The mountaineer and gender specialist talks empowerment!
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala is a woman on top of the world ascending one mountainous challenge after the other. After conquering the biggest of them all, Mount Everest, she continues to use the public platform she has now received to bravely scale another—shattering gender stereotypes in Sri Lanka.
Smashing The Patriarchy
“There are a number of issues concerning women in Sri Lanka and one of the aspects I have been working with has been in trying to battle gender stereotypes, especially among school and university students. It is frightening to see how old-fashioned, colonial and patriarchal ideas about women are still perpetuated in Sri Lanka—the ban on alcohol for women, not having a standard minimum age of marriage for all girls in Sri Lanka and not allowing women members the right to vote as members of a ‘Members Only’ club. After Everest, since I have been pushed into the public arena, I have been encouraging everyone I speak to, to question and challenge all these gender stereotypes. Find out where they came from and ask whether we need these archaic stereotypes. Because stereotypes only prevent you from being the best you can be. If I climbed Everest, everyone else can also climb their own Everest—provided that women and girls are also given the same opportunities as men and boys to follow their dreams and passions. Your gender does not matter and neither does your size!”
Battling the toxic masculinity that’s ingrained in our society and speaking out about the constant discrimination faced by women is often met with passionate denial. And so it has come to a point where voicing the need for equality requires not only physical strength but also immense mental strength. Drawing on her experience in summiting the tallest peak, Jayanthi agrees, “For Everest, almost 70% of the journey requires mental strength and the remaining 30% is to do with physical strength.”
Living on this sunny island, we’ve all encountered less-than-ideal situations where we’ve questioned why being a woman is such an ordeal. But, it’s in these grim moments that we have to question ourselves and motivate ourselves to say, ‘If I don’t stand up for myself, then who will?’. And Jayanthi, who’s no stranger to these moments of doubt says, “During the two-month journey on Everest, there were many days where I felt I would never make it through the day or felt that I was too slow. When you are at your lowest point, remember to draw on your own experience, and trust that you have prepared well. And tell yourself that you CAN do it! Just tell yourself this, and believe in it. Trust me it will make a difference!”
1) Climbing Mt. Everest (duh!).
2) Learning to have a positive mind and to believe in myself.
3) Being appointed the Goodwill Ambassador for Women’s Rights, by the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, Sri Lanka.
One Thing No One Knows About Jayanthi:
“I am very scared of cockroaches!”
This article was originally published as ‘Climb Your Mountain’ in the March 2018 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more career advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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