An important trend in contemporary India is the greater visibility of women’s activism where issues such as those of women in workplaces, sexual violence, the status of women in India’s culture, and so on are becoming more readily accessible to people. Most of these issues, however, are those that are widely reported, and many important issues in women’s activism remain that are not readily perceptible for most people.
Issues such as female infanticide, child marriage, the rights of women in agricultural landholdings for example qualify as important issues that fall outside the radar. The nature and scale of perceptibility are among the most important factors that determine the reach of women’s activism. A certain disparity, however, persists in the perception of women’s activism wherein some issues gain greater traction whereas other issues are less prominent in the public sphere.
Quite a few prominent women’s movements are largely under-reported in the global arena as well. For example, the women’s movement in Iran, the movement of domestic workers in the United States of America, the Romani women’s movement in Europe, the Piquet era movement in Argentina, the Palestinian women’s movement, the struggles of disabled women, etc. are all not very perceptible to ordinary people the world over. What is largely visible however in the public sphere are the struggles and concerns mostly of women in centres of activity which gets communicated readily. Issues that gain visibility due to their ability to get communicated to a wide audience become the most prominent issues in women’s activism.
We live in an age of critical realism, where credibility is an important aspect that determines mediated reality. The media exists as a prosthetic of the self wherein one looks for definitions of the self within the perceived realness in messages of mediated communication. This is especially true in the case of mediated politics, wherein mediated reality is more influential when it is seen as more credible in terms that are more relatable to the observer. As such, we see clusters of mediated activity wherein events and ideas that invite the empathy of reception in terms of relatedness based on the perceived realness of mediated communication in reception become the predominant issues in the public sphere. Therein, the public sphere is populated with certain issues that appear more real to many observers in terms of relatedness that become the predominant issues in terms of perception.
Much of mediated reception is consumed by working-class people, who also wield influence over mobilisations over prominent issues raised in the public sphere. Many popular issues in women’s activism in India are working-class issues that are perceived as more real in terms of relatedness. While working-class issues such as the gender pay gap, sexual violence, freedom for women in their daily lives, and so on are dominant in the public sphere, at the same time in India, aversion to daughters, for example, is affecting the child sex ratios.
The Guardian reports that more than 63 million women are missing in India and 21 million girls are unwanted by their families as per Indian government officials. However, the phenomenon is largely under-reported. Many working-class families in India raise daughters despite social evils such as dowry being predominant in Indian society. The aversion for daughters becomes an obscure issue because it is an issue wherein activities are carried out secretly or it is not readily talked about openly. With this tendency, the issue becomes one that is not readily visible in the public sphere and as such when the ordinary observer comes across reports of the same, one might not perceive it as real in terms of relatedness. Women’s activism over such issues becomes difficult when public perception over such issues cannot garner a wide audience.
Many issues exist in Indian society wherein women are disadvantaged but the issue is not talked about openly. This can have ramifications in terms of the perceptibility and reach of women’s activism in the public sphere. The movement against sexual violence can be praised for making people in India talk about what was previously one such obscure issue. Another issue that is becoming more perceptible is mobilisations for greater freedom for women in their daily lives such as in the case of being outdoors at night-time in cities. Many issues can also be a case of a lack of communication outreach, or a case of a lack of awareness of their rights or policy outreach, especially in the case of rural women.
All these require wider perceptibility for them to be part of wider movements of women’s activism. With a social silence on many issues concerning women, many women’s issues face the danger of improperly being perceived as real by wider audiences in the public sphere. The occasion for social justice also emerges along with the discussion of issues which with greater perceptibility can have more effect. The problem is one of being real and credible as an issue to the wider audiences of the public sphere, and in this many issues face the problem of social silence or cultural normalization.
Mediated communication and women’s activism can be an effective tool against these, yet for many women’s issues in India, women’s activism still faces the problem of perception.