Why I’m Letting women make my decisions for a week…

I’m Ethan, and I will be working as the Assistant Project Leader for S.A.L.V.E.’s Team Uganda partnership with Manchester University this summer. I’ll be ensuring that Team Uganda runs smoothly, checking that all the volunteers are doing their best while getting the most from their experience.

When i first heard about doing an inequality challenge, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what that meant. But I’ve got an open mind! A gender inequality challenge is a way to highlight the gender inequality of the world by experiencing it first hand. So, for a week, I’m going to let women make all of my decisions! This is going to be interesting. I’m not used to submission like this. But I’m ready for the challenge.

So how will this work? Each day, I will choose a woman who will make my decisions for me. In many places, women lack the social power to choose for themselves. I hope this challenge brings attention to this sad reality and supports advocacy work done internationally to empower all people towards equality. This is not limited to one location – I will ask an African friend, a South American friend, and a British friend who is in STEM – amongst others – to make my decisions. This is to represent different experiences by women in different places and careers.

I’m a British engineering student. I like designing and building stuff and I also love travelling around. I know that for both of these passions, my gender is an advantage. Let’s be honest, white British males don’t suffer much discrimination. So perhaps it’s about time I get a feel for the way that many people are left to live their lives…

Day 1…

Waiting for everyone to finish their lunches!

Saturday was my introduction to the challenge. The lovely lady making my decisions was Laura, the S.A.L.V.E. Project Officer, who will be leading our team in Uganda this summer. She wanted to give me a day in the life of a Ugandan woman. This meant kneeling to greet women, and waiting to be invited to speak. She wasn’t going to pull any punches until she realised she needed me to be able to work at our training weekend. Which only shows how restrictive some of these rules are.

I ended up watching everyone eat lunch, hungry and impatient as I couldn’t start eating until all the women had finished. We went back in and started working… I had to sit on the floor and eat when the women weren’t nibbling. Then after a long day, she instructed me to do more work before I could eat my dinner.

Having to wait for the opposite gender to finish their food before I could eat even though we had done equal work was frustrating, especially considering how hungry I felt. This made me realise how unequal it is in Ugandan society, and how this type of control can make you feel less valued compared to the women (in this case) who could eat when they wanted.

 Day 2…

Sunday was more relaxed at first, my decision maker was incomunicado and I was winging it. That changed and I quickly got my rules. They sounded simple but they made me second guess all my decisions. I was given a two step process : 1) would my decision maker approve ; 2) would her mother approve. I could do this, having lived with this family for extended periods. But it made me realise how much society can make some people must second guess their own decisions.

Day 3…

The lady in control today was a young, white, British lady. She had a different take on how to explore gender. I must share my feelings with the people i care about. Men think, women feel. At least that’s what people say. Yet that’s not true, it’s not black and white. I had to tell all the friends I interacted with how I feel about them. This drew some shock, some tears and some sweet moments.

This was a different take, and I enjoyed it. Except I was also told to eat only vegetarian food. That was the only negative part of this day.

Day 4…

Day four was a tough day. Very tough. I struggled with the rules to the point that I had to pay a forfeit. My Peruvian friend was in charge and she set up the day under the following scenario:

She is my jealous and chauvinistic partner. She controls who I see, what I wear and what I eat. I must respond to her messages immediately. I must tell her where I am. I can’t speak to my female friends (or any women) beyond what’s required for work. Before I leave the house she checks if my outfit shows too much skin.

I was extremely bad at doing this so I was punished. I had to count the calories I’d eaten then get told I’d eaten too much and would get fat.

A thoroughly unpleasant experience. While I struggled to deal with the rules and found myself getting punished, I understood that in real life, a punishment would be much more significant, destructive and potentially dangerous.

Day 5…

A big day. A job interview and a public presentation. Thankfully I wasn’t banned from talking. I had given responsibility for the rules to my adopted mum in South Africa. This mixed race Muslim lady has had a wonderful impact on my life. So what did she want me to do? She wanted me to take a special interest in my contract at the company, to open the floor first to women at my presentation and to help an elderly lady.

Before, during and after my interview I asked many questions to the lady. She was a Japanese translator who moved into administration.

After my presentation, there were no questions so I couldn’t open the floor to women first.

And I found an elderly lady seeking help with medical costs online and donated.

Day 6…

Day 6 was a slow starter. My rules were unknown, my decision maker indecisive. My young Turkish friend unsure how best to torture me. She decided to make me insecure about my looks.

I had to spend a long time choosing outfits, in the mirror and comparing my appearance to that of others. This was accompanied by research into cosmetic surgery. On top of looking at pictures of celebrities.

This was entirely new to me and honestly seemed quite mad. Nonetheless, we went for a catch up at the end of the day. She explained my food choices about not wanting to get fat. Then when I explained how all that was getting me down, we went for waffles.

To cap off the day, we used the medium of tinder to explore why women feel the need to do this. I think my friend enjoyed playing with tinder as a guy a bit too much!

Day 7…

My final day is run by a British nurse. A different day to the others. Previously, my challenges have been about power or insecurity or taking an interest in others. All rather cerebral. This day was physical.

My friend believes nurses have it very hard. That they have to run about, up and down all day long. I’m not one to disagree.

I was told to cover 8km and 5 flights of stairs.

Perhaps this was a cop out. But I went to the gym that morning for my usual workout then went upstairs to add on the 8km of cardio. I exceeded 5 sets of stairs too.

If you would like to support me, please consider donating to S.A.L.V.E. International here!

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