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#choosetochallenge with Miss Universe Australia, Maria Thattil

Monday the 8th of March is International Women’s Day 2021. It’s about choosing to challenge in order to create change. In striving for a gender equal world, we must to the fullest extent of our power do what we can to celebrate women’s achievements, increase visibility and challenge inequality.
I know that challenging a feat like gender inequality seems difficult. The radical change we need in our world to create a society where every voice can thrive feels momentous. 2020 highlighted that. The social context was challenging and we all spent a heightened amount of time online, and at times, conversations felt polarising. However, intentionality is important and we are powerful when we are conscious of how even the smallest of thoughts, words and actions can create a ripple effect of change.

 
It starts with a thought. A thought that challenges the norm. Perhaps it’s unconscious bias. Perhaps its the comfort of the privilege you are accustomed to. Perhaps its a gender stereotype. However, when you challenge your thoughts you can reframe your words.
I’ve spent the last few years trying to process my own experiences that have been a mix of both privilege and prejudice. I’m still actively unlearning racism, sexism, misogyny and disempowering sentiments I’ve internalised, but with every thought I challenge, I harness more power. You feel a cocktail of emotions when you reconcile with yourself and confront disempowering mindsets, assumptions, bias and beliefs you have held - but that’s how you know you’re onto something.

And as a modern woman, I believe that you need to be able to sit with the discomfort, and then challenge the world as you know it in order to move out of it. As a woman of colour, I had to process traumatic experiences with racism, unlearn and heal, but then acknowledge the privileges I have as a light skinned, cis-gendered, able bodied, heterosexual person. It can be hard holding competing truths in your mind, but its important to know that recognising your own experiences with privilege and prejudice are key to knowing where you sit on the spectrum of inequity, and figure out what action is appropriate and required from you.
 
However, irrespective of where you sit on the spectrum, know that your voice does matter. Even if you know you don’t have all the answers and have so much on the topic you have yet to process, heal or understand - that is a starting point in itself, and awareness of that is a great first step.
 
Be open to learning where you fit, and leverage your unique experiences to galvanise your own circle of influence to celebrate women’s achievements - especially those of marginalised women, because we know that women from the LGBTIQA+ community, racial/cultural minorities, women with hearing, visual or physical challenges, cognitive impairments or mental illness, different abilities, living in poverty or experiencing homelessness experience inequality disproportionately. The experience of gender inequality is nuanced and intersectional - and it requires YOU to challenge it.
 
Empowering the modern woman in moving forward is a motivating factor behind all my projects. Whether it is via the Mind With Me podcast, my articles, talks I have given or what I will represent on the Miss Universe global stage - I will champion what I believe the modern woman to be: someone who won’t be compressed by societal moulds and has agency over her life, so she can share her talent, value and capacity for impact with the world. The work we do matters - because everyone deserves the ability to show up as a leader in their own life, and in challenging gender inequality, we are empowering modern women to do that.

 
As for me, I feel the most empowered and confident that I ever have in all my 28 years - right now. This is because I have overcome experiences with prejudice and have been afforded many privileges that enable me to show up as a leader in my own life, and live in a way that feels authentic, safe, free and true to me. However, I resonate with the words of Audre Lorde and firmly believe that I, and no other woman is truly free so long as another “woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.” So I am committed to using the platform, privileges and resources I have to ensuring that the work I do chooses to challenge.
 
I hope that this International Women’s Day and beyond, you do too - because your voice matters.
 
Note: I am thrilled to serve as a guest contributor for the vivendoebatucando blog as they choose to challenge inequality and empower the modern woman in moving forward. Like they help their customers to move effortless through the day in their attire, they aspire to support the modern woman to move forward by consciously increasing the visibility of diverse models and talent, and encouraging people to feel confident, empowered and comfortable in their own skin.

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