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Isn’t It Time To Stop Viewing Women Only As Wives, Mothers Or Daughters?

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“There is a good principle which created order, light, and man and an evil principle which created chaos, darkness, and woman.” -Pythagoras

When I call myself a woman from a different land, I don’t mean it geographically.  Just, at a tender age of 20, I already find myself full of discontentment, full of unanswered questions, unheard doubts. I’m often told to shut up, lower my voice, ground my opinions and to take it easy. Not just men, but women have told me multiple times to curb my urge to understand every social norm that a woman of this society is chained to. Enough ink has flowed over the quarrel about women yet it is still being talked about.

The object of this paper is to clarify as unmistakably as I am capable, the grounds of a conclusion, which I have held from a most punctual period; when I had shaped any assessments whatsoever on social or political issues, and which instead of being weakened or modified, has been constantly growing stronger, by progress of reflection and experience of life

Since all civilisations have been patriarchal, regardless of the overall human rights conditions maintained in society, women have been subject to more human rights violations than men. Women establish the most unfortunate and the least incredible sections of their networks. They are denied equivalent access to instruction, work preparing, business, relaxation time, pay, property, social insurance, open office, basic leadership power and opportunities, just as command over their very own body and life. Social standards, laws and methods of reasoning, including those that are viewed as dynamic and emancipator, have as a rule oppressed woman.

Woman? What is she? Sadly, she is still just a womb to the majority of the people in modern society.

In the words of Simone de Beauvoir “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

In the bosom of the family, a woman seems, in the eyes of childhood and youth, to be clothed in social dignity, manners and respect. Later on, in marriage, many respects woman as wife and mother, and in her social circle, she is always seen as somebody’s daughter, wife, mother, lover, but never as someone. Women, even in the 21st century, have to struggle hard to make an identity of their own, to be called as ‘someone’ rather than ‘someone’s’.

Women In History

Being a student of English literature and History, one question always struck me; it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature, when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet.

What were the conditions in which women lived? I ask myself. I went, therefore, to the shelf where history stands, and took down History of England. Once more, I looked up Women, found ‘position of’ and turned to the page indicated. ‘Wife beating’ I read ‘was a, perceived right of man, and was practised without disgrace by high and low.

Similarly, the historian goes on; “the girl who won’t wed the nobleman of her parent’s decision was subject to be bolted up, beaten, and flung about the room, with no stun been caused on popular supposition.”

Marriage was not an undertaking of individual love, yet of family voracity, especially in the “chivalrous” high societies. Not being a historian, one might go even further and say that women have burnt like beacons, in all the work of all poets, from the beginning of time.

In the words of Virginia Woolf “Clytemnestra, Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Ph`edre, Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona among the dramatists; then among the prose writers: Millamant, Clarissa, Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary – the names flock to mind, nor do they recall women ‘lacking in personality and character.’ Indeed, if a woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater. But this is a woman in fiction.”

Thus, a very queer composition being emerged. Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact, she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger.

Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life, she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.

And talk not to me of The Manor Court and the Methods of Open- field Agriculture, The Cistercians and Sheep-farming, The Crusades, The university, The House of Commons, The Hundred Year’s War, The Wars of the Roses, The Renaissance Scholars, The Dissolution of the Monasteries, Agrarian and Religious Strife, The Origin of English Seapower, The Armada and so on. Occasionally an individual woman is mentioned, an Elizabeth, or a Mary; a queen or a great lady. But by no possible means could middle-class women, with nothing but brain and character at their command, have taken part in any one of the great movements which, brought together, constitute the historian’s view of the past.

Women Rights Are Human Rights

Women’s Rights is an extremely ethical topic, that is surrounded by ethical theories and has a lot of history. While some of the theoretical systems in ethics have helped to gain women their rights, others have assisted in preventing women rights.

However genuine, holes and infringement stay in each area of the present reality, and progress has been inadmissibly moderate, especially for the most underestimated women and young girls. Segregation in the law perseveres in numerous nations.

Women don’t partake on an equivalent balance with men in governmental issues. They face obtrusive separation in labour markets and access to monetary resources. The numerous types of brutality coordinated unequivocally towards them, and they are often denied their privileges, and very frequently, their lives.

