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Why Are Female Achievers Missing From ‘General Knowledge’?

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By Shrilakshmi Tiru:

Article 53 of the Indian constitution talks about the President and the executive power of the union that “shall be exercised by him“; and this is just one of the innumerable passages which wipes out the possibility and the acknowledgement of anybody but a male to occupy the constitutional posts. And this continues even when women have held the post of President and Prime Minister of India and currently hold the post of Chief Minister, MPs, MLAs, and Speaker.

womenachievers

The more disquieting part is the nonchalance with which we lap it up every day. Vested interests of the conformists have been naturalised, ossified and gift wrapped given to us to an extent that we fail to notice it quite often. The Gramscian common sense is what seems to be at work.

It is but natural that we learnt the name of the Father of our Nation in General Knowledge lessons. Weren’t there any deserving women to contend for a label of that high a stature? And if there were, would calling them ‘the Mother of the Nation’ be a tad too much? Even the phrase would probably sound preposterous to many; deviant almost!
Charles Babbage, Father of the Computer, we all are aware; but why is Ada Lovelace, the first programmer, the first to prepare an algorithm to run on Babbage’s machine absent from the larger picture? Why didn’t we ever encounter Judith Estrin‘s name, one of the pioneers in developing IP specifications underlying internet technology, in our Computer Science books?

Our nomenclature classes in Biology were introduced to us with the name of the Father of Modern Taxonomy – Carl Linnaeus – but probably the ink ran out when it came to mentioning Maria Sibylla, world’s pioneering ecologist, naturalist and entomologist, to whom even Linnaeus referred to for his works.

Pages and pages on Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev, Surya Sen exist in History but not many of us know about Aruna Asaf Ali or Sucheta Kriplani. Probably nobody would name Sumati Morarjee as a leading industrialist when she even though she became the president of Indian National Steamship Owner’s Association, as early as 1956 and is also known to be the first woman in the world to head an organization of ship owners.

Some we might know of only because they were the ‘first’ to do something. We work with a double edged sword when we gender the achievements but it is also important to create a positive image in the popular imagination. No wonder then that Indira Gandhi was called a ‘Lady Prime Minister‘ in innumerable speeches and interviews. The attempt to qualify the use of the office with ‘lady’, the inability to put aside the ‘burden‘ of her gender, betrayed the political consciousness which saw offices only worthy of a male.

The allegation is not of somebody holding a personal grudge against achievers incidentally women, but of a prolonged, sustained blind eye towards these women, and not an innocuous one at that. People generally, work for and achieve what they see. So why do we generally turn to women only when our atavistic impulses knock from the within? Sure, we do know our Indra Nooyi, Christine Lagarde, Chanda Kochhar, etc., but is that all? Undoubtedly numbers are on the rise, but in a skewed fashion. Probably the fact that we know a significantly larger number of women in Bollywood/Hollywood is also an aspect of the Gramscian ‘common sense‘. Where are the other women? What are they doing? Why don’t we know about them?

The questions can be spared a thought, a constructive action could grow towards acquainting the world with achievers of the female gender or they can be tossed aside as what Yeats called the “voice grew shrill“.

You must be to comment.
  1. Monistaf

    If they are missing, how did you learn about them? I, personally have heard of most of the names you mention. There are a lot of women who have made headlines and have been recognized for their work. If your concern is that they are being left out when compared to men, it is probably because the vast majority of innovation in computing, science and business have been men.

    1. Iconoclast

      Oh wow. So women have always had equal rights and opportunities, right? Does the word context mean anything to you? Your comment betrays your abysmal knowledge of history, among other things. The author was trying to highlight the way society insidiously effaces the contribution and role of women, prefacing and qualifying it at every turn.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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