By Romita Roy
Illustration by @stewtea
Dear brothers, Rakshabandhan is here yet again and you’re probably wondering what gift to give to your sisters. I mean, what gift to give them over and above the unwavering promise of security and protection- which was the traditional premise of Rakshabandhan many years ago. A lot has changed now, the festival-like many others have been commercialized enough to now be synonymous with buying gifts, having a party, putting up pictures on social media and whatnot. Some of you have very clear directives from your sibling for what constitutes a Rakshabandhan worthy gift i.e. an Apple Watch, or a designer bag perhaps? This leaves the rest of you, who might still be scrambling (at least I hope you are) to figure out what your sister would possibly want as a gift from you, which signifies the importance of her feeling secure and protected. I’ve been thinking the same thing of late. What tangible outcome do I want to see in my life by merely tying a string of thread on my brother’s wrist? After all, it’s not just about one day’s festivities right? It should make some lasting impact beyond 24 hours, or at least until the renewal date comes up next year.
Speaking of years, It’s been quite the one already, riddled with career confusion and dealing with getting paid less than Aakash at work, for doing the same job. I am certain, however, that this year, jewellery as a sign of promise and dependability just won’t cut it. I mean, the news all around is depressing (read horrifying) enough. For one, Afghanistan has just pulled the collective women empowerment bar down to the 18th century, more disturbingly, this happened in less than 6 weeks. Also, guess which segment had to bear the maximum brunt, economically, mentally and socially during the pandemic? No points for guessing here, but yes, It’s the women. Did you even know that globally, 70% of health workers and first responders are women, and yet, the gender pay gap in the health sector is 28%, higher than the overall gender pay gap of 16%? Not to mention Covid-19 that has wreaked a whole new type of havoc in the domestic and professional lives of women.
Let’s not forget that domestic abuse and violence against women too increased significantly, impacting entire family dynamics in the face of global danger. Top it off with the crushing workload of having everyone live and work/study from home, all the time. During India’s first lockdown in Punjab, there were cops going around neighbourhoods, announcing on a microphone, that women should put the men in the house to work because they are idle and getting frustrated sitting at home. What a novel, progressive idea- thought many. I remember thinking, why won’t you just tell the men to pick up after themselves, to begin with? Why is putting them to work one more job the woman has to accomplish? Why does the reason have to be that men should help out because they are bored and frustrated, why not share the workload because, quite simply, they live in the house too?
#Vaxgirlsummer hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing either. Did you know that vaccines have wreaked havoc with a lot of women’s periods? The erratic sleep cycle that some of us complain of nowadays hasn’t helped with that either. Yes, women killed it at the Olympics, sexist dress codes notwithstanding. What’s up with that anyway? Have we regressed to some Khal Drogo-esque empire where women are the ‘sport’?
I mean, we got 99 problems and bikini bottoms? no way should they be one! Nothing about these things feels safe, secure or protective.
Now, before I digress and go completely out of context, let me circle back to why I am here, to begin with. Rakshabandhan. The bond of brothers and sisters. Security. Safety. Protection. At this time, these sound like fragmented words with no real impact, and I want to say it’s just not good enough anymore. I don’t want to feel protected and secure just for a day, I want to feel that way in life! I think it’s safe to say that this year, sisters truly deserve a break. (no, not from masks, not yet.) So, now that we are aware of (some) of the problems women face, I don’t want to leave all you brothers in the lurch. I’ve been thinking of what would be good ideas for gifts on Rakhi, that have a compounding positive impact in the lives of your sisters, and hopefully revamp the tradition and meaning of Rakshabandhan.
So, here are some of the things that I came up with, that you can gift to your sisters. These are things that can add real value in their lives, not just their closets, and go a long way in contributing to them building a life of security and safety for themselves. That’s what we really want to accomplish at the end of the day. Not having you on speed dial every time we need protection, but to have you contribute to empowering and enabling us to create that for ourselves, and they don’t cost a bomb, either! Read on.
1. Gift her a career counselling session: With the wonders of virtual meetings and digital services blooming post-pandemic, a lot of women have considered a career pivot. In fact, a Forbes survey from last year shows that at least 61% of women are in the midst of a major career change after the bubble of job security has burst. A fourth of women are setting up new businesses, with ‘health and fitness’ and ‘publishing’ being major focus areas. One pro that’s come out of 2020 is that it has opened disruptive and flexible ways of doing business. And women, who have been juggling work and home since time immemorial, want to ride this wave.
A good career coach, business mentor or even simply a networking opportunity with a veteran from the industry of her choice can be a great leg up in her professional journey.
