When women lead

Something to write home about

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I am the youngest member of my family of four. For years, I wanted to do exactly what my sister did — wear her clothes, listen to her music, read her books. I wanted to be good at the same things that she was; I wanted to have her grace when I danced and her eloquence when I spoke.

For years, I wanted to inspire someone the way my mother inspired me. As the founder of a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving young people from low-income areas across India increased access to employment, my mother has been, to put it the way my friends would describe her, “very cool.” My mother and my sister have been leaders all their lives, and I’ve always been inspired by their courage, their willingness to speak their minds and their dedication to social progress.

I have witnessed my mother and my sister face backlash in their respective fields of work and in multiple points in their lives simply because they are women. In light of the suspension of the 2020 presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, I cannot help but draw parallels between the experiences of the women I’ve personally seen in leadership roles and the experiences of women in leadership roles around the world.

In the male-dominated political stage of 20th-century India, for instance, Indira Gandhi became the country’s first and (so far) only female prime minister in January 1966. She was assassinated during her third tenure in 1984. Just like the women in leadership roles in my life whose examples continue to impact my everyday decisions, Gandhi’s leadership, despite its major drawbacks, paved the way for women in Indian politics.

Gandhi served India at a time in which the Indian media and opposition to the Indian National Congress party had no qualms about assigning her the nickname of “Goongi goodiya”, which in Hindi means “dumb doll.” She intervened in the Pakistan-Bangladesh conflict to lead India to its emergence as the dominant South Asian power in early 1971. She presided over three Five-Year Plans as prime minister, two of which fulfilled the economic targets set.

Gandhi helped establish the Congress Party’s Women’s Section, paving the way for women across the nation to enter the male-dominated sphere of Indian politics. During her tenure, she made exceedingly questionable decisions — declaring a state of emergency in 1975, for example. But she also had the responsibility of presiding over India from 1975-77, often considered the darkest hour of Indian democracy, and she defied constant, hammering opposition from those who deemed her unworthy of her position.

It has been more than 50 years since Gandhi was first elected prime minister, and no significant change seems to have happened since. After a poor showing on Super Tuesday, Warren announced that she was to suspend her campaign for the 2020 presidential election. An extremely accomplished candidate, Warren’s professional background might as well scream that she exemplifies competence for the role of president: Ahe was a professor at Harvard University and was responsible for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, among other achievements. Gandhi made a sufficiently large impact on a misogynistic India for her to be elected prime minister four times, but a misogynistic U.S. still finds it impossible to elect a female president.

For much of my life, I dismissed men’s actions by reasoning that, since they’re men, what else could I expect? Over winter break, however, my best friend from home highlighted how this justification makes excuses for men who are being problematic. I realized I was guilty of thinking similarly about Warren’s campaign. From the outset, I maintained how I loved her, but that she was not going to win because the U.S. is not ready for a female president.

I only realized the risks of this attitude when a friend told me she voted for another candidatebecause she thought Warren couldn’t win. Now I understand this is an endless cycle: If we assume society can only function a certain way, — and our decisions perpetuate those assumptions — our society will keep functioning that way. The U.S. could very well have been ready for a female president, but nobody seemed to think other people were equally ready.

“Whenever I meet a little girl, I say: ‘I’m running for president, because that’s what girls do,’ and we pinky promise so they’ll remember,” Warren tweeted Aug. 2. What shatters me about the limited support for Warren is that young girls aspiring to participate in U.S. politics will think society is designed to prevent them from achieving their ambitions. My mother and my sister have always reminded me I could forge my path in any profession I choose, and I came to college less afraid than I might have been otherwise. But who’s to say that girls across the country will believe in themselves when our society rejects/resists women leaders?

It’s obviously too late now, but all I can ask of American voters for the 2024 presidential election as an international student, who is currently witnessing the shattering of her home country, please vote for a woman 2024. If anything, having a woman as president can’t plummet the country into a deeper hole than President Donald Trump’s leadership did.

Anoushka Agrawal writes the Wednesday column on her experiences as an international student from India. Contact her at [email protected]