This is not a woman’s job. This is not how you should dress as a girl. This is no time for you to return home, you’re a girl, remember that. There are only two genders, you’re either male or female.
When was the last time you heard one of these statements? When was the last time you did something about it?
Notwithstanding the progress in gender rights and women empowerment, casual sexism continues to plague women everywhere, every day. Equally pervasive, if not more, is the misunderstanding regarding gender and an obstinate refusal to acknowledge that gender identity is a spectrum, not a binary. Tired of accepting this kind of behaviour as a social inevitability, Anjali Laddha decided to act. In March 2021, the Ballygunge girl founded WEvolve Together, an organisation that challenges casual sexism by conducting training on gender equality and inclusivity.
My Kolkata caught up with Anjali, who is also a public speaker, dancer and podcast host to know more about WEvolve Together’s journey.
Anjali finds the combination of hustle and calmness in Kolkata to be beautifulCourtesy: Anjali Laddha
Every person in Kolkata has a unique story to tell
My Kolkata: What does Kolkata mean to you?
Anjali Laddha: Kolkata is home. The city’s beauty lies in its hustle but also the calm that it radiates. It’s the mark of a cultural hub and I believe that every person here has a unique story to tell.
Ping’s Cafe Orient, Peter Hu?, Pa Pa Ya
Anjali is a big fan of Asian foodTwitter
What are your favourite things to do, your favourite places to visit, your favourite places to eat out in Kolkata?
My favourite things to do include driving along Red Road where I usually stop for chai at the Kona Dukan next to the Stock Exchange building. Park Street has some of my favourite restaurants, including Ping’s Cafe Orient, Peter Hu?, and Pa Pa Ya (I love Asian food!). Besides, you’d definitely find me eating street food at least once in two weeks on Russell Street.
MHS has taught me everything I know
Anjali is grateful to her school for teaching her to be comfortable in her own skinModern High School for Girls
How do you look back on your time at Modern High School for Girls (MHS)? How has the school shaped your personality and career choices?
MHS is where I’ve grown up. It has taught me everything I know. It has always given me space to grow. There have been failures, achievements and overwhelming moments, but most importantly, a lot of learning from every single experience. It has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin, recognised and accepted me for who I am.
Most girls in my community faced similar experiences of casual sexism
Change equals growth if you make the most out of it, says AnjaliCourtesy: Anjali Laddha
How did WEvolve Together happen? How does it address the issue of gender equality? What does it hope to evolve towards?
We hear about rape, violence and sexism against a particular gender so often that when you read the news nowadays, one of these things is bound to come up. This has always bothered me. I’ve also noticed instances of casual sexism in my own life – being told how to dress, what not to wear, how to speak and behave like a “lady”. On discussing this with others at school, I found that most girls in my community faced similar experiences of casual sexism. Realising that these conversations were important and needed to be shared with others to spread awareness and find solutions was how WEvolve Together came along. It’s an initiative to combat casual sexism, question daily practices at home and educate people about gender and sexuality.
For me, change equals growth if you make the most of it. I see WEvolve Together evolving towards creating discrimination-free, gender-equal spaces and judgement-free conversation.
You have conducted a number of training sessions to raise awareness about gender equality as part of WEvolve Together. What have been the most interesting or surprising insights you have obtained through these sessions about how people perceive gender equality?
After conducting sessions, I’ve realised that most people haven’t found secure spaces to talk about the issues they’re facing. But when they have spoken up, they’ve learnt that people around them face similar problems and have similar concerns. Most people think that their problems are irrelevant and won’t be considered important as compared to other issues. What I try to do is make people understand that the scale of an issue doesn’t define its importance. Each one of us has different problems, small or big; but all of them are important. If something is bothering you, you should speak about it.
Another observation is that people often associate gender equality with a binary understanding of gender. Gender equality doesn’t just mean that men and women should be equal, but also that all non-binary genders must be identified and given equal importance.
I chose Instagram because I wanted to target young adults
At WEvolve Together, you use Instagram marketing to spread the word about gender equality. Tell us exactly how this happens.
Instagram marketing includes spreading awareness through Instagram as the primary social media platform. This pertains to making posts that are visually appealing and deliver information in a precise manner because captions can’t be too long on Instagram. I chose Instagram as our main social media platform because I wanted to target young adults. It helped me connect with student organisations and provided scope for collaborations as well.
Stories of strength and empowerment are a common feature on the WEvolve podcast hosted by AnjaliCourtesy: Anjali Laddha
What is the function of the WEvolve podcast that you host?
The WEvolve podcast is here to break the stereotype of being restricted by society. We tell stories of what gender represents in different people’s lives. These include stories of strength and empowerment, of the LGBTQIA+ community and sex education. On the podcast, we interact with empowered individuals from various fields, get to know what challenges they’ve faced and come up with solutions all of us can apply to our lives.
If you had to identify three key issues related to gender equality that worry you as a youngster in India, what would they be?
- The pay gap between men and women
- Not including individuals who identify as non-binary in workspaces
- Violence against the girl child and not educating them.
They have made me believe that behind every successful woman is the woman herself
Who have been the women who have inspired you in your journey so far?
I come from a big joint family and went to an all-girls school. So, I grew up surrounded by powerful female figures. My mother, Mridula Laddha, and my sister, Abha Laddha, along with my aunts, have been my inspiration. They keep pushing me to achieve my full potential. I’ve always looked up to my teachers, seniors and peers at school who’ve stood by me through every stepping stone. My mentors Ms. Sreela Mitra, Ms. Dolly Halder, Ms. Sangeeta Basu and Ms. Kritika Bagaria have all played a vital role in shaping me and helping me achieve my dreams.
All of these women have been pillars of support who inspire and motivate me every single day and have made me believe that I have the power to overcome every obstacle and that behind every successful woman is the woman herself.
I want to become an entrepreneur to empower as many people as I can
Dance gives her a sense of meditative happiness, feels AnjaliCourtesy: Anjali Laddha
Apart from your studies and WEvolve Together, how do you spend your time? What are your hobbies and what do you do to zone out?
I dance every day. It’s how I express myself and it also gives me a sense of meditative happiness. Besides, if I’m not taking a nap, you’d find me at a cafe, spending time with my family, watching Netflix or planning my next vacation.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I leave for college (Northeastern University in Boston) in a couple of months. I want to work in marketing or public relations for a while after that. Eventually, I want to become an entrepreneur to empower as many people as I can in different ways.