The BBC ran live debates in a bid to get people talking about issues that are hindering and affecting women from all walks of life.

An ambitious feat, the BBC managed to engage communities of women from around the world and have them discuss issues surrounding various topics.

The evening at the Southbank Centre was one full of shared ideas, thoughts and passionate opinions. Not only did it set our social media timelines on fire but ignited something within us too.

Our group, the Migreat South Asian Blogger’s Network consisted of Sara Khan, Chayya Syal, Hasina Dabasia, Ruchi Hajela, Aina Khan, Priya Changela and yours truly. Together, we tackled three pretty wide topics; leadership, image and relationships.

The BBC organised these debates which were inclusive of women from around the world. Each segment began with the group watching a video supplied by the BBC followed by questions for us to discuss. As you can imagine, there were a lot of opinions the group were keen to share.

Leadership

It is preposterous that there has never been a female General Secretary. The girls and I let out a collective gasp at that this little fact.

Though a female heads up the World Health Organisation, men still dominate when it comes to power positions.

Our first discussion on whether women were likely to become leaders if they act like men, drew a number of nods but there were drawbacks to acting in this manner such as being labelled as bossy and even sexualised within the workplace.

How inappropriate would it be if women objectified men when they exhibited authority and assertiveness? Very is the answer – so what makes it okay for men to do this – even if it is in jest? Women should not have to act like their male counterparts in order to gain respect and leadership roles should welcome women as they are. There are so many authoritative roles made for women and yet, none appear to assume them. Sure, America celebrates its First Lady, but she isn’t the President. She assumes a secondary and supportive role to her husband.

This discussion reminded me of an article I read a while ago about the way men and women approach job specifications. Whilst men will have a look and mentally check off the responsibilities they can do, women sifted through and identified tasks they didn’t feel competent enough doing. This in itself is very revealing. Men will take a chance if they meet a percentage of a job spec, whereas women are reluctant to apply.

Even in our day to day life, how often do you apologise for the smallest things? When I stopped to think about this point Chayya raised, I realised I do this way too much. Why should I apologise if I have a question? Why do I try and belittle an opinion I have, before I’ve even voiced it? These little faults soon become a habit and although we can cover up and say it’s merely us being polite, to a degree there’s a level of insecurity within our own abilities. Once we start questioning what we’re capable of, that opens the floodgates for other people to do the same.

Image

Questions surrounding a woman’s image tied in very nicely with our leadership discussion. The issue of whether better-looking women were likely to succeed got a resounding yes. It sounds insane, but studies have revealed that attractive individuals are seen as valuable members of a company. This is because they bring in more money and find that people want to engage and interact with them. Attractive people also have desirable personality traits – like higher self-confidence – which are incredibly appealing to employers.

‘Image’ was another talking point. Hillary Clinton has transformed the way she looks since announcing her bid to run for the presidency. While it is important to look presentable, we shouldn’t forget that intelligence and aptitude are equally if not more important traits, especially when it comes to being a President!

That doesn’t mean we should abandon our basic sense of style. Rather, we should keep this in mind…Hoping that a pretty face will get you to the top is not only wishful thinking, but doing yourself a disservice. In a day and age where there are ridiculous beauty standards, I’m not surprised women feel somewhat pressured to stand out from the crowd or in some cases, conform.

Pop culture and now social networks like Instagram and YouTube perpetuates these standards at an alarming rate. The number of beauty vloggers on YouTube for example may have a love for make up, but are indirectly awakening a very superficial side to young girls.

The only thing that should be ‘on fleek’ is your intellect. Fact.

Relationships

The idea of being subservient is something that has always perplexed me. In some cultures to this day, women are expected to take a back seat and obey their husband and men within their family. To be perfectly honest, there shouldn’t be an expectation for girls to act this way. I’m all for being respectful, but that needs to be mutual. If someone’s opinion of me is determined by how dutiful and submissive I am then I’d rather they keep me at an arm’s length.

This idea of being subservient feeds egos that would otherwise be damaged by a strong, opinionated female. It’s great that some men admire these qualities but others who claim that they want a strong woman by their side find that they don’t know how to handle a partner who is just as opinionated.

As a group, we ascertained this could be because some men grew up without strong female figures in their life. It comes as a shock when they encounter women who don’t conform to this behaviour.

I came to realise that I couldn’t relate to being subservient at all. My Indo-Caribbean background was full of fiery women – I haven’t known anything else. My grandmother, my mother, my sister… they’re all pretty outspoken women.

There’s so many layers to explore but ultimately in order to change attitudes, women themselves must start that change. Identifying what needs to be done is one thing, getting people to take action is another battle.