By Lipi Mehta:
This Women’s Day, Youth Ki Awaaz, in association with Havells India, hosted a very special Twitter chat. We reached out to five inspiring changemakers whose work has helped create a more gender-equal and inclusive world. They are the #WindsOfChange in society and it was a pleasure to chat with them about their work, memorable moments from their lives, and things and people that inspire them. More than anything, the chat proved that it’s high time to #RespectWomen as equal stakeholders in society, whether its Women’s Day or not. You can read the complete chat, below. You could also view this conversation on Twitter and share your inputs, here.
1. What has been the most defining moment of your career so far, and why?
I argued and won a big commercial case a few years ago. While celebrating, a male colleague made a sexual comment. The harassing comment – considered every day, ‘normal’ – is something I shamed and shut down immediately. But I realised anew, that the extra work we get for being women is everybody’s work, not just for individual professionals. Also, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Truly successful women change the game for themselves and others.
2. What was it about the legal profession that made you want to become a lawyer?
This is simple – power and impact! I looked long and hard for a vocation, and the law is an important tool, plus real change.
3. Do you believe that well-behaved women seldom make history? Yes or no, and why? (Question asked by @tina_acharya)
‘Good behaviour’ is going by someone else’s rules. For women that usually means staying in a stultifying gender box.
4. What is that one stereotype or myth you’d want to bust about women working in law?
That there are brilliant women lawyers in every area of law, not just family law or women’s rights. Justice Ruma Pal, Meenakshi Arora, Zia Mody, Kamini Jaiswal, Indu Malhotra and many others do fantastic work in diff areas.
1. What made you start a women’s e-zine and cover sexual health, violence, politics and related topics?
We wanted to read a greater range of writing about women’s experiences. Everything from health to clothes to sports and work. Post December 16, 2012, there was the illusion of more gender reporting. But it was more news about sexual violence written by men. And even the reporting about sexual violence was all frightening stock pictures and frightening patriarchy with headlines.
2. Of the countless stories you’ve reported, can you share some that brought you immense joy?
In December 2015, we worked with our friends @KhabarLahariya to report on Haryana’s new electoral restrictions. Last year, we ran a series of pieces on the Women’s FIFA. We kind of love our sports pieces. In recent times, maximum giggling happened when we put together a playlist for the air quality crisis. That much giggling is usually reserved for politicians statements on gender!
3. In your experience, how has more women speaking up online led to change on the ground?
Online spaces have definitely given one class of Indian women a chance to make the thinking on gender more diverse. Online spaces give us a chance to crowd-source resources, fact-check, campaign – all kinds of things. Last year we ran a series of pieces inspired by @AIIndia‘s ‘Ready to Report’ campaign. The series had a range of women talking about what happened when they went to the police station to report violence. One of the astonishing things that happened was when we ran a piece by our friends at @KhabarLahariya (KL). The story galvanised the UP Government to take action against a man who was stalking the KL reporters for months! And really, only because folks on Twitter were enraged and banged at the doors of the UP Chief Minister’s online presence. Months and months of reporting to the cops and nothing had happened. But the KL reporters wrote this piece. And within hours, the stalker was arrested.
4. We would love to know of any comments or feedback you remember on how your work has inspired your readers.
Our readers send us great tips, keep us on the straight and narrow, politically. They push us all the time and laugh a lot. We feel very lucky to have our community online.
1. In your experience with @SHEROESIndia, how can empowering more women with technology bring change on the ground?
Technology allows for scale and pace, and cost decreases with adoption. It can help leapfrog large economic and social gaps faster.
2. According to you, what’s the best part about being an entrepreneur, today?
Massive opportunity, openness and the ability to impact.
3. Have women whom @SHEROESIndia has helped become #WindsOfChange in their own lives? And how?
So many of them. For example, @archana_arora1 – from a digital immigrant to powering digital careers.
4. And finally, as an entrepreneur what was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Creating a valid space for women’s careers.
