In the Same World: Feminism, Writing, Social Justice
“In the same world where women would be in charge of making peace, the bodies of women would be battlegrounds where war would be waged ceaselessly.”
When I was 15, I told myself that I would follow a career in Humanitarian Affairs and Development. I would never become a feminist. I would never, ever stand and scream until I’m hoarse saying that I needed rights as a woman. I counted on myself as empowered, and found it ridiculous to hear women cry that they suffered “deprivation” of rights. I found it stupid that women would stand and argue in parliaments, demanding that they be given legal rights, when they already had them in tow! Blame it on my upbringing. My parents brought me up treating me as a human being. I was neither deprived of anything nor offered any special treatment because to my gender.
Ten years later, I found myself somewhere near my goal. I began working with grassroots organizations and on projects with the UN. And before I knew it, I became part of feminist organizations that worked for women’s rights. That is when the true essence of feminism–the grain of true activism separated from the chaff of jingoism–smacked me hard in the face. I learned the importance of being a feminist for the woman in need.
With these organizations, I was just a writer: an ordinary nerd across continents and oceans from where these organizations functioned, staring at a computer screen and churning out piece after piece after piece, following copious research. What difference are you making, anyway? I’d ask. You’re just writing. I’d tell myself. Does your writing bring any justice to the ones in need? I’d ask myself.
Well, I have no idea. Does it make any difference? Did it make any difference? To them, I don’t know. To me, it did, it does, and it will, always.
When I wrote, I narrated the stories of women in distress. I told the world stories that were so real they had to be fictionalized to be digested. I told the world of the things women went through, children went through. I told the world what it already knew – or at least, most of the world already knew. Stories of rape. Domestic violence. Honour killings. Deprivation. Gender violence. Foeticide. Infanticide.
As I wrote, I grew, because I didn’t just tell these stories, I felt them. What were just words for me here was the reality, the harsh truth for a woman miles away. As much as the world was “ahead,” it was also terribly backward.
I travelled in my research. I went to war-stricken Afghanistan where women bear the brunt of living a crippled life– facing domestic violence, honour killings, rape, and an abject deprivation of their every right. I went to DR Congo where women still bear the brunt of sexual wiolence aplenty, and suffer indignities in the hands of the very society that should protect them. I went to different parts of India, where I learned of girl foetuses being killed in the womb because they were girls, where tribal women are forced to dance naked to be able to get a meal. I traveled to parts of the Middle East where women are the property of their men, and could even be killed or raped with no one asking questions. I went to Nigeria, where girls are subjected to the harsh malpractice of genital mutilation, and their cries were so loud that they were silent. I went to Pakistan and Palestine, where women are subjected to the awful nightmare of murder in the name of protecting their familial honour. I went to South East Asia where girls are born into brothels, and live their lives there, without knowing that they were made slaves. I traveled to Kosovo and Houston, Texas, where their dirtiest secret, the filthy game of human trafficking, has many a woman under its fold. I went to Latin America where “poverty has a woman’s face.”
In the same world where a woman had the freedom to work as an equal with a man, a woman was also subservient to a man and could not work whatsoever. In the same world where a woman had the right to be educated, a woman was also forced to give up school because her society ordained otherwise. In the same world where a woman was free to choose who she would marry and when she would marry, a woman was forced to marry a man many years older than her while she was still a mere child. In the same world where women would be respected and their honour safeguarded with dignity, a woman would also be used as a miserable sex-slave. In the same world where women would be in charge of making peace, the bodies of women would be battlegrounds where war would be waged ceaselessly, devoid of all compunction.
I learned, quite simply, that there is something intricately linking the backbone of society and women. I realized that when one of those woven threads constituting the weft in the fabric is unraveled, society is crippled. I may not be an expert. I may be far more ordinary than I know I am. I may lack expertise in totality. But I know one thing: I am a drop in the ocean, but a drop, nevertheless. I am one among the scores of other women who serve as a conduit between the oppressed and the outside world. That is why I am proud to be a feminist.
Kirthi Jayakumar is a lawyer and writer. Read more on her blog.
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