"I feel ecstatic to see a shift in the needle with regards to women empowerment, especially in India but still feel that we have a long way to go," says Soha Ali Khan, actor, and author. "The theme for this year's International Women's Day resonates with me, as I am a firm believer and propagator of gender equity. I applaud Airbnb's efforts in helping women in the hospitality industry embrace equity and take on roles that truly make them happy, whilst working towards an independent future."
Kickstarting the month that celebrates International Women's Day, Airbnb hosted a panel discussion featuring actor and author Soha Ali Khan, Singer & Songwriter Lisa Mishra, Entrepreneur Kirti Poonia (Co-founder, Relove), and Airbnb Host Kakoli.
Soha, who participated on the panel to discuss this year's International Women's Day theme, "Embrace Equity," discusses how there is a lot of inequality stemming from a very basic, including female infanticide, female foeticide, child marriage, etc., and that these are the issues we need to address.
Describe what "Embrace Equity" means to you.
Soha: I think "embrace equity" is talking about gender parity because it's Women's Day. Specifically, I'm talking about gender right now and understanding the fact that women still there exist. 48 percent of the population exists, and we're out there, but are we being represented in the way that we want to be? No.
I was watching a stand-up comic recently saying that no matter how well-educated women are, there might be like a female fighter pilot, but 48 per cent of the population is still under curfew at 6.00 p.m. because it's dangerous to go outside. So violence against women, not only outside but in their homes, which has come to the front during things like the lockdown, these are issues that women are still dealing with. They have no voice, they need to be heard. Even in something like cinema which is so equitable, where talent is rewarded, where you have shining stars who are commanding the box office. But if you look at it from a more general perspective, women are still underrepresented behind the screen. There are certain issues with gender parity, and women are still not in terms of their roles on screen, you have some strong women, but on the whole, you're still playing accessories to a man. That still continues to happen too much. So these are things that I would like to address when it comes to gender equity.
And how do you embrace equity in your daily life?
Soha: When it comes to my life, I would say support women whenever possible, even in your own circle of friends and female entrepreneurs that you work with or whether it comes to how you bring up your daughter, you know, I would say these are ways that you can more personally affect things.
One can also wok with women as someone who would like to give back to society monetarily with your time, whether it's something like girl child education, which is where I think a lot of things stem from, and where there's a lot of inequity from that very basis, female infanticide, female foeticide, child marriage, these are things like it's a challenge to be a woman at most stages of your life in India and those are things we need to address. My first job was with the UN Development Fund for women or working for acid victims, which is what as a Pataudi trust we contribute our money towards as well.
Given that you are a popular role model, what specific contribution to the empowerment of women in society makes you feel proud?
Soha: Firstly, one should not look so much to actors as role models and don't go by social media because it may not be accurate or representative. Your role models need to be your teachers need to hopefully be your parents and people like that. And you know, even when you go and watch a movie, that's not where you're supposed to get your value system from. You're supposed to get your value system from history lessons or from school.
So I would say when it comes to me, for example, I think the consistent work that I've done with, through things like P&G and Shiksha, through things like an initiative. We did this through the lockdown, which was towards contributing to sanitary napkins for women. Because a main reason why women, young women drop out of school is because of access to hygiene and toilets and not having food sanitary towels, and things like that. And for something as simple as that, if you can take that out of the equation, then they can complete their education. So I think some of those efforts in those directions.
How do you think can one succeed in a male-dominated environment?
Soha: Yes, I would say women need to support women. I know that men are also supportive of women, and I've been very lucky to work, in fact, in the recent past with producers who have gone out of their way to cast women to employ women as directors or screenwriters and to be empathetic to the fact that they need more flexibility.
That that women work very hard, they work hard at work and then they come home and they work hard in the home as well, whether it's, you know, having more of the responsibility of doing household tasks or looking after children, etcetera. So I think people are becoming more sensitive to that, but again, certainly, when it comes to films, that's just scratching the surface and we need to do more of it.
Tell us about your stay in Airbnb London and some of the places on your bucket list you'd like to visit with Airbnb in 2023.
Soha: I will, definitely. I think most of all of the travel that I will do going forward will be on Airbnb because that's the kind of experience, especially now that I have Anaya with me and we want to travel to a city and experience the culture from a home where you feel, as I said, like an insider, not an outsider, and honestly, ever since I got Airbnb as an app on my phone the interface is incredible
London was great on Airbnb. We've always stayed with friends and we found ourselves without friends to stay with for the first time last year. And we said we don't want to do the hotel thing, so let's do Airbnb. And it was an amazing experience and we felt so comfortable. And again like Kunal likes to cook, I like to cook who's not interested in cooking, but it's nice to have a refrigerator and a microwave and to be able to cook at home and to have washing machines and do all those things. It's also more economical as a result. So all these things go towards making a holiday then what it takes.
What tips would you like to give to solo women travellers?
Soha: I want to get tips because I have not done a solo trip, unless you count things like going on holiday with friends and then having a big fight with them and going off on your own for one or two days, I've not intentionally gone on a solo trip and that is my plan for 2023, maybe 2024 because I tend to talk a lot and not act. But that's my plan because I think it will be truly empowering.
That's one of the things, not being able to cook very well, which prevent me from being a truly independent woman and maybe driving also. Though I drive, but not very well.