Unsuitably elevated levels of maternal mortality proceed in certain districts. Unpaid care outstanding tasks at hand keep on constraining ladies’ pleasure in their privileges. Despite great strides made by the international women’s rights movement over many years, women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked into forced labour and sex slavery.

They are refused access to education and political participation, and some are trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. Around the world, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are needlessly high, and women are prevented from making deeply personal choices in their private lives. Human Rights Watch is working toward the realisation of women’s empowerment and gender equality—protecting the rights and improving the lives of women and girls on the ground.

The Long Wait For Justice For Women In India

The 27-year-old veterinarian had called her family to say she was stranded with a flat tire in India’s Hyderabad city, and that a truck driver and his friends had offered to help. Then she stopped answering her phone. Later, her family learned that she had been gang-raped and murdered.

All of this is hauntingly familiar. Indian newspapers regularly carry stories of gruesome violence against women and girls and the ensuing lack of justice. Following nationwide protests after the 2012 gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi, India’s government adopted significant legal reforms.

However, as Human Rights Watch has found, these changes largely remain on paper. Survivors of sexual violence face formidable barriers, from reporting to police, to obtaining health care, counselling, and legal aid. Powerful perpetrators are often protected by the authorities. Increasingly, the victim’s and perpetrator’s religions have unleashed religious prejudice.

According to the latest Indian government data, crimes against women increased by 6% in 2017 over the previous year. Police registered 33,658 cases of rape – an average of 92 every day. Women and girls have a right to live with dignity and free from violence. Concerned Indians should consider the words from the United Nations conference focused on violence against women: “Be angry. Ask your government for change.”

Government officials should end their lazy political rhetoric and recognise that calls for the violent punishment of perpetrators does little to protect women and girls. India has enough strict laws. What is needed is enforcement, police accountability, a more sensitive and responsive criminal justice and healthcare system, and a concerted campaign to address gender-based discrimination. Women and girls should be able to live in safety.

Domestic Workers

Tens of millions of women and girls around the world are employed as domestic workers in private households. They clean, cook, care for children, look after elderly family members, and perform other essential tasks for their employers.

Despite their important role, they are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world. They often work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages far below the minimum wage. They may be locked within their workplace and subject to physical and sexual violence. Children and migrant domestic workers are often the most vulnerable. An international treaty – the Domestic Workers Convention – was adopted in June 2011, providing the first global standards to protect domestic workers.

On the other point, which is involved in the just equality of women, their admissibility to all the function and occupations hitherto retained as the monopoly of the strong sex. I should anticipate no difficulty in convincing anyone, who has gone with me on the subject of equality of women in the family, I believe that their disabilities elsewhere are only clung to in order to maintain their subordination in domestic life; because the generality of the male sex cannot tolerate the idea of living with an equal.

A Better Tomorrow

I’m blessed enough to have an upbringing to speak my mind and I will. I am left with the understanding that this concept we call “freedom” is one that some women consider an existential threat.

It is destabilising to their worldview, their belief system and way of life. To be a free woman is to shrug off the dubious cloak of “protection” that patriarchy offers, which is its unique selling point for many women.

I do not suggest that such women are weak. I merely offer only that they have been deceived and that they have been coached through fear into fear. This is also why so many people are unhappy, because of the pressures of being “free” to work and add to income, and at the same time “unfree” as they have no freedom of choice, will topple the most stable person into an abyss of unhappiness and confusion.

Our societal norms are preferentially framed, making women vulnerable to character assassination. We have to undergo the ‘knife’ many a time, be it our personal life or professional zone. Unfortunately, the proportion of assassin largely belongs to the same community- ‘Women’. But I’m glad people are realising this thread and a large number of students are addressing these issues.

You cannot chain up the students just because you see them raising, doing better than what they did yesterday/ You cannot ask them to sit quietly witness the utter gibberish. You cannot have interactive sessions in college and universities about women empowerment, without giving equal rights to female and male students. You cannot shut me up just because you don’t find sense in my talking.

I truly wish I could go forward in time to see what becomes of this in a hundred years.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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