By Saanya Gulati:Â
The 8th of March commemorates International Women’s Day. A friend recently suggested that I write an article on the ‘global struggle to end violence against women,’ in recognition of this day. This idea was inspired by a recent survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights that reveals shocking statistics about violence against women in EU countries. But as I sat down to write this story, I could not help but ask this: why did my friend, who knows males writers as well, offer me this story idea? Why do we tend to assume that only women should discuss women’s issues?
We don’t expect that only children should talk about children rights, or that only homosexuals should talk about LGBT rights. The massive backlash against Section 377 in India and the solidarity voiced by many in response to New York’s legalizing same-sex marriage are telling of this. Then why do we place moral prerogative on women to speak out against women’s issues? I see two fundamental problems with this tendency.
The first is that it leads to placing women’s issues under blanket-terms like the ‘feminist movement‘. These labels do not do justice to the nuances and diversity that women’s issues encompass. Growing up in a family of educated women, I did not feel less privileged because of my gender. Even in the workplace, I have rarely felt subordinate to the men around me. I am aware that this does not hold true for many women, which is precisely why I do not consider myself to be a legitimate spokesperson for ‘women’ just by virtue of my feminine identity. Women face different issues in different segments of society and it is virtually impossible to extrapolate one woman’s experience to be characteristic of an overall struggle. From daughter who has to fight with her parents to let her pursue higher education, the woman who is eve teased when she is walking alone on the streets, to the darker and more detrimental acts of domestic violence, rape, dowry deaths and genital mutilation, it is impractical to expect women to identify with the depth and breadth of problems that comprise the ‘women’s struggle.’
My second concern with restricting women’s issues to females is that it prevents us from actually resolving many of the problems that women face. The solution to these problems does not lie in women speaking among themselves, because it requires a change in the mindset of those who perpetrate the atrocities. Put simply, it requires a change in male mindsets. Subjects like feminist studies, and fields like gender activism, continue to be dominated by women. But limiting this discourse to women sanctions the stigma associated with openly talking about these issues in society. Globally, crimes against women remain under-reported. The report that the EU recently released found that 67% of women who suffered from physical or sexual violence did not report these incidents to the police. In India, where a comparable survey is absent, human rights groups have repeatedly stated that there is an under-reporting of crimes against women.
Until we continue to classify women’s issues as a women-only domain, we will only perpetuate the inequalities that many women’s groups are working hard to fight against. It is encouraging to see efforts, albeit sporadic, which are trying to depart from the conventional paradigm that gender issues remain mired in. The campaignÂ Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) is a good example of this. ‘Bell Bajao,’ is an anti-domestic violence campaign that calls on men to speak out against the issue. Launched last Women’s Day, the campaign pledged to get one million men to make one million promises to act to end violence against women from 8th March 2013 to 8th March 2014. Today, we need similar initiatives that actively engage men to confront such issues, in order to recognise that women’s issues, like any other social injustice, need to be addressed by the community as a whole.