Gender Alliance: Breaking Down Societal Norms

Gender equality is not only a human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world as envisioned by the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The Gender Alliance is an initiative that pushes for a feminist agenda to foster gender equity in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5. Eirliani Abdul Rahman is one of its members.

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Photo: Marc Beckmann

Every Sunday, we’re sharing selected blog entries from The Gender Alliance, a cross-network initiative that brings feminists from the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt’s Responsible Leaders Network, the Global Diplomacy Lab, the Bosch Alumni Network and Global Leadership Academy Community together. Girls Are Awesome’s very own Thandi Allin Dyani is a member, working alongside other members to advance important gender equality initiatives, so stop by every Sunday to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening!

Below is an interview between the Gender Alliance and
Eirliani Abdul Rahman:

Who are you?

Eirliani Abdul Rahman: My name is Eirliani Abdul Rahman. I am originally from Singapore and I live in Colorado in the United States.

Why did you join the Gender Alliance, and what is most important for you?

Eirliani Abdul Rahman: When my fellow BMW Foundation Responsible Leader ElsaMarie D’Silva first told me about it, I thought it made perfect sense and that it couldn’t be more timely. Truth be told, we needed this many years ago, but with the momentum of the #MeToo movement (I am writing this in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s verdict on February 24), the Women’s March here in the U.S., etc., the timing could not be better. When I listened to that Chilean anthem “Un violador en tu camino” (A rapist in your path), I was really moved.

I grew up in a culture where men and boys ate first whenever we had a communal feast, where I was told as a child that girls cannot swim, that girls cannot be allowed to develop muscles. As a 9-year-old, when I found out that my parents had enrolled my brother in a computer camp during the summer holidays, I protested and got enrolled as well. When I graduated from high school and won an interest-free study loan from a charitable organization to go to university, I was the only girl in the room.

When I was in my 20s, I learnt from my mother that I had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child. It made me angry beyond words, because my body is not my own, that pleasure in a woman’s body is not possible in certain cultures, including mine. I’ve lived in societies where it matters more what you wore when you got raped, who you were with, and whether you drank that night, much more than whether the perpetrator has done this before and had gotten away scot-free. The Gender Alliance, to me, means promoting a world where it is no longer permissible to allow femicide, to endure cultural and social norms that mean the woman is always in second place, and where tears are shed when a baby girl is born.

What work do you do to promote gender equality?

Eirliani Abdul Rahman: I work with the Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi on the issues of child sexual abuse, child labor, and child sex trafficking. A disproportionate number of women and girls are trafficked for sex, compared to boys and men. Children should be allowed to go to school and not have to work the fields. Our work is focused on breaking down societal norms and educating the public about children’s right to a free childhood and to education.

Let me give you an example: in India where I lived for 5 years, girls in rural areas often stop going to school once they start menstruating as schools may lack bathroom facilities and/or the girls cannot afford the sanitary napkins to be comfortable in class, using rags which they wash by hand instead. We are working on ecologically sustainable and cheap sanitary napkins that can be availed by up to 1,000 girls and we are providing jobs to about 6–8 women. This means more girls can afford to go to school.

I am also a board member and Global COO of the Red Dot Foundation, which works at the intersection of gender, tech, urban design, and data. We crowdsource stories of sexual violence in public spaces and own the largest collection of crowdsourced stories globally. Our work is important to demand accountability from the local authorities and government, to improve the transport and urban infrastructure so that it is safe for women and girls.

equality | female leadership | sdg10

What is your desired outcome of the Gender Alliance?

Eirliani Abdul Rahman: To be recognized as a movement that matters, that provides real, tangible action and improvements to the lives of many.

What does an equal world look like?

Eirliani Abdul Rahman: One where it matters not whether you are a boy or a girl, or however else you identify. What matters most is that you have equal human rights to everyone else.

Any advice to your 15-year-old self?

Eirliani Abdul Rahman: Be kind to yourself. Your future self will thank you for it.

equality | female leadership | sdg10

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