2. Gift her a session with a life coach or therapist: Increased workload at home, domestic violence, wage cuts, job loss, erratic sleep cycle, higher risk of psychiatric symptoms in Covid 19 patients; these are just some of the many reasons for rising mental health problems in women. And sure, both men and women alike have dealt with loss and grief over the past two years in their own ways. However, a survey by CARE International based on first-person accounts of more than 10,000 participants found that 27% of women reported an increase in challenges associated with mental illness, compared to only 10% of men. For women who hope to regain employment or have additional financial responsibilities like children, the pressure is worse.
Have you noticed any symptoms of poor mental health in your sister? Does she have a balanced responsible support system? If not, she definitely needs professional help. If conversations around mental health are taboo in your family, be her confidant. Make sure she gets the help she needs, even if you need to keep it on the down-low. Also, let me just put it out there, this is a great gift even if she is not experiencing any acute stress. Mental health does not always need to be addressed when one is struggling. We all have unresolved issues and it’s never too early or too late to work on improving your mental health. It’s high time we all let go of the stereotype that therapy is for people who are struggling and broken. Just like annual physical health check-ups, a mental health check-in is equally important.
3. Gift her a short course: ‘Upskilling’ was the buzzword of 2020. If your sister has mentioned the desire to learn something new, why not pay for a short course? If she has decided to take on a career diversion as mentioned earlier, surely she needs new skills in her toolkit.
The reality though is appalling. On Scaler Academy, an upskilling platform, the male to female ratio was 90:10 in March 2020. In February 2021 there was a marginal improvement at 80:20. Upskilling platform UpGrad has witnessed a 12% increase in women’s enrolment numbers as compared to men before and after the arrival of Covid-19, according to Co-founder Phalgun Kompalli. While the women enrolments accounted for 1/3rd of male enrolments in the pre-Covid phase, this ratio has now shifted to become 2/5th in the post-Covid phase in Q2.
Investment in oneself is the best kind of investment and certainly trumps jewellery any day.
Education over things, shouldn’t that be the mantra?
4. Gift her one-on-one time: The best gift you can give anyone? Your time and attention. Has your sibling relationship been lacking the TLC it needs? Have you been feeling neglected by your next of kin? Well, take the initiative to amend ties and go spend some time with your sister. It’s only natural that lockdowns and closed flights may have drawn a distance between you both.
The good news is that face-to-face contact is therapy like no other. If Covid regulations allow, go visit a nostalgic childhood spot together. Or just watch a movie. But mostly, listen to each other. The art of listening is a rare virtue in these times! Oftentimes, we can sort out the chaos in our heads when we verbalise our problems to a patient ear.
5. Digital detox holiday: The 2020 side effect no one saw coming? Increased screen time. Studies of 18 to 28-year-olds have shown that screen time did not differ between genders, but there were gender differences in average scores in depression, anxiety and distress. And the most affected segment was, not surprisingly, students. Results from the aforementioned survey group reported that nearly half of the participants exhibited mild to moderate depression, with more than 70% ranging from mild to severe depression. Pandemic-related distress is very real, the effects of which we are still consciously or subconsciously bearing. And not having screen time boundaries can make it worse.
So if your sister is studying or endlessly working from home, and has trouble ‘switching off’, suggest a digital detox holiday. It doesn’t have to be a Vipassana retreat, though many claim their wondrous benefits. It can be a trip to the mountains, all social media apps deleted. Or better still, ask to take care of her errands or cats (or plants) for a week so she can plan a getaway of her choosing!
6. Support a women’s cause: The current Taliban situation in Afghanistan can be seen as especially catastrophic for women and girls, with many suggesting that it’s reminiscent of the ‘dark days of the country. According to a UN refugee agency, nearly 250,000 Afghans have fled their homes since the end of May, 80 per cent of them women and children.
Women for Afghan Women is a non-profit humanitarian organisation helping with relief and safety of Afghan women. It is the largest women’s organisation in Afghanistan, Afghan Aid and Miles 4 Migrants are two other great funds to donate to. You can do your own research and give whatever possible based on your own criteria for donation. A little goodwill towards the sisterhood of humanity won’t hurt in scary times like these.
So, dear brothers, gift-giving doesn’t have to be expensive. But it has to be meaningful, thoughtful and intuitive. Remember, it is the thought that counts. So if there is anything else that you can think of, which is different from what I’ve suggested, but you think would make a great gift, go right ahead. Think less of a physical object with a price tag, but more of something oxymoronically tangible, with lasting value. The boys get a lot of flak for not having a great emotional quotient (EQ), but you can decide to prove them wrong. After all, like the Bob Dylan song goes, times, they are a-changing. Happy Rakshabandhan!
About the author
Romita Roy is a freelance writer & illustrator. She has a fashion background from NIFT and has written for Bombay Times, Quint and BW Businessworld. Follow her IG @consciouslycreativebyromita for her take on slow fashion & lifestyle.