Welcome to women’s history month!
It is always the highlight of every year around this time for us at WOW to celebrate who we are as women, anticipate the changes that are yet to be and be challenged to participate in being change agents who facilitate justice and equality for women and the girl child.
Throughout 2019 our focus will be directed towards emphasizing the need to create a culture of safety for women. Safety is crucial to a person’s well-being and immensely influences one’s quality of life. Lack of safety for women stands in the way of women living lives to their full potential. It is a fact that even today the most vulnerable people group in any part of the world are women and children. Women and the girl child face the brunt of all the worst forms of deprivations. It is imperative that we press on to find solutions that ensure their safety and well-being.
Issues of safety for women and the girl child begin long before they see the light of day. It begins in the womb and continues on through their life span. Women continue to face violence in the form of ‘gendercide’ (the extermination of the female foetus or infant), domestic violence, rape, molestation, human trafficking, sexual harassment, eve-teasing, neglect, abandonment and more. Also, our definition of safety is incomplete if we don’t include emotional, verbal and intellectual forms of abuse.
Before we ask ourselves what we can do to address issues of safety for women and the girl child, we should consider why they face these forms of violence and what motivates or instigates the perpetrators to exhibit such behaviour. Incidentally, we all should also acknowledge that violence against women is not just endorsed or perpetrated by men. Though the perpetrators are primarily men, women are as guilty of endorsing attitudes ,values,beliefs that perpetuate violence against women.
When it comes to the ‘why’ question about women’s issues of safety, it ultimately boils down to how we value women and the girl child. If they are considered ‘second-class’ and if our social conditioning dictates that women are not equal to men, then it directly will reflect on how we treat them. When our mindset towards women is not challenged, we will continue to experience and endorse violence against women in its various forms. In fact gender inequality in any capacity is an act of violence against women. It is high-time we evaluate our pre-conceived notions and beliefs about women, supported by our cultural practices or traditions.
This is not to say that all our cultural values and practices are all anti-women. But every culture needs to progress to be more meaningful in its expression. And every practice or belief we hold needs to be seen through the lens of our very basic fundamental and constitutional right i.e every human being to be treated with equal value and dignity. Safety is the human right of all people and not just the privilege of a few. Gender, skin colour, religion, caste, economic status or age should not be parameters that determine a person’s worth. And progress needs to be defined by how much we are willing to give room in our belief systems for the dignity and humanity of women and the girl child.
When we recognize this need for a ‘mindset change’, we will have identified one of the fundamental reasons for violence against them. Therefore, safety for women is not an issue that stands alone. On many fronts, it is one of the worst manifestations of prevailing attitudes towards women.
We need to challenge ourselves to rethink our definitions of ‘women’s empowerment’. We need empowerment that starts from within – where we educate a woman to recognize her value and worth. But this is only half the work done. The other half is with how we educate boys and men. Teaching them to respect women as equals is crucial. We don’t have real safety if our concepts of safety is defined by the restrictions we place on women. As long as we hear comments like, ‘what was she wearing when this happened?’ or “why did she go out that late?’ we are setting false or weak standards for a woman’s safety. True empowerment will take into consideration both obvious and hidden factors that shape and mould our attitude towards women. It is in accepting, endorsing and promoting the equality of women in all spheres that genuine safety is birthed. The idea that women are equal needs to span across boardrooms to public offices to schools and colleges. The idea then has to become our posture towards women and the girl child. When we truly begin to acknowledge the equality of women in our attitudes and mind-set we will rise above finding symptomatic solutions to women’s safety.
In keeping with this year’s IWD theme, #balanceforbetter, if balance has to be achieved, men need to be part of the change process. If organisations have to grow, the quickest, fastest, and smartest way is to invest in developing women, creating conducive environments and introducing equitable work place policies. Lasting change can happen only when society as a whole is transformed inside out. This means change at the individual level as well as at the systemic levels. Let not history document how even this generation failed to make a dent in the dream of an equitable world.
I stumbled upon art in my quest for a more meaningful life. I wanted to give an outlet to my creative energy which would have been stifled had I joined the business for which I was trained. As a product of the prestigious NIFT, I saw numerous opportunities to join the industry and pursue a career in design.
Somehow I was not very convinced about this idea, during my college years I never saw myself in a fixed hour job. I would rather be a free spirit and choose to create when I wanted to. My path to becoming a full-time artist has been indirect to say the least. However, I wouldn’t trade my time of being an “artist interrupted” for anything.
The longer road with all of it’s detours has really paid off in terms of rounding out my life experiences, making me more focused, determined, and extremely grateful for the opportunity I have in the studio right now. Waiting is a great motivator.
I’ve always had a love for creativity, right from a very young age and although I might not have fully understood it on a conscious level, bringing something new and unique (and hopefully of value) into the world always brought me a great deal of satisfaction.
