When women support each other, we grow. When we work together, we can overcome anything. I know this to be true from my own personal experiences.
Before I was involved with feminist groups, I felt very disempowered. For years, I suffered from terrible depression as well as an on-and-off eating disorder that I never told anybody about. It was when I set up the FRIGID feminist collective in the summer of 2017, I overcame depression and bulimia and have never felt so empowered and hopeful.
With that in mind, it was a lovely surprise when I was recently asked to speak at a Girl Up regional summit in New Delhi. Girl Up was founded by the United Nations in 2010. Since then, hundreds of regional and national committees and groups have been set up across the globe to strive for gender equality and female empowerment.
August 30, 2019, saw the first regional summit of Girl Up in India, bringing together committees and members from across north India to celebrate the work that they have been doing, as well as providing some empowering workshops, panel discussions, and speeches. I was asked to talk on the panel about periods, taboos, and stigmas. It was interesting to compare the situations in the UK (where I am from) and India. Whilst our countries are extremely different, women face very similar problems. It was a powerful reminder that feminism is a global fight. We must not forget that.
It was heartening to be in an atmosphere so full of enthusiasm, with everyone keen to participate. People of all ages, genders, and backgrounds filled the audience, eager to discuss what feminism, toxic masculinity, and empowerment meant to each of them. It was a beautiful coming together of such a diverse audience with a shared passion – feminism. I found it particularly interesting to draw parallels between what was being said about women’s struggles in India and my own experiences back home in the UK, a thousand miles away.
Participants had a chance to look at feminism from a global perspective, discussing the ways in which we can unite and work together to overcome global patriarchal structures. Worldwide, around 62 million girls are denied access to education. More than one in three women are sexually abused at some point. Child brides are still forced into marriages with disturbingly older men. Around 200 million girls have endured Female Genital Mutation (FGM). 71% of all trafficking victims are women. Women represent 60% of all malnourished people. These are global issues that transcend borders. It is a fight that we must unite to challenge.
As well as being informative, the summit was thoroughly enjoyable. People shared intimate stories with strangers, detailing their experiences with toxic relationships and sexual assault. Young poets shared their work. Bhavya Malhotra, author of “Cages of Gender and Patriarchy”, read a heartfelt poem about her relationship with feminism. People came together from all over north India to share ideas and it was a great reminder of the good that can come out of grassroots activism!
Panels discussed mental health, menstrual stigmas, global feminism, intersectional feminism, and toxic masculinity, as well as debating tactics to tackle each issue. Toxic masculinity refers to a particular set of cultural norms that promote dominance, violence, and aggression. These characteristics have become normalised by patriarchal structures and social dismissals to toxic behaviour, such as “boys will be boys”–my least favourite.
Community organising and activism have proven to be a crucial element of social and political movements throughout history, this is evident in all social movements throughout history. Change is rarely given to people, men and women alike have come together to fight for rights, and suffrage movements around the world are poignant examples of this. In this world, we have to come together and fight for what’s right. It’s not fair, but it’s true. I encourage you, regardless of your age or gender, to join your local Girl Up group or another feminist community. Feminist groups encourage personal and collective empowerment in a safe and supportive space. If there isn’t one in your area, why not set one up?