August 19, 2018

Written by Nafisa Nawal Khan

Approval, by definition, is the act of agreement by two parties, one of which asks for permission to do something and the other decides the fate of that task. This word is a constant to most women in Bangladesh. Culture here is seen to limit women from doing things of their own will. Once a girl is born, she is conditioned into thinking that others should take decisions for her. Years of conditioning affects her confidence and self-worth. There are women who fight through this social stigma and succeed in making their dreams a reality and there are women who give up simply because they lack belief in their capabilities to fight. Such scenarios were part of one of the interesting discussions of Women in Leadership Festival.

Joining in this discussion were panelists, Farzana Rahman, General Manager, Head of Retail Governance and Operation, Grameenphone Ltd.; Sharmin Rahman, Associate Vice President, Creative, Asiatic Marketing Communication Ltd. and Tajrina Mannan, Creative Director and Founder of Merrill+Forbes. The moderator for this panel was Humaira Afreen, Corporate HR, Marico Bangladesh.

Farzana Rahman believes that the mindset of asking for approval as well as empowerment, so that no one asks for approval, starts from family. She emphasizes on the importance of the way a child is brought up, how parents should encourage and inspire them to go beyond their comfort zones. Her belief is that parents should push their children to make them learn to make decisions for themselves. When the child learns this from his/her family, then he/she will be able to do the same in his/her career. So, according to her, it is very important to let children dream and to let them figure out steps to pursue that dream on their own. Parents can only suggest but they cannot control. So she believes, the child, be it male or female, should learn to make its own decisions and not seek approval from parents or anybody else.

Tajrina Mannan agrees that the mindset comes from families and it should be shaped when children are young but she points out the fact that regardless of mindset, sometimes women cannot escape the question of approval because of security concerns. Even though she thinks that women sometimes need approval, she stresses on the fact that in many ways women need to have that confidence in them to believe that they will not need to seek permission all the time.

Sharmin Rahman points to clarify the meaning of approval. It can be approval for a person, approval for a person’s appearance, approval for a person’s ability to take decisions. Regardless, the decision is up to the person in concern and no one else. Suggestions and opinions can be taken from people who are more experienced in this matter, but the ultimate decision has to be taken only by that person.

She brings to light an interesting perspective through an example. If a woman goes on a solo trip, people see it as her family/her husband allowing her to do so. Her point here is that whatever the decision, good or bad, no one expect that woman can take that decision.

Tajrina Mannan’s take on this is that, women can ask for opinions because it helps make them better decisions. Different opinions help envision different perspectives which further help in decision making but in the end, the decision has to be made by the woman herself.

Humaira Afreen, the moderator, brings out another interesting example similar to that of Sharmin Rahman. She explains that there are women who are aware that they do not require approval but these same women unconsciously seek approval through the use of specific sentences when they say their families allowed them to do something. She urges that women should be aware of such scenarios.

The panel discussed both about issues of women who do not get the opportunity to express their opinions on family decisions and women who purposefully choose not to. These behaviors root from the belief that these decisions are the husbands’ area of concern. There are even women who manipulate their husbands to make their decisions, yet these women prefer their husbands to be the face of the decisions.

Economic empowerment also affects women and their habit of seeking approval. Sharmin Rahman brought out eye-opening examples of how women of different classes in society differ in having opinions in the presence of economic empowerment. A woman, coming from a poor family, makes family decisions just because she earns more than her husband. Then again, a woman, coming from an affluent family, even after having economic empowerment, chooses to not make important family decisions because of her fixed mindset that only the men in the household make the decisions.

One of the main reasons to why women still seek approval is the huge lack of confidence. Tajrina Mannan elaborates that a lot of times women get carried away when they feel the need to be accepted by society both online and offline. She explains, to build confidence, women need to accept themselves as they are, understand their strengths and weaknesses and stand up for themselves. These women need to motivate themselves and never give up. Farzana Rahman adds that women need to be logical and should always take challenges to improve themselves. If they do so, they will be the ones making decisions, not seeking approvals.

So, in conclusion, all panelists agreed that the notion that women need approval exists in society but it does not mean women should live by it. The very first step to remove this notion is to bring these topics in discussion and that is what WIL (Women in Leadership) does. At the end of the day, women should be aware that self-confidence is crucial to stop this notion of ‘getting approvals’ from existing. Support systems and cohesive environments help a great deal, but ultimately women are the ones who fight and have to keep fighting a great deal before the problem ceases to exist.

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