In a patriarchal world full of deep-rooted sexism and misogyny, it is essential to counter ignorance and misinformation with education. This is the mission with which Shivangi Singh started Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives – an NGO which is focused on providing gender education and sensitization to people from all socio-economic demographics.
The primary motivation behind her work in the field of gender equality was her highly traditional and conservative upbringing. Shivangi faced immense patriarchy and gender-based discrimination growing up which fuelled her lifelong passion for working to eliminate gender bias from our society.
The following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with Shivangi:
Shivangi, you faced horrifying patriarchal circumstances while growing up. Could you tell us something about your upbringing?
From as young as 11 I noticed that I was treated differently than my brother in my family. In general, the men in my overall extended family enjoyed a lot more privileges than women. I noticed that the same applied to the world at large where there were different rules for men and women even though our constitution mandates equal rights and duties and clearly advocates zero gender-based discrimination. This frustrated me highly and when I wanted to raise my voice against this, I was silenced. I did not understand why it was okay for people to treat girls and women as invisible servants but it was wrong for me to voice my concerns.
I grew up in an environment which made it impossible for me to excel at anything. Being a girl I was discouraged from achieving a lot by my family. It was a struggle to get higher education and it was categorically stated that I am not allowed to work because the girls who worked before marriage were categorized as “bad”. I had to fight very long battles to get an education and to start any kind of work. The people in my family viewed the economic freedom of women very dangerously. I was character assassinated for having ambition. I was told, “Good girls don’t step outside of the house and work.” Hence, I was forced to take admission to a lower-tier college exclusively for women and let go of several excellent career opportunities. For the most part of my life, I was put under house arrest and wasn’t allowed to have any friends or personal life of any kind. I was constantly told that since all women and girls in my family are content with always staying indoors and having no career or ambition of any kind then I should be too.
It was heartbreaking to see my friends, who didn’t come from such a deeply patriarchal family, constantly get ahead in life while I was held back by sheer bad luck and circumstance. I realized that having a supportive family is a huge privilege and those like me who didn’t have that suffer greatly in this world. I feel that women who come from toxic, abusive families are entitled to compensation in some way as they lose out on all the opportunities in their lives and are left to suffer in this patriarchal world
From suffering so much to building a successful career for yourself – how did you fight back and achieve the heights that you did?
It wasn’t easy. I remember crying myself to sleep year after year. I was always an excellent student and I pinned my hopes on that. My teachers always believed in me as not only was I the academic topper, but I also excelled in extracurriculars. My achievements gave me confidence but were also simultaneously constantly torn apart by my patriarchal family. I knew I had to fight back and prove myself. After years of great battles, I emerged as the most successful and accomplished girl in my entire extended family. I made up my mind to be considered the “bad girl” by my relatives. Since everything comes at a price and the price for freedom is the highest, I was okay with people not being happy with me and made peace with disappointing my parents. I told myself that I will not sacrifice my dreams trying to make them happy. I still had to sacrifice a lot as I was forced to be under house arrest all the time but I managed to fight back to a large extent.
I graduated as an engineer and went ahead to earn two postgraduate degrees – the last one from the prestigious Ashoka University on a scholarship. Because I knew I would not be allowed to work, I started working in secret while still a college student. Today, while still in my twenties, I have worked in over 25 organizations before starting Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives, my NGO.
Tell us about your NGO Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives.
I started Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives in August 2018 with the singular vision of changing society’s attitude towards women in light of the global Me Too movement. At that point, there was a lot of misinformation in circulation regarding various gender issues. I read a senior police officer’s Facebook post blaming the victims’ dress for rapes, amongst other terrible things which highlighted how much we, as a society, need to correct our mindsets and perspectives regarding gender. I was met with a lot of skepticism initially. A lot of people thought this was an anti-men campaign or that gender-based violence only affects rural India. It took patience and skill to deal with all the criticism of my work.
Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives was India’s first and only organization in 2018 that focused solely on gender education and sensitization. So far, through our in-person and online workshops and programs, we have impacted over 1 million people across Asia. We have designed unique curricula for our various workshops. These include – GEM our basic Gender Education Module, LAQSHYA – workshop enabling young girls to set professional goals, PEHCHAAN – workshop countering Racism and Homophobia, SWAYAM – Self-esteem improvement program for adolescent girls, BOOND – Menstrual Health Education and Management program, DHAIRYA – workshop on building resilience among children from vulnerable communities, VIDUSHI – workshop on developing Mathematical skills among school girls, and SANSKAAR – a parenting workshop aimed at better cognitive development of children.
What would be your message to young girls and their parents?
My aim through my work at Drishtikona – Changing Perspectives is to create a better world for future generations of women. Hence, my advice to young girls would be to not allow themselves to be brainwashed by the patriarchal society that only wants them to become submissive and give up all their power. The world would be a much better place if young girls were less obedient and thought more critically. I would warn young girls against letting Bollywood fill their minds with sexist ideas in the name of tradition or love. Learning to fight back is essential to women’s progress. The cause of gender equality does not benefit from “good” girls who smile all the time, do as they are told, and only exist to please society. To their parents I would say, please do not turn your daughters into conduits for society or your will. More often than not parents of young girls expect them to sacrifice their dreams to be caregivers in families. Please do not snatch away your daughter’s right to be a complete person. A great general rule of thumb for parents is that if there is something you would not expect from your son, please do not burden your daughter with it either. If you don’t expect your son to cook, clean, or take care of sick people in the family, make sure you also don’t expect these services from your daughter. Remember daughters don’t exist to provide you with unpaid labor and their careers are just as important as your sons’.
Shivangi Singh is one of those young women who is changing the world. She hopes future generations of women will grow up in a much better world than she was born into. We sincerely hope she succeeds in this great mission for the sake of women everywhere. You can follow Shivangi and her work on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.