In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2022, we speak to Anjhula Bais, a blue blood who wears many hats, and was elected as chair of the international board of Amnesty International last year.
A psychology trauma specialist Anjhula Bais engages populations around the globe on topics such as the climate crisis, mental health, human rights, leadership, and strategic thinking through a feminist lens.
We find out more about Anjhula Bais on her views on feminism and more via our. interview below:
You’re the first psychologist and person to represent Malaysia in the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation Amnesty International, as chair of the international board, could you please tell us a bit about your new role?
As chair, I lead a global team of 10 others and we mainly speak to a variety of a stakeholders from chairs of our local Amnesty offices worldwide to donors, funders, government officials, diplomats, business leaders etc. Human Rights is every person’s issue. It involves considered analysis of tons of documents, daily reading of multiple papers is required and taking tough human rights decisions for example on Ukraine, Hong Kong and other human rights reports and issues.
Would you have progressed further or gained more recognition in your career if you were male?
I had a feminist thinking father, so my exposure to regressive ways of thinking was minimal. As I educated myself further by studying, working and living around the world, the mediocrity of most men is what stands out. Every single man has a privilege over women they need to deeply understand. It is hard for them to see this because it is like asking fish to describe the water they swim in, and the fish are like what water? The fish don’t recognise it because they are so immersed, it is the same for male privilege and entitlement.
Recently I told male colleagues who encouraged me to give feedback to another male colleague, I said if you do it, you’re assertive. If I do it, I am an aggressive (fill in the blank). The difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness is gender. Sure enough, that male colleague reacted poorly, completely oblivious to his entitlement, fragility, and the fact that he would have received it better from a male.
Women are judged much more harshly, we see how their communication, style, clothes, mannerisms are all fair game for commenting e.g. Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump during the USA election. Women have to work harder and exert more energy in being collaborative leaders so they don’t ruffle feathers where men get away with doing no work or being bombastic. You ask if I would have received more recognition? Likely. But it is not recognition I am after but rather respect for all women.
How can men help women progress, both in the private and public spheres?
Deeply understand your unconscious bias, assume you have most things wrong about gender relations and feminism, learn with openness, humility and nonviolent communication. Check your assumptions that might be so subconscious that you don’t realise they exist. Do you react poorly because you think women make inferior leaders? Do you defer to men but throw a tantrum at women and expect them to tolerate or clean up your mess like your mother ? Be curious and tabula rasa (blank slate). Women being equal is a non-negotiable, work hard at allyship. Ask yourself how else can I do this or view this, how can I learn from women and lean in to their approaches and talents of which there are several? Not doing the above becomes tokenism, a diversity check box exercise where you say women are equal but the actions are lacking.
Do men need to fear feminism?
Far from fearing, they need to learn feminism. Feminism is a range of socio-political movements and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal and social equality of the sexes. It aims to define how power is understood, shared, wielded and generally asserts that societies prioritise and centre as normative, the male view. If we are to make any inroads in the world, we have to elevate women and take a hard look at how women have been repressed for millennia. Can we honestly say men have done a good job? Look at the despotic countries: all men. Putin is in part, a classic study in the psychology of male leadership. He’s a cowboy, and in his world, might is right. That has the possibility of not ending poorly but literally ending the world. If we are to lessen the climate catastrophe looming and leave a better future in a matter of spheres, it will be women who lead. Countries who do not get this are regressive. They will interpret any religion or philosophy in a self-serving way that seeks to constrain women.
What would you like to tell our male readers?
So much can be achieved, including harmony, if men will consciously make an effort to awaken. They have got so much of it wrong in the past, I continue to rightly be sceptical. The kind of a woman a man partners tells me a lot about the man. The onus should not be on women to teach men about equality but rather for men to take it up and pull their fair share of weight; men need to fill themselves with the weight of learning, knowledge, insight, and gravitas. Let’s go from thinking that bum is so attractive to that mind is so attractive.
Images from Anjhula Bais