusky, I am dark
I am dark, as you accused me to be, making generous excuses for me
It’s okay, I am educated
It’s okay, I am rich
It’s okay, I have the hair to make up
It’s okay, I can sew and stitch
Thank you, but no thank you
Why console me for something I am not crying about
Why console me for something I guffaw in pride about
Don’t make excuses for me, for I am perfect as I should be
I am finally dark and anything else, I don’t want to be
So let me be.
I’ll toss my head and walk in arrogance
Arrogance I’ve earned,
I’ve slain your ignorance
I, the collective hurt pride of all the dark skins
My fight is undeserved but fight I will
Because the hurt is undeserved
And I won’t take it.
Zeenath is one of Dark is Beautiful’s ardent supporters who lives in the beautiful city of Hyderabad with her family. She hails from an orthodox Muslim household where her upbringing involved spending a big chunk of her time with books that preached the most unorthodox ideas between their covers. The effect of the reading and writing culture became an evident part of Zeenath’s life which she describes in her own words as, “in an ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ like fashion, I switch between the two throughout my day.” Professionally, she interns at an auditing firm as part of her Chartered Accountancy program and aims to trudge to the other end of the tunnel in a couple of years.
As a lover of Indian cinema, Arabic food, baking, literature and her south Indian lifestyle, Zeenath is a charged up young woman who tries and gives her best in everything she sets her eyes on and doesn’t stop till she emerges successful.
In her account “Do Away with the ‘But’” she bids an adieu to the clichéd “But” that frequently takes a free ride on most of our compliments given to the melanin-rich, hoping that her prayer chant would break the spell and liberate our minds so that the memory of its existence does not haunt anymore.
Kavitha Emmanuel, Founder & Director of Women of Worth writes to fill in on some of the advances WOW has seen this year of which WOW’s leadership empowerment campaign takes the spot light. She also shares her experience on being a leader herself on this unfeigned note that we bring to you right from her desk.
Women of Worth’s latest campaign “She Leads’ is a campaign that hopes to motivate and mentor the next generation of women with leadership potential to stop at nothing and scale with confidence those heights which are rightfully theirs. Through SHE LEADS we hope to smash the barriers that limit women’s potential by nurturing in young women a resilience and conviction to reach the top without holding back.
As the implementing partners of this campaign initiated by the British Deputy High Commission, Chennai and supported by The Madras Chamber for Commerce and Industry, we were invited to participate and present SHE LEADS at the tech summit held in New Delhi on November. The Summit was inaugurated by Narendra Modi, our hon’ble Prime Minister and Teresa May, Prime Minister of UK. It was a landmark event indeed and I was happy to be there to introduce our new campaign to business owners, politicians, entrepreneurs and students who were at the summit.
At the session on Women In Leadership, an 18 year old student took me by surprise when she asked this one question to the panel of women leaders: “You have all shared about your great moments. But I want to know about your failures and your struggles on your way up here.” My immediate thought was, “here is a leader in the making!’
As leaders, we don’t often talk about our failures and our challenges. We try to hide behind our great moments to escape the shame of those moments we wished we were dead! I have had my share of failures. I still struggle with insecurities of not feeling capable enough to lead. I see people more gifted and talented than I am. I do struggle with feelings of jealousy and sometimes I do give up thinking I am not good enough. I am afraid of crowds. I hate public speaking. I do get depressed when I goof up a speech or when an event falls flat. And then there are those mistakes that have become life lessons. I am not always confident even if I look that way. I come across to people as a bold and confident person. But on the inside I am often fearful. To me personally what gives me the courage to move on is my faith. My faith in a God-ordained destiny helps me walk through tough and discouraging times.
The secret about being a leader is not that you don’t fail or feel weak. But that you develop in you the resilience and tenacity to overcome all barriers that try to stop you from moving forward. Every experience you go through becomes your teacher. Failures become your stepping stones to success. Your failures make you richer if you will be open to learning from them. And it is not forbidden to talk to a friend about your failures or insecurities. It is normal to feel inadequate or fearful. It is normal to feel like you want to give up half way through a project. But what is crucial is that we don’t stay there in that moment but gather the courage to pick ourselves up and press on towards our goals.
During the month of March, we celebrated “Fear to Freedom” on our Dark is Beautiful Facebook page. What better way to connect with one another than sharing each other’s experiences eh? WOW applauds each and everyone who chose to change the narrative that typically follows fear. Here are a few stories that we gathered from all over India.
Fear to Freedom #1 This story resonated with many of our followers. A central theme that rose from the discussions highlights the legally banned practice of dowry continuing to mar dark skin complexion.
