Thursday, March 12, 2015

Change: From within

Megha Venketasamy 
A large part of change and effecting change outside of you is to welcome and nurture change within. Megha Venketasamy, a phenomenal activist from Mauritius, shows the way. 

I have had my challenges. Life has gifted me with enough food, enough clothes, enough of everything and I was given the chance to go university. I worked, I learned, I met people and yet, deep within I carried something terrible - I carried a story. There was one story that I hated most for twenty seven years and it was my story, this painful one. This story made me sick and I was heavily sick, feeding myself on medications. I have seen my mother, my aunts, my teachers, women - being tortured and abused. And yet, they remained in their abusive relationships. Girls are domesticated and forced to stay wedded, no matter what. This phrase “till death tears you apart” was one of the first gifts of womanhood. I got married at the age of twenty four because my family pressured my mother by saying that “it was time for Megha to get married”. It was a love marriage, but something was not going fine. I could not figure out what it was. It took me three years to realize that I was being psychologically and emotionally victimized everyday by a man who had his own pains and dark memories.

I am from Mauritius, known for its very high literacy rate among African countries, and is an island, where girls are equally as educated as boys are. Girls have access to the same resources but once schooling ends, the scenario changes suddenly. Some of us, if not all, shall have to play it low for the rest of our lives; some of us, if not all, have to accept that being tortured is part of any normal relationship; some of us, if not all, shall have to sacrifice all our dreams for the sake of our family’s happiness; some of us, if not all, shall been domesticated to believe that we are less. My own story taught me how gender blind I was and once the veil came down I understood that the time had arrived to embark on a different journey. I went from being sadly married to happily divorced, needless to say, it created havoc in my family. I opted for more active engagement on issues dear to me “women issues, women empowerment.”  

My intention is simple: to be a change maker and ensure that the coming generations of women in my family will be brought up with gender openness. This often takes me to my little niece of seven. My day is split with my professional work as a project manager, trainer, life coach and with my active gender engagements in Women In Politics as Project Manager, in Men Against Violence as Training Designer, in WIN Leadership Programme as a training adapter. I act as a volunteer for these projects but it’s a whole set of responsibilities in its own. I derive a sense of accomplishment which I find nowhere.

I have always felt something was missing in life, deep down I felt incomplete, until 2010. That year hit really high for me. In March 2010, I quit my five-figures-salaried job and had no real plan. By the end of April 2010, I cried to God for help in one of my endless conversations and said, “Can’t you see, I’m going crazy? I’m lost, so please do something about it!” When you ask, it’s given right away. The next day, I saw an advertisement for a 9-days leadership programme for women offered by an NGO, known as Women In Networking. I enrolled for the leadership programme, went for the interview and got selected to be part of a group of twenty five women.

On induction day, I felt like running away all nauseous. I was so sick in my skin, I was so shy (I am, still) and I was so introverted (I am, still). I was emotionally unmanageable. What came out from this journey were glimpses of who I am deep within. It hit me hard. I ended up realizing that the missing thing in my life was simply “my soul was urging to give back to society; my soul was longing to walk besides women”. From then on, I began a wonderful journey of sharing, learning, growth and self development. I could have opted to work in other areas in society, there is so much to be done, yet I opted to focus all my energies on women. I cannot explain why, perhaps that’s where my soul is aligned today, for I understand so well the challenges, the joys, pains, fears and so much more linked to being a woman.

I believe in women empowerment but on a broader dimension, it’s beyond simply capacity building or training. Empowerment is about letting others open their wings and let them fly, rather than standing by them all the time. Women’s empowerment goes beyond capacity building and training, it means let them handle things and does not matter if they fall out and hurt themselves. They will still learn and grow that’s the essence of life.  

Some key challenges: in my journey were my own self-limiting beliefs, to start with. The major hindrance is and remain, our beliefs and therefore, my own beliefs. Working on grass roots or even on different levels of society with women and men -> we can easily bring in our own thoughts and beliefs and “déjà vu” attitude. People are much more than just beliefs and attitudes. The other issue is time, and I am working on time management. Thirdly, funding - as an NGO, we work in a field where people are reluctant and not willing to fund our awareness and empowerment activities. Due to lack of finance, we cannot engage into too many activities and there are times, when we feel we are limited. There’s so much we will like to do. In Mauritius and I believe in many countries, you often get called all sort of names for engaging in gender advocacy. We so often hear people say that because of women and men like us, “other women will suffer”.

Women work too much, they are basically employed in three different levels: professionally, at home and in society. And most of the time, despite their willingness to join NGOs, to go and learn. They often have to make a choice. And they choose to play it small for their families’ happiness. Women have been domesticated for centuries and even in an island like Mauritius, things have not evolved much despite our high literacy level. Women have been handed over patterns and in societies where religions are omnipresent, these patterns are bound to be transmitted from generations to generations. Women are taught to be play it small, taught that they are limited and taught that they are responsible for anything wrongs that happens. I live in a society where the self-esteem issue has hit low on the barometer.

My dream for women is more than just reaching 50/50 in decision making, in parliament, in corporate world. I dream of a world where little girls and boys shall be raised with equal standards and equal values, a world where we shall be fully gender aware and gender respectful, a world where little girls shall be taught that they have no limits to their dreams and if things go wrong, it's part of learning and growing. I believe it is possible, if we do not witness this, the coming generations shall!