Become the Empowerment Yourself!
Yet another gang rape. And the media debates over calling her a victim or a survivor in print “ a debate that doesn’t extend itself to the question of objectification of women through their own institutions.
Well, at least this time people haven’t asked what she was wearing and why was she out there at all. For, she was out doing her job, accompanied by a male colleague, and it was still daylight when the incident took place. Going by reports, it was not something where the five criminals lost control of their faculties on seeing the woman “ two of them took care and initiative to call up the other three, to join them in a crime they have allegedly committed before, more than once. To perpetrate evil is a choice they made after due planning. They have allegedly preyed on four women previously, all of them rag pickers, none of whom filed a complaint. While this says volumes about the faith that people from this strata of the society have in our authorities, the five criminals’ luck ran out when they picked their fifth.
She is a girl who had her wits about her even while facing mortal danger and what is considered as the ultimate humiliation, not even letting her mother know about the situation she was in or she would have been killed. She wants to get back to work and complete the story she was working on when the attack on her took place¦ despite the trauma, despite her injuries, despite the fact that danger continues to lurk on our streets.
In all this, one fact stands out: This photojournalist recuperating at the Jaslok Hospital in the bustling metro of Mumbai is not just any survivor; she is a wonderfully and truly empowered woman “ a rare gem in this country where the numbers of educated, independent women are growing steadily. This woman knows that rape is not the end of life and is not afraid to say it.
She is saying the words we should have heard long ago. She is doing a bigger service to our country’s social fabric than did anyone who tried to sensitize us against such crimes by making us see a rape victim as a zinda laash “ a viewpoint of which a lot of our society and media is guilty. Yes it must be unbearably humiliating to be threatened, violated in the most intimate way possible but it would be doing a disservice to women to tell them that this one crime is such that tarnishes or finishes their soul.
My view is: If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. There can be no grey areas here. For those of us who believe in a healthy, safe, and secure society, the numbers are not in our favour. Ours is a country where 90% of the rape accused walk free. That’s not all. Day in and day out, Indian roads expose women to the menace of stalking, verbal harassment, physical harassment, leery looks, etc while they come home to discrimination and lack of freedom, and our women take this as a way of life. Either we can sit back and lament ˜what has our society come to’ or we can take some very basic steps towards self-empowerment. My list of 10 things women can do now to empower themselves transformed into the 10 commandments of self empowerment when I took it to the students of Isabelle Thoburn Women’s College in Lucknow last week.
My message to women:
1) Come together: If men can have a brotherhood, why can’t women have a sisterhood?
Remember that when you criticize fellow women for the way they carry themselves or the way they dress, you are strengthening a stereotype that stands to turn on you some day. It’s a stereotype that makes it okay for us to criticize a working woman’s, a businesswoman’s, a politician’s dress rather than focus on their work, their policies, their achievements.
Think about how no one, not even popular media spares a thought about a man’s dressing but a Pakistani foreign minister’s apparel draws reams of newsprint. This attitude must change.
Women are commonly found calling it unfair that in a man’s world, they are only judged by their looks. And, media has a big hand in this. I say that being 50% of the population, women have ample thrust should they decide to shun TV serials and shows that portray them in a regressive manner.
Women are more than their looks. If you don’t believe it, no one will.
2) Build opinion against those who portray women poorly.
Media is the mirror of our society. Most people welcome the raw sexuality in item songs and the lyrics of present-day songs, including the bold themes our cinema is seen portraying as a step towards breaking of unwanted taboos. Needless to say that it is mostly women who are treated as eye-candy and as a sex object ¦ all catering to the male gaze. If this aspect is brought to the attention of all those people involved in the media “ advertisers, TV channels, producers, directors, actors, these men and women all huddle up defensively to say that they cater to adults, who are capable of making a distinction between reel life and real life.
My answer, don’t buy it. If there were any logic to it, our government would not be giving out ever-more-prominent warnings against the use of tobacco products and the risk of cancer they carry. Also, the business of advertising would simply not exist if everyone knew their talk to be pumped-up gimmicks.
Think. Think before you encourage a certain viewpoint circulating in the media. Think before you silently accept discrimination related to culture or traditions. Media affects the way we understand society and there is no doubt about it.
3) Education is the key
Education is more than just a means to get a job, make money, and be independent. If you don’t follow the first two steps, you may bring in a paycheck but there is no guarantee you will be able to break the cycle of gender discrimination at home, in the society, or even at your workplace.
4) Be a change agent
Our relationships are the most important things in life. Try your best to encourage people around you to develop a healthy respect for women. Encourage friends to speak healthily about women, take a personal stand in not encouraging relationships where you are made to feel diffident, less than capable, less than respected, less than wanted or cherished. Women’s roles in a family should include the aspect of propagating gender equality: mothers should educate their sons AND daughters, sisters should educate their brothers in this regard, etc.
5) Silence is tacit approval; provide strength to others
Fear, shame, and judgment are used by various elements of our society to silence women who have faced attacks. This strengthens the perpetrators. Don’t keep quiet. If you know someone who has faced any form of attack be compassionate, provide strength and support, not judgment.
6) Raise your voice against a consumer culture that challenges our intelligence
Do you love your family and friends, regardless of whether there are fair or dark, short or tall¦? Do you believe they love you in the same way? Then why fret over the colour of one’s skin or one’s dress size? While it is extremely important to be healthy, fit, and well-groomed, why allow products such as fairness creams, anti-ageing creams, fashion companies to make you feel insecure? We are all beautiful in our own unique ways.
7) Girls are not paraya dhan; Household work should not be the exclusive burden of women
Recognise social ills for what they are. Traditions must be judged on the basis of the time and the kind of society in which they began. Girls are not paraya dhan. You are not some ˜dhan’, paraya or apna, regardless. You are not a thing, a commodity, a bank account, or a bundle of wedding gifts. You are a person, an individual.
As a member of the family, household responsibilities should be shared by every member of the family to the extent that they can. The burden of such responsibility should not fall squarely and exclusively on girls. Boys go out and play, girls help around in the kitchen “ this attitude will do nothing to ensure a better, more equitable society.
8) Learn to say no
Most of us have to perform under social obligations from time to time but girls have it a lot harder in our society. Women must learn to be assertive, communicate their needs firmly, and learn to say no to things they wish not to do.
9) Support and recognize fellow women
Not many of us knew about Indian women’s hockey team winning the third place in junior Hockey World Cup held in Germany until it became a small meme on Facebook. I am sure most of us enjoyed watching Chak de India though¦ This team’s story is even more inspirational than the one shown in the film. How many women inventors, scientists, sportswomen do you follow? It is not that women have made no accomplishments “ they just haven’t been recognized for it. Your support and interest in women’s achievements will generate an interest which our media and government will have to cater to. Until this happens, our society will continue to complacently support only men’s pursuits.
10) Be positive
Things are changing and things will change. If you want your world to change, you will have to participate.