My name is Jyoti and I write this on behalf of all the Jyoti’s out there.I was born into a middle-class Bihari family in Jamshedpur. I am an Engineer by profession. I have skimmed through thousands of profiles in search for a bridegroom, but I didn’t find anyone who shares the same beliefs and values as I do. My parents were worried and feared about my marriage because I am dark and if a girl child is dark, it is completely unacceptable here. But recently, they found someone for me and fixed my marriage. Everything seemed fine in the beginning because my parents had already told them of my complexion and they didn’t say much. But one fine day the grooms family called my parents and stated very indirectly (since they are compromising on a fair daughter-in-law for me),“ We just have one son and after your daughter gets married, everything we have will be hers so pay for our son’s expenses now.” My parents were ready to pay for his expenses because they loved me and wanted me happily married. But when I heard it, I was annoyed. So, I called up the guy and asked him about it. He said,”We shouldn’t get our heads involved in this matter.” I was even more annoyed and said no to the guy. Why should I pay up because I am dark? It doesn’t make me any less of a human. I will certainly marry when I find my right match. A man who looks at my heart and not my outward appearance. Until then I refuse to put a price tag on my skin colour.
Fear to Freedom #2 Savitha received a lot of support from the DISB community spurring her on to break free from fashion norms and experience the joy of colours. We agree.
Model in the pic: Mary Smrutha Paul (DISB Ambassador, Hyderabad)
I do not know why you like to pick on my skin colour all the time. This is how God chose to make me. But you always make a big deal out of it. If I slap some red lipstick on, you say, ” You look ugly….. you think you are a foreigner or something?”. If I choose to wear a yellow heel, you say, ” What are you thinking? Are you out of your mind?” I still remember coming back home one night so excited after getting myself a beautiful lime green Lehenga and you smirked and said, “Give it to your sister, She’s gori hai na?”(Isn’t she fair?) I can’t even begin to explain how I felt that day. I felt so shameful. The fear of approval gripped me. I love fashion, I love dressing up in different colours. I can’t live my whole life wearing just maroons and blue’s can I? I am dark and what’s wrong if I wear bright colours? It’s time this kind of demeaning attitude changes!!! If I don’t even have the basic right to dress the way I want to and express myself sometimes I wonder what am I even doing here!?
– Savitha, The Stressed Out Dresser from Delhi
Fear to Freedom #3 Celestine wrote to us raising this fascinating question:
“Do each and everyone one of us secretly have a colourist inside of us?”
Colourism: A form of discrimination which is based on the individual’s skin colour, with the person who has the lighter skin tone, treated more favourably.
Celestine adds, “Editing pictures became a routine. It’s like I didn’t want to be myself until I realized I was being a colourist myself.”
Do we in our minds often paint ourselves to a skin colour we think we would look perfect at? Is that why filtered images are a huge fad? Has media successfully tapped into all our inferior complexes, flaws and fears, slowly but steadily somehow tricking us to believe that we all to a certain extent have to look like someone else to be accepted?
Celestine says, “Now that I have learned to see beauty in a different light, I feel I look much better without editing my images because that’s me in my authentic self and not a copy.” And we second that Celestine!
Fear to Freedom #4 starts with skin pigmentation, name calling and bullying, but ends with accepting the so-called-imperfections that make us uniquely beautiful.
My name is Natasha and I am from Telangana. You know everyone of us have some form of fear or the other. Mine stared back at me every time I looked at myself in the mirror, more so that the very thought would make me not want to see my reflection (sighs). I had dark pigmentation around my lips and chin so it used to look like I was having a moustache and kids in school started calling me Mushtasa. It used to make me feel like I was never worth it. I always thought how beautiful the fair skinned girls were and how life was easier for them at least in this aspect. As all these feelings grew louder I started disliking myself. Over the years, I have come to realize that the worst form of rejection is not other people rejecting you but you rejecting yourself. So today, I can boldly say, Mushtasha or not, I am proud of my dark skin (and the flaws therein, that makes me human I’d like to think) and I have learned to love (it was hard trust me but not impossible) myself the way I am. A huge shout out to my parents for helping me through this phase.
P.S “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” (And love yourself ) – Harvey Fierstein
Fear to Freedom #5 radiates courage. Many of our readers were inspired and encouraged to follow her example as they face life’s challenges
Hi! This is Shirley from Hyderabad and this is my story.