1. What has been your biggest learning so far in the journey of discovering your gender identity?
Hmm. That transitioning doesn’t cure me of my anxieties and insecurities, that it doesn’t excuse my past shitty behaviour and that I have internalised transphobia which kind of makes me a shitty friend to other trans people at times. Also, clothes and presentation are extremely gendered in people’s perception of you. Another thing I learnt after coming out as trans is, I tend to be quieter, and some people read my silence in various ways.
2. With the Trans Rights Bill in discussion, do you notice any positive changes for the trans community in society?
If we are talking of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment bill, there were some issues a bunch of people pointed out, the trans community and others, including disability rights groups. The whole bill seemed to be slightly out of date, in that it talked of rehabilitation and not rights. Trans people need rights. We’ll each work on our own rehabilitation.
A big part of the discourse around trans people seems to be made by cisgender people who look at us as poor people needing saving. One positive change is how, many more groups – LGBTQI and allies – have realised the fight needs to be in different fronts, and that intersectionality is the only way to fix some of these deep societal barriers. More people are now aware of trans issues and talk of trans rights, which is cool. But it won’t matter till we are represented by trans people at any forum making decisions about trans and intersex people. Nothing about us without us.
3. What according to you is the best way to create awareness about gender and sexuality?
Depends on who the audience is. Kinda’ difficult to say really. People have various internal conceptions and prejudices to overcome. But on-the-ground activities involving the community, sex education with sexuality will help. Also seeing more LGBTQI events like pride, the @ciqff @bqff etc. will help. Media presence – mainstream media, vernacular media, written for, by LGBT persons.
Out and public LGBTQI folks can change perceptions. Depends, again, on one’s own prejudices. Twitter and Facebook work for a bit but the larger part of the population is outside these silos. So talking to them where they are, with their life experiences and their own parameters – that is essential
4. What motivates you to continue your work in a society that can be very prejudiced?
Oh. I’m doing very, very, very little. I have a fair amount of privilege and support. So, I don’t have to starve, or be homeless. I do what I know to do best. Write. It asks for very little effort compared to the actual work people put in.
1. As a film producer in an industry dominated by men, what is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Believing first that I was just as capable of doing the job, man’s world or not.
2. A message you would like to give to the girls who face discrimination in our society? (Question from @little9496)
Only YOU can define your path. Choose to educate, work and empower yourself.
3. What do you think is the greatest challenge faced by Indian women? (Question from @Pratheek_NM)
Access to health, education, employment and gender discrimination.
4. As a producer, what sort of films and stories are you looking to encourage?
Films that are socially relevant and stories that engage and stir the conscience towards better choices and actions.
5. If you could think of one new law, which one would you choose? (Question from @danabolly)
Maternity leave for fathers.
6. What’s the one change you’d like to personally work towards bringing in the world?
To spread the understanding that we will ALL stand the same fate as the nature we displace.
7. Girls are told to be shy, simple and be more respectful to others than boys. How to change this mentality? (Question from @PurnimaHK_SG)
Find your own individuality, your voice, your reason. Don’t be confined by stereotypes, boy or girl.
8. As an actor, what’s one aspect of being part of the film industry that you find empowering?
The ability to connect with so many people.To have their love. To able to engage with them.
9. What according to you is the biggest obstacle to women empowerment in India? (Question from @ChhajerVineet)
The fact that many sections of society treat women as a commodity or a liability.
10. Are things equal for actors & actresses in Bollywood? (Question from @TweetsByPrateek)
Not equal. But with more women becoming active participants in film-making, this will change.
It’s quite evident that it’s not just these five changemakers but any of us can create real impact in the world – if we take action when we witness injustice, if we refuse to not let silence be our only option in a society that more often than not, discriminates against its own. Well, we sure hope you enjoyed reading this chat as much as we enjoyed hosting it. Share it ahead and spread the #WindsOfChange!