Culture

Four women from different walks of life on the power of female solidarity

Stronger together

Incredible things happen when women support women. Communities rise, glass ceilings are broken, safe spaces are created, and there’s an equitable shift in power dynamics. We spoke to four women who are dismantling the patriarchy and fighting misogyny by bringing people together. Malini Agarwal, Gurmehar Kaur, Sonal Giani and Sandhya Menon are part of Levi's #IShapeMyWorld campaign which turns the spotlight on personalities who've created their own unique path. Doing away with the idea that women need to compete or be suspicious of other women, Malini, Gurmehar, Sonal and Sandhya have instead shaped their world, and invited countless other women to be a part of it. Through Levi’s #IshapeMyWorld campaign, they’re making a strong statement—women now stand for women.

Malini Agarwal, entrepreneur 

The founder of missmalini.com, she became an influencer before the term took on the weight it does now. From blogging about entertainment in 2008 to turning it into a business, she's come a long way.

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ELLE: What does your girl squad mean to you?

Malini Agarwal: My girl gang is sort of my lifeline. I can call them for anything, they'll always have my back. It's like a family of sorts, like having a set of sisters that get you. I can't think of a single special memory or difficult time where I haven't had my girl friends around. I recently read something beautiful that really struck me: there's a Western obsession with the idea of romantic love and it makes us feel that that's the only kind of love that we're allowed to have or is valuable. But that's so harmful. Other forms of love such as friendship is so important. Often, your relationship with your girl squad is more meaningful than your boyfriend.

ELLE: How important would you say is women having each other's back?

MA: It's crucial. Women have been told for centuries that we have to be suspicious of each other or push each other down to succeed. I think women are realising that and seeing the positive effect of being there for each other. The biggest thing you can do is before you take a step up, pull a girl up next to you. And the whole world will rise.  

ELLE: Could you share an anecdote or experience where you witnessed the power of female solidarity?

MA: The #MeToo movement. It's been incredible how women have come together and supported each other and given a voice.

ELLE: At a personal/professional level, what are some of the things you do to ensure that you support other women?

MA: I'm very proud of the Girl Tribe [an online community by Miss Malini]. It's been a turning point in my life and career. The girls have become a family. The conversations we have are just so gratifying. It's a positive, uplifting community and something that women desperately needed.

Gurmehar Kaur, writer and activist

Known for standing up for peace and equality, Gurmehar has emerged a free speech warrior, and a voice of rationalism. She's penned a memoir, Small Acts of Freedom, and her next book, The Young and the Restless is due this year.

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ELLE: What does your girl squad mean to you?

Gurmehar Kaur: The people I come to for the most frivolous conversations and the most important ones.

ELLE: How important would you say is women having each other's back?

GK: I think it’s the most important because we make up half the world's population and the world is anyway subjugating women, so we might as well stick together.

ELLE: Could you share an anecdote or experience where you witnessed the power of female solidarity?

GK: It was right after Ramjas College protests [in Delhi] when I saw how supportive women in my college were and how together, they put up such a strong front in support of the movement and even for me. I will forever be grateful.

Sonal Giani, LGBTQ activist

Through her work at The Humsafar Trust, and Yaariyan and Umang, the support groups she co-founded, Sonal has been championing for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. She's also known for being part of the TV show, Connected Hum Tum, in which she let a camera follow her around, as she went about her day, driving home the fact that LGBTQ individuals are just as normal as the next person.

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ELLE: What does your girl squad mean to you?

Sonal Giani: I have a set of female friends who have become best friends, loved ones, confidants, counsellors, co-workers and life coaches. I call them whenever I am in trouble and vice-versa. I also call them whenever I am extremely happy or achieve a life goal and vice-versa. This girl squad of mine means everything to me.

ELLE: How important would you say is women having each other's back?

SG: It is very important that we support each other and guard our work from misogyny and mansplaining. A culture of competition and shaming among women is counter productive to our battle for equity and rights.

ELLE: Could you share an anecdote or experience where you witnessed the power of female solidarity?

SG: The #MeToo movement and collectively sharing sexual harassment was cathartic for me. It gave me hope when the biggest of CEOs were fired from their positions, thanks to the voices from the #MeToo movement. 

ELLE: What are some of the ways women can support and stand up for other women?

SG: By checking mansplaining when it happens, giving women more platforms to voice their stories and holding men accountable for their actions.

ELLE: At a personal/professional level, what are some of the things you do to ensure that you support other women?

SG: I try to give platforms to new people and encourage them when they do good work. I ensure there is healthy participation of women in the teams I work in and work extra hard to overcome the challenges that women face in terms of mobility, sexuality, conditioning, and safety. Especially when I organise events. I also try to highlight issues around gender and sexuality in the films that I make.

Sandhya Menon, journalist and activist

She has been a driving force of the #MeToo movement in India, turning her Twitter account (@TheRestlessQuil) into a powerful platform to share her personal and other women’s stories. Sandhya has tirelessly and consistently worked towards empowering women to come forward with their #MeToo experiences. 

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ELLE: What does your girl squad mean to you?

Sandhya Menon: My girl squad is all about being entirely honest. It is to persevere in the face of stress and be there for each others. To take time off from the squad if we want to and come back when we are ready, no questions asked.

ELLE: How important would you say is women having each other's back?

SM: Absolutely, unequivocally important. Rarely does anyone else get a woman like women do. We cannot competition get in the way. We cannot let out own insecurities get in the way. We have to hold and carry each other. Half the success of what you're trying to achieve lies there.

ELLE: Could you share an anecdote or experience where you witnessed the power of female solidarity?

SM: I think the biggest bit of solidarity I've seen is when during the #MeToo movement women came forward and spoke of their experiences, trusted perfect strangers to tell their stories to. That was overwhelming.

ELLE: According to you, what are some of the ways women can support and stand up for other women?

SM: Speak up for causes where women do not have the same platforms as you. If you run a business, guide, mentor and hire women and show them the ropes without holding back. Pass the mic to women from the Bahujan community.

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