I spent 10 years of my life in self-criticism. Like a princess locked up in a tall tower, because I felt like I was cursed for being born dark. Growing up with a complexion like this was not easy. Where do you look for comfort and consolation when your own family thinks you are born with a skin colour different than them? When your own friends start teasing you and name tagging you as “Black”? Not being chosen for anything because people look at your complexion and not your personality? Eventually, you start believing you don’t have the right to feel pretty or beautiful. In a country where it is common to be born in this shade, I was being shamed for the very same. But all this made me step back and look at the sunny side of life. My parents and my close friends helped me believe that I am beautiful inside out. The moment I believed I am beautiful, I saw that life was beautiful and what others thought of me slowly became irrelevant. Like they say, “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger”. So don’t let this(skin colour discrimination) ever stop you. I did not let it stop me.
Fear to Freedom #6 reflects on the attributes of inner beauty while showcasing that beauty is so much a social construct which needs to be redefined by the individual and not a tube of fairness cream.
Hi Facebook, This is Yasha Aluru and I am from Telangana. This story is about a good friend who is worth so much more than she knows. The beautiful lady in the picture is Sai. She joined as a maid about three weeks ago.
I was applying some sunscreen one morning and as she was cleaning she asked me curiously “Amma (Madam), what are you applying?” I told her its sunscreen. She asked me again, “ Is that how you become white? I used to be darker. My brother and sister are fair so how can I become like them?”
I could see that it took her courage to ask me that question and I knew I had one simple responsibility towards her.I had to remind her that it was she (and not her fairer brother or sister) who helped her sick mother, she who stayed by her cousin’s side every day while her kidneys slowly failed, and it is she who takes care of her little one all by herself because she loves him unconditionally. I had to tell her that her beauty cannot be bought in a zillion tubes of fairness creams. Her beauty was a gift that she honed into the worthy human she is.
“Hey, Sai. If you start coming to work this late in the day, it will get very sunny and you will turn darker”, said my mother yesterday. Sai smiled and looked at me….a look that said, “Now is that really so bad?”
Fear to Freedom #7 reminds us that the society continues to struggle with skin colour bias. But are permitted to question, challenge, and ultimately, show by our actions, that skin colour bias can be overcome.
My name is Keerthika Gummadi , I am from Hyderabad. I live in New York at the moment and will be back in India for good. When I think of returning back to India, there’s this one thing that constantly troubles me. Meeting relatives who I know will urge me to try the latest fairness creams and treatments. I often wonder why am I being bullied for something I am born with? Why can’t I be accepted the way I am? I am worshipped for my tan in the foreign land but looked down for the same in my motherland. I have always had people walk up to me and say, “You are beautiful despite being dark”. I don’t get it!!! What does skin colour have to do with being beautiful? Beauty lies on the inside, doesn’t it?
By Kavitha Emmanuel
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Touch the ground.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Polish the shoes.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Off to school.
Here’s a cute rhyme we teach kids to motivate them to go to school. But our children aren’t teddy bears in the first place and they need more than just ‘shoes’ to go to school.
As parents, let’s make sure that our kids are well-prepared to face the next year in school.
I want to urge parents everywhere to not just look out for your child’s academic performance but also for their physical safety and emotional well-being as well. This will go a long way in grooming your child to be the best that they can be.
Parents have talked to me about their child being bullied in school for their skin colour. Children hurt within when they see their ‘fairer’ siblings or friends get more attention and are chosen for school performances. One parent recalled how no one wanted to sit next to her child in school because she was dark. I have spoken to grown-ups who have shared how this bias forced them to retreat into a shell or has affected their sense of self-esteem.
Our child needs our attention towards their emotional needs. Let’s not ignore them. Let’s not forget to speak words of affirmation and love every day! If there is any clear instance of skin colour bias in the child’s school please do address it with their teacher and school authorities.
Another area we need to watch out for is the child’s physical safety at school. Talk to your child about safety. Don’t simply give out instructions like: ‘don’t go there!’ or ‘don’t talk to strangers.’ Spend time talking with them about why those instructions are important. This can be done without instilling fear into the child but for the purpose of inculcating good sense and understanding. There are numerous resources and counseling material available to aid parents with these tough conversations.
Please remember that most often physical abuse happens in known surroundings with known people. The abuser often wins the trust of the child and the family. Don’t ignore a child’s comments like: ’the driver gave me a chocolate and only me’ or ‘I don’t like the way my teacher hugs me’ or even ‘don’t ask uncle to pick me up. I don’t like waiting at their place till you come home’. Let us listen, observe, and see if the child is trying to communicate something beyond those words. Watch out for changes in behavior and emotional outbursts!
Learning to listen to our children’s emotional needs is as important as meeting their physical needs. We live in a more complicated world than we were used to as children. Children have increased access to media with a growing need to discern these media messages every day. We live busier lives today which may lead to missing our children’s warning signals. Let’s cultivate the habit of spending quality time with our children. Set aside a few minutes every day where each child gets undivided attention and support to say what they want without fear of rejection. Let them feel listened to. Let them know that they can come to us when they are in trouble or when they are feeling blue. Our children need to learn to handle LIFE and not just focus on grades.
