International Women’s Day: The Beauty of Female Friendships, Solidarity, and Mentoring

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Strong women stand together.

We grow up hearing stories of women tearing each other down. We are taught to not trust other women too much. We then grow up and learn that all of that was a complete lie. We learn anew that there is absolutely nothing as beautiful or as important as female friendship, solidarity, and mentoring.


Trust me, nothing else compares. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to write about this Women’s Day, which of the many facets of womankind I wanted to celebrate today, and this is what jumped out at me. My life and especially the past year has been marked by the manifestation of the power of these friendships and mentoring, of the solidarity and support systems they bring with them.

The uniqueness of female friendship is unmatched, it is seen in the absolute faith women put in each other and the constant love and support they provide to their friends. What makes it more special is that in female friendships, the emotional labour isn’t just one way (sadly true for many other relationships). Women invest emotionally in each other as friends, strive to help each other rise and celebrate the successes of one another as their own. Female friendships are what gets so many of us through breakups, they are what gives us the assurance that however drunk we may get, we will get home in one piece. The importance of speaking about female friendships is felt even more because of the prevalence of the stereotype of bitchy female friendships — this has got to be the most untrue thing — female friendships are about solidarity, about honesty and about being there for one another. Sure, some female friends may be horrible to each other, but that could be said about friendship between persons of any genders, now, couldn’t it?

An extended facet of this friendship for me is the mentoring of younger women by other women. Women are statistically less likely to occupy higher offices, they are thereby less likely to easily find female role models and seniors that can mentor and guide them, but for the ones that do, this serves as the single most enriching experience of their lives. Female mentors bring in a unique perspective and take that extra effort to nurture talent and bring it to its full potential.

I’m going to take a moment here to speak of two of the most important female mentors in my life, Kirthi Jayakumar (Founder and CEO of Red Elephant Foundation) and Elsa Dsilva (Founder and CEO of Safecity/Red Dot Foundation). These are both women I met by chance and later went on to work with. They’ve taught me more about courage, resilience and faith than anyone else ever could. Elsa taught me the importance of relationships and the value of hard work and perseverance while Kirthi taught me the importance of empathy and kindness. They have both shown me the power of female mentoring in action, they have helped build not only my potential but that of several others. They have shown me the massive change one can bring by believing in people, by giving them opportunities, and by just being there for them.

This is why mentoring of women is important, in some cases also making it important for these mentors to be women so that young women have role models to look up to, so that they can see themselves and their dreams and aspirations represented in real life persons. Till we have enough female mentors though, it is the job of every person, irrespective of gender, to mentor our future female leaders.

Female friendships and mentoring relationships are one of such warmth and love, it’s unimaginable. For this International Women’s Day, I want such relationships to strengthen in the life of each girl, of each woman. I want young girls to have female friends and support systems they can fall back on, for them to have female mentors who understand their uniquely positioned perspectives and give them the push required to reach the next step.

Here’s to the women in our lives, our friends, our mentors and our family — quietly doing the job of supporting other women even when it is not Women’s Day.

Vandita Morarka is the Founder and CEO of One Future Collective.

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Sex-Ed in India: Moving From Protection To Pleasure

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Did you ever have a sex education class in school — you know the one where they rushed through badly illustrated versions of your sexual organs and preached abstinence till marriage? This hilarious video is the most apt illustration of how sex-ed is dealt with in our educational institutions. This report describes the glaring gap in comprehensive sexuality education for Indian in great detail. Not having adequate sex-ed is a violation of the human rights of children and adolescents.

Sure, conversations around sex-ed have gotten better: teachers are more willing to answer questions, students ask more questions, and the internet does provides a gateway to some half baked information. But do you notice how all our dialogue around sex, in sex-ed class or otherwise, focuses on protection and prevention? Barely anyone talks about sex from a pleasure perspective and pretty much no one teaches a sex-ed class from that angle. Is it any wonder that we grow up knowing nothing about sex beyond its basic mechanics? That while reading stories of bad sex leave us feeling uneasy and with a sense of ‘oh, that has happened to me’, we still don’t know how to fix it?

I’m not going to tell you that we are the land of Kamasutra and we should do better because of some historical reasons, because it’s irrelevant. You deserve sex and sexuality education that teaches you about pleasure today, irrespective of where you’ve come from. At the beginning of 2017, the Indian Health Ministry put together a pretty rad manual on reproductive health and sexuality. It impressively spoke of same sex love (at a time when sexual relations between people of the same sex remain criminalised in India), consent, relationships and trust — and involved young people in training and delivery. Unfortunately, the curriculum hasn’t been incorporated widely across States.

Our understanding of sex has to move beyond procreation. We have to ensure that young persons understand their own sexuality and sexual desires and know how to express it in a healthy and consensual manner. This expression of sexual desire is so often political, as is.

