Chayn Kohli, at 19, has done a lot for a woman her age. She won the Student Award for Excellence in Gender Equality in 2022 at the University of Warwick, where she is a second-year BSc Management student. But her work on women’s rights started at the age of 14. She spoke to Asian Voice about those beginnings, her motivation, and her future plans.
Talking about the beginning of her journey, Chayn said, “Before working mainly on gender equality, I was working with the healthcare sectors. I've conducted blood donation drives, worked with government hospitals, raised money for body bags and PPE kits. So, while trying to increase healthcare opportunities I realised that women were very underrepresented, they didn't have as much access to healthcare as men and they would rather hold in pain.
“But while I noticed all that, there was one particular experience that had a strong impact on me. Growing up, I was athletic and that was the first time I was playing in a football league outside of school. In the league, we had women from various socio-economic backgrounds from ages 18 to 35 and from places as different as Kashmir and Maharashtra. I remember speaking to the different people in my team over the course of the league and meeting girls whose parents were not okay with their daughters taking part in sports because it's not stereotypically a dream that a girl should have. So, they would sneak out of the house making excuses to participate.
“I even remember one of the girls telling me how she used to give tuitions secretly to be able to pay for all her equipment and participation registration fees. And she told me that if her father came to know he would be furious and would call her back and marry her off. But she wanted to pursue football nevertheless. Now she's doing well, playing for national team.
“I always knew that was gender inequality. But these were all girls my age or slightly older, some with husbands, having children of their own. So, I realised how valuable it was for everyone to have the right to be able to dream and do something with their life, their careers and there should be more access to it, all around India.”
Importance of perspective
It is not easy for Chayn to approach the girls back home in India, and she told us about the importance of considering perspectives that are different and varied, an ability of hers which she attributed to growing up in a very liberal household. “I've noticed very frequently that when people try to help, they try to do that in a way they think would be right. They don't realise that people are built differently, and the situations are so different. You are supposed to be there for people in the way they need you to be there, not in the way you hoped you would be there for them. You might complicate things more, otherwise. While helping girls, you have to remember that each family is different.”
And it is not always one way, she said in her matter-of-fact manner. While Chayn believed that she was blessed to have friends and family who have been very supportive of her endeavours, “…there have also been people that I've interacted with in my social circles who were completely unaware. You can read news but you may not really understand the issues. Which is actually fair because honestly I could read about it and I could get a glimpse of it. But till you see someone struggling with it, you don't really understand the privilege you have. There are so many people from different minority communities- not just women. Women's empowerment is something so big. But women coming from different backgrounds have so many different issues. And everyone's not going to know the context of other people's issues and backgrounds. So, there is a lot of awareness that needs to go around.”
At the end of the day, Chayn believes that change will come with a transformation in the mindset of people. She added, “The Government of India, is taking initiatives to educate female children. But will families understand that their daughters and sons have no difference, and they are both equally capable of achieving their dreams? You could have the law come and help you, but till the mindset changes, it's not going to help. Mindsets change laws as people have to demand those changes. Law is made for the people.”
Role and future plans
Talking about what she does in Warwick which contributed to the recognition from her university, Chayn explained, “I'm a part of Warwick Women's Career Society where I handle the blogs and the website. I have a magazine coming out in a month where we would be talking about employment opportunities and different problems women face and women empowerment generally. I've also created a podcast which you can stream on Spotify where we bring in people to talk about exam stress, provide insights into different industries, and struggles that women face in male-dominated industries. I recently joined the Warwick ‘Designing for Inclusion Programme’ for which I'm designing or helping design programmes for which I'll be conducting a lot of feedback surveys and getting responses from women.”
What are her future plans? “Besides studying for my course, I'm simultaneously working on gender equality. I have taught a lot of women English, math, jewellery-making- which are sustainable skills. I'm always there for the women I work with and I connect them with other agencies if they need it. The entire point is to make the women independent, regardless of me being around,” she said.
“I also want to increase my outreach, may be start my own podcast, and talk about more issues. And I will simultaneously be working on all of this, along with my college work, but I think once I graduate, I want to start my own social entrepreneurship. I'm just looking at increasing opportunities for women in healthcare and education as of now.”