In 10th grade, Shaker High School student Shriya Iyer founded a club that is committed to a cause she believes in deeply: empowering women.
The club, called WEquality, focuses on raising awareness of women’s equality on all levels, economically, intellectually and socially. WEquality is open to all students, Iyer said, not just young women.
“When you talk about feminism many people think it’s just women fighting for rights, and some confuse it with female superiority,” said Iyer, who is now a senior. “That is why the club is named WEquality because we are all in this together – men and women – working together to fight for the cause.”
WEquality, which dedicates much of its time and effort helping organizations that support women locally, organized a winter clothing drive in the fall for Mercy House in Albany, a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence and their children. Iyer set up a small donation bin toward the back of her English teacher’s classroom, where the club meets every other week. She asked fellow students in her English class as well as club members to donate, and was surprised by the outcome.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect many people to donate, but we actually received a lot of clothes,” Iyer said of the four large boxes that were filled. “That made me really happy because I underestimated how many coats and other items we would collect.”
Iyer and Anam Mehta, another club officer, packed the boxes and with WEquality club adviser, English teacher Kristine Wade, delivered the clothing and a $200 contribution to the women’s shelter before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Without Shriya’s leadership, neither the club nor any of its altruistic efforts would exist,” said Wade, who recommended Iyer as a North Colonie Kids Care nominee.
Since establishing WEquality at the end of sophomore year, Iyer said the club has grown to 60 members and offers many activities. The group meets every other Thursday with one meeting typically devoted to thoughtful discussion, and the next offering a thought-provoking activity. At a recent meeting, for example, club members viewed a presentation about women inventors and female entrepreneurs of the past before engaging in a conversation about women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers today. Then during the next meeting, members shared presentations they had created comparing feminist icons of today, including Beyoncé and Malala. (Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, music superstar and mega-successful businesswoman.)
“Presentations like this help strengthen our public speaking skills and build self-confidence,” Iyer said, “and, it makes our club meetings more fun.”
Other club activities have included feminist Bingo and Jeopardy, which are planned and coordinated by the club’s officers, including an activities adviser who helps oversee the finances associated with activities, and is responsible for marketing materials, such as posters advertising events such as WEquality’s spring workshop and fall concert.
“We have a Blackout concert, which is a glow in the dark concert,” Iyer explained. “That is where we raise most of our money for the year that is used for activities and for donations that our club gives to various causes and charities.”
This spring, in addition to its annual workshop, the club is introducing a badminton tournament to its activities roster. “Badminton is pretty popular here, so we are hoping it will be successful and will raise a lot of money for charity,” Iyer said.
This year, of the club’s 60 members, four are male. Iyer is hoping that number will increase.
“Feminism is not a bad word; unfortunately, it has become a bit of a stereotype. My goal at the end of senior year is to let other high school students know that this is a joint issue and that we can’t just have 50 percent of the population working toward a goal that affects 100 percent of us,” she said. “We need guys to fight for feminism, too.”
Iyer is herself looking to add to the ranks of women in STEM fields by studying chemical engineering and operations and information management – a dual major – at the University of Pennsylvania next year. In the meantime, she and the other officers are working with junior and sophomore club members to coach them on how best to operate the club and move WEquality forward.
“I will definitely be excited to come back and visit next year on a Thursday afternoon and see how things are going,” she said.