Here are some things I’ve found effective to bridge the gap in sex-ed, try some of it out and tell me how it goes:

  1. Parents need to start talking more. Schools and colleges aren’t the only places responsible for ensuring good sex-ed for children and young adults. Don’t just tell them to wait till marriage to engage in anything sexual, or in a better scenario use condoms whenever they have sex — actually talk to them about the pleasure associated with sex. Help them understand that what they feel when they are stimulated is acceptable, help them also understand that not feeling stimulated is equally acceptable — normalise their sexual needs.
  2. Use the internet for more than just porn. When it comes to sex, the internet can be a fabulous resource for anyone to learn more about sex, reproductive rights, sexuality and sexual pleasure. Knowing where to look is extremely important. Initiatives like Agents of Ishq and Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI) are a great starting point.
  3. Talk to people around you. Have a younger cousin who is just hitting puberty while you’ve been sexually active for a while? Talk to them about the importance of sexual pleasure and of your experiences. The complete lack of accessible information on sexual pleasure from an educative standpoint creatives a massive problem of information asymmetry (putting my Economics degree to use!). If you have had access to content to educate yourself, help take this to others, with their consent. Make sure the information you have had access to is reliable.
  4. Teachers cannot do everything. Your maths, language, or even biology teacher may not be equipped to deliver sex-ed content that goes beyond a descriptive study of sexual organs — get the right people onboard for it. Often this is the first exposure young persons have to sex-ed from an adult, ensure that this is a safe judgement free space. And absolutely do not call an external trainer and then hand them a memo to conduct the exact same class that a teacher would take.
  5. Better sex-ed modules. Can’t find them? Build them. Put it out for peer review online or reach out to experts for an opinion — and then take this content to young people wherever you can. Sexual pleasure isn’t necessarily difficult when people are taught to look for it as a norm and not an aberration.

People who understand sex comprehensively are able to recognise pleasure in themselves and in others. They have fewer feelings of guilt and shame associated with sex and their own needs and identities. Such education does away with the taboos around sex, brings it out from behind curtains of silence and let’s young people know their desires are acceptable — in turn also teaching them what isn’t acceptable. This goes a long way in building better sexual relationships, understandings of consent and breaking down stigma around sex.

Vandita Morarka is the founder and CEO of One Future Collective.

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Queer Infocus | July 2020

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Millennials and the Importance of Organisational Culture

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What do we millennials want at our workplaces? You’ll be shocked to know its a lot more than just avocado toast (that doesn’t hurt though!). Millennials recieve constant flak for actually daring to want some meaning in their jobs and a purpose to follow — while being paid at least a living wage, clearly that’s preposterous. And while we are doing our job, we want the places we work at to have an organisational culture that reflects our ethos. We increasingly spend more time at work, if we’re not physically at work, it’s constant e-communication or work related travel. Even the mental health and overall well being of individuals is closely related to their work and workplaces. In such a scenario, the culture of the place one works at becomes extremely important.

What can you do to build an organisational culture that makes millennials want to stay? Ask the millennials what they want. You have young persons at your office, talk to them. Try and understand what they want the values of their organisation to reflect, see what you can accommodate and where common ground can be found. As a millennial here are some things that I look for in any organisation that I work with:

Ethics: I expect organisations to have a code of ethics that they follow and expect all employees to stand by. If you’re a not for profit that works with low income communities, this could mean the ethics of communicating with the community and its representation in any media format. If you’re a for profit consultancy it could mean ethics relating to honesty of your research work. Honesty, integrity and a pinch of idealism is all that any of us want really.

Flexibility: The future of work is flexible. If it is conference calls at 7 am from a beach in Bali, let people set their own work timetables and even centre it around base principles for some structure if need be. When you’re flexible, you’re letting people work at their peak productivity.

The space to make mistakes: When people know that they have the space to make mistakes without being penalised very heavily for every small error, they take more creative chances and are more risks — this is where all innovation lies. Give people second chances and even third and fourth chances, help them learn and grow, it will prove to be good business for you.

Care for your employees: I cannot stress this enough. Your clients always come first. Build a culture that fosters a sense of belonging amongst your team, let people in your company know that they come first. Make space to adjust for their health concerns: both physical and mental, personal emergencies and anywhere else they need support. Invest in their personal development, employees will be loyal to workplaces that are loyal to them.

Share your vision: Millennials don’t just want to do their jobs and go home, they want to understand how their work fits in with the larger picture. They mostly want to do something big and come away feeling under utilised, change that — allow for more cross collaboration, less stringent hierarchy and for ideas and drive over positions.

Create social impact: We’re in a flux and we want to find some way to give back. Find ways in which your work can create such impact or support others creating such impact — provide resources, create support networks or customise opportunities to help us align our want to create social impact with the work you’re doing or support us while we pursue it alongside.

While, these points are subjective and can be added on to by organisations and persons, the need for fruitful and responsive communication at the workplace, along with its acknowledgement is the need of the day.

Vandita Morarka is the Founder and CEO of One Future Collective.

We’re updating our website!

Queer Infocus | July 2020

The Beginning, Middle and End: A Tryst with Depression