After my studies at NIFT, New Delhi, and a short stint of work, I got married. Thereafter, it was motherhood which was my first priority. Soon I realised that I needed to do something on my own for my creative persona.
I started visiting various art galleries in Delhi and participating in their painting workshops. This is where the seed of being an abstract artist was launched & permanently lodged into my soul. Honestly, I didn’t know what to think of it myself until I started working on my first canvas. It was like a bullet hit me. I FELT something connect – the freedom that comes with working for yourself.
So there you have it – my story.
I always prefer happy and hopeful endings when I hear a story, so I’ll leave you with this:
Following your heart, inner vision, and passion can lead you to do the very thing you love & cherish, even if it takes a L-O-N-G time.
Since the journey is long, it is important to have courage and belief in your work. Don’t get dejected by criticism. Some times, the response may come very slowly, but if you have faith in what you are doing, you will get there.
It’s not always smooth sailing, so you have to take the ups and downs of your journey as they come. Keep the faith strong and keep surging ahead.
The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous.
“Even confessing feels good under the right circumstances.”
It was during the time of mid-September when the winter has just started and with Chennai suddenly becoming whimsical with it’s dreamy sunsets and the dew drops in the trees, everybody feels fortunate and happy.
As a 13 year old girl who came home from school happily to go out with her mother, I was disappointed with the rain. I waited anxiously for the rain to stop and once it did I rushed and told my mother to get ready.
The markets were the same, the people were the same but the stories I told my mother became even more interesting each week. The stories were from algebra to catfights to almost everything that filled my mind. Now returning from the noisy market, entering into a quaint street I understood my voice became louder and turned down my voice a little. And going down the street i heard a speeding vehicle nearing us and at the spur of the minute the man in the vehicle gropes my chest and the girl who toned her voice down a minute ago now screams at the top of her voice. I felt assaulted and was assaulted by a person who was my father’s age. My mother searched for words to console me. But I knew my mother needed a lot of consoling than me. We couldn’t do anything more than scream or console. I felt weak. I remembered my parents teaching me different types of touch, and I knew this was a bad touch but my mother was just next to me, does this mean both of us are weak?
No, the only person weak was the one who sped away in the vehicle. The only person ashamed was the one who couldn’t face us and sped away. But before I realized this I felt uneasy to talk about this to people. So, It took literally six long years for me to talk about a groping incident, How long or how resistant will a child take or be? Will it be before he/she realizes it’s not their mistake or after they punish themselves for something they are not responsible for?
Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. I, luckily knew my rights and with the support of my parents knew how to deal with it. But does everyone have privilege for that? We have the responsibility to ensure a safe place for everybody to live in.
Walls painted pink and green with windows as small as a pigeonhole. Narrow staircases with colorful sarees hanging all around is the sight of a room in a red light area. Young and old wait in the alleys with their faces painted and bodies perfumed, covering up a multitude of emotions, selling sex to men who frequent the area from different walks of life – the educated, the illiterate, the rich, the poor, the affluent and so on.
After a short walk, I entered a shack-like room. A young girl named Pinky caught my attention as she carefully examined my footwear that was piled up with some other footwear just outside the door. I sat next to her as she continued to show interest in my footwear and asked if it belonged to me. I responded and offered it to her. In exchange I got to wear her footwear and realized how hard it was to walk in her shoes. Though she didn’t quite fit into mine, she was happy with the exchange for the moment. As we got talking, I got a glimpse of her world through her eyes.
Pinky, caught in a cycle of poverty and exploitation, works in the brothel serving 15 to 20 customers a day on average. She finds momentary comfort for her cravings for love and care from her customers who frequent her. Although she admits that she goes through a gush of mixed emotions, she has learnt the art of numbing her feelings and finding joy in the little things around her – as simple as wearing someone else’s shoes. Within minutes, Pinky was busy answering calls from her customers and did not seem interested in me or my shoes anymore. She left me sitting on a bench wondering what her world is like. She definitely did not belong to the brothel but she was convinced that there was no way out for girls like her. She roams around the red light area like prey that has already surrendered its life to the predator who is too big to fight . Perhaps my few minutes in her shoes rocked my core being to the extent that my encounter with her has now become one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.
As I walked back through the alleys and took a closer look at the painted expressionless faces, I could see an out-pour of hopelessness, fear and anxiety. Behind every painted face is a story that got them into the murky world – some have been pushed into the trade by poverty, abuse and desperation while some others are trapped and tricked into the trade by pimps. Whatever the reason, they live a life that is frightening, controlled and misused by the business-owners, abused by violent customers and become victims of the corrupt system. Rape, abuse, violence and many other crimes are a daily occurrence that is considered part of a normal routine.
Alcohol and drugs add a rosy haze to everything – a crutch that many of them rely on to make life bearable. Though outwardly, they seem to have dressed to attract customers, a closer look at their faces communicate the contrary.