Join our campaigns and stay aware!
About The Author
Kavitha Emmanuel is the Founder and Director of Women of Worth. Since 2009 she has been changing mindsets nationally and globally to end skin colour bias with the Dark is Beautiful campaign. In 2013 she began advocating safety for women and children through the Girl Arise campaign. Ms. Emmanuel has also initiated the Safe Schools Project that equips schools to proactively engage in creating safe campuses for their students.
To order Colour Blind T-Shirts write to email@example.com with “Tee-order” as the subject line. Delivery only within India
By Sharon Muthu
The Sunshine Paradox
It was a beautiful, sunny, typical Southern California day. After a couple weeks of cold and rainy weather, it was a joy to see Los Angeles back to its usual balmy splendor: Flowers blooming, the sweet scent of summer in the air, and Californians overjoyed to be outside, wearing their light breezy attire, adorned in sunglasses, and sipping iced coffees.
Stand Proudly in the Sunshine
I had been craving the sunshine for many days now, and couldn’t wait to get outside. I hurried to throw on a loose-fitting t-shirt and workout pants, and practically ran to the front door, my little doggy trailing close behind me, his tail wagging uncontrollably. With child-like joy, the two of us headed outside. That first breath of summer-like air was heaven, perfumed with jasmine and fresh-cut grass. The glorious California sun hit my face for the first time in days; warm, bright, soul-soothing. I smiled, breathing deeply, and shut my eyes to soak it all in.
Suddenly I heard a nagging voice echo from somewhere deep inside me, full of fear as it abruptly eclipsed my happiness: I better put a hat on & stay in the shade, or my skin might get too dark.
Using Positive Self Talk
“Whoa! What was that?!,” I thought, alarmed as my eyes sprung open. Immediately, a stronger inner-voice overtook the nagging one: “STOP! Sharon Muthu, you get that negative, old, toxic, incorrect thought out of your mind now. You know that it has no validity. You are smarter than that. You are braver than that.”
Whew. I stood for a moment truly shocked, because thoughts like that are very rare for me these days. I’ve come to embrace and love my dark skin over the years. Yet there it was; The horrible result of old-world conditioning that was somehow still lingering in the back of my mind, sneaking up on me like a knee-jerk reaction at the very mention of the word “sunshine.”
I was grateful for the voice of truth had come to my rescue. I had to tell myself, “These negative thoughts are toxic and false. I will not perpetuate such nonsense for myself or anyone else. I am smarter than that. I am braver than that. I will enjoy this long-awaited sunshine because it is natural and beautiful. And, whether or not my skin turns darker remains irrelevant, for I will still be beautiful, regardless.”
And once more, grounded in this absolute truth, my little dog and I set off for a long morning walk, happily drenched in the Southern California sunlight.
Colourism Buried Deep Inside Me
As I walked on, I reflected on the momentary inner-conflict that had just occurred. What was that voice of doubt and shame? When did it begin? Why does it sometimes rear its ugly head even when I’m feeling so happy and confident about myself? Why do I continue to face the demons and battle the ghosts of my childhood?
I am still my six-year-old self hearing my South Asian community elders telling me to, “Always keep out of the sun if you don’t want to be dark.” I am still the twelve-year-old adolescent girl being bombarded by ads for creams and scrubs, promising beauty (and ultimately, validation) by virtue of lighter skin. I am still the twenty-year-old young woman who hears others saying condescendingly, “Sharon, you’re very dark, but still pretty enough.” And, today, I am a grown woman who is deeply affected by the constant battles of racism & skin-colour bias that plague every culture, at every level of society.
A Little Sunshine On Your Face
My friends, change begins with us: It begins within our own families, within our communities, with how we teach our children. But, most importantly, it begins within our individual minds.
I can tell you from experience, it does get easier. The more I reaffirm these truths for myself each day, the more it becomes effortless to do so. The more I help to spread awareness, the more awareness I receive in my own journey. The more I see beauty in others, no matter our similarities or differences, the more beautiful I feel within myself. And, suddenly, those negative thoughts fade from my mind more quickly than ever before.
So, raise your voices loudly and proudly: We are ALL beautiful, just the way we are. And, I promise you – A little sunshine on your face won’t ever change that.
About the Author:
Sharon Muthu is an actress, voiceover artist, and singer, based out of Los Angeles, CA. She serves as the “Ambassador to Hollywood” for the international awareness campaign, Dark is Beautiful. She strongly supports and encourages the rise of ethnic diversity in Hollywood, and she hopes to be a prominent part of the next chapter of South Asian talents being featured in mainstream American entertainment.