This issue of commercial sex work, abuse, human trafficking and violence against women is a global phenomenon. Looking through Pinky’s eyes, I wonder what it would take to empower young women like her to stand up for justice and change. I wonder what it would take to fight the giant predators rather than surrendering. There are several individuals and social entities that have been combating violence against women, but for many, the situation of hopelessness remains.
However, I believe a change to this situation begins at our homes, our work places and our spheres of influence. Educating our children to respect women will set the bar high on women’s safety and protection. Every act of respect for man and woman is one step closer to making our society a safer place.
Every fight against injustice is worth the risk, worth the love and worth the cost. Let us stand up for Justice, Equality and Change.
This international anti trafficking day we remember Pinky, and all those children trafficked whose stories are like hers.
“You don’t know what people here are like, especially towards someone like you.”
This was one of the first warnings given to me when I arrived in the village. The statement correspondingly led to the meeting of him, my security guard, assigned by the school to ensure my safety for the semester.
Why do I need a security guard? What do they mean someone like me? A teacher? A researcher? An advocate? A musician? A student? A traveller?
A woman. But really, an outsider woman.
I had just moved to a small village in rural Punjab to begin a six month teaching contract in an exclusively female college. I was expected to stay inside the college grounds most of the time, and only leave with the assistance of my security guard.
For the first 2 months I used to pay him to leave me alone, to ‘forget’ to leave the gate unlocked and to develop alibis if anyone asked my location. I paid him for my freedom as I couldn’t surrender to the protocol that was implemented for my benefit. My fierce, independent, over confident, (naïve) 22 year old ego didn’t allow me to be spoken for by a guard.
My ego realised my independence cost 250 rupees and a hot masala chai from the favourite corner side vendor. Those 250 rupees paid for me to travel all over Punjab, being fully immersed in a different culture. I didn’t know it yet that the experience would alter my existence, forever being changed by the stories of the lives I encountered.
Opening up my security guard took three months. I wanted to know him, learn him, understand him. This man who is assigned to be with me every day but I don’t know anything about. Finally by month three he began to talk, and more yet, smile. The rest followed like a montage in a film, supported with a cheesy soundtrack, sepia undertone and laughing audio bites to portray the fast development of our friendship.
He said he considered me as his daughter, and needed me to meet the rest of his family so they could all love me as much as he did. The first visit to his home was where the real initiation process occurred, the bridge transforming this friendship into family. The kindness and warmth was overwhelming, not only did I have a new Indian father but a mother and 2 brothers! He never had a daughter, but always wanted one. I was a blessing, an answering to his prayers, after all these years God had finally answered him. I had never experienced the love and intensity of a Punjabi family. It was like the rewriting of my history, as if I could see the baby pictures of me materialise into their photo albums. I could feel my blood starting to run hot with the blood of a new identity, a Punjabi identity.
A nightly ritual began where I would join Papa Ji for a 7pm chai outside his station near the gate of the college. Each day I looked forward to my 7pm chai’s, like a treat at the end of a long working day where I could replicate the feeling of home. One night I arrived at the gate station and resumed my normal seat like every other day for the past 3 months, but this time Papa Ji told me to bring my chair inside the office. Without a second thought I complied, chai in one hand, chair in the other, mid-sentence debriefing about my day until I heard the door lock behind me. It was then, locked in a gate keeper’s station, did I feel my chai fly out of my hand as I was pinned against the wall with full force.
Then, my Papa Ji, kissed me against my will.
The kiss felt like a knife to my lips slit me open and all the newly acquired Punjabi blood spilled out. The baby pictures unmaterialised, my 5 year old self pixelated before dissipating into nothing. The memories tainted beyond redemption. It was as if my entire Punjabi family entered a car and had a head on collision on the highway, but the one who died was me, as I evaporated out of the delusion I put myself into.
The irony is, he was the one to protect me, he was the one hired purely for the sole reason of my safety, and he was the one who breached it. Not just physically, but emotionally abusing me. It was then I realised this is how every child who goes home to an abusive family member feels. That confusion of what does it mean to be safe? What does it mean to be loved? When my father/mother/uncle/aunt/cousin tells me they love me yet continue to hurt me, is that the definition of love? Why does love feel so bad?
53% of people in India have been sexually abused as a child, and 88% of those abused have been abused by their parent. I, luckily, at the age of 22 knew my rights and my worth to address this problem and take proper steps to deal with it. A child would not know. A child is the emblem of purity and child sexual abuse is a crime against innocence. It is our responsibility as adults to protect our children, and defend that innocence.
Speak up, dare to be fearless.
I had the displeasure of growing up with people who strongly believed that all girls had to behave a certain way. Surprisingly, though I was a child, their worldviews failed to change me. Instead, I found myself wrestling with comments like “She can’t even cook!” or “Watch it! Girls shouldn’t get so angry.”