It is December now and most of us are asking – Where did the year go? It is almost as if we were standing on a platform watching a bullet train whiz by in front of us. Events in the public domain have faded from our mind, even highlights from our personal lives from a few months ago have receded from our consciousness leaving behind only a mild aftertaste. Memory is fickle. Months are merely markers. Life occurs in media res. What remains are questions we were confronted with and the answers we discovered about ourselves and our place in the world.

Perhaps it is because my work and my writing is in this area, perhaps it is an extension of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but I see many more mentions of women and women-oriented issues in the media today. The past year has repeatedly forced me to ask myself the question- What does it mean to be a woman in the world today?

The world still seems unsafe for women. The ghastly rape of the little girl in Kathua and daily stories of rape, assault and violence against women have left most of us wondering if the ‘emancipation’ we have experienced in the recent years comes with a very heavy price. I remain wary about walking in public spaces and am wracked with anxiety every time my teenage daughter stays out at night.

The ghastly rape of the little girl in Kathua and daily stories of rape, assault and violence against women have left most of us wondering if the ‘emancipation’ we have experienced in the recent years comes with a very heavy price.

How can all of us make our society and public spaces safe and respectful?

The #MeToo movement exploded in India in the latter part of the year as many women came out and spoke about the harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men. Sexual harassment in all its insidious forms was everywhere from Bollywood to buzzing news channels. Many women were able to shed their inhibitions, overcome their fears and name the men who had disrespected them. Many of us connected to our stories of exploitation and wondered why we were silent for so many years.

A recent study by the Fawcett Group in the UK found that there has been “a significant shift in attitudes towards sexual harassment since the MeToo movement. More men are aware of their behavior, 58% said that they would speak out against it. Women too have become less inhibited about expressing their opinion.”

How can we build a relationship of trust and mutual respect despite our innate fears and misgivings between genders?

The Sabarimala controversy and the executive order making triple talaq or instant divorce a punishable offence exposed the deep rifts between the traditionalists and modernists when it came to women’s rights. We were forced to examine our notions of purity and piety. Women spoke up about taboo topics like menstruation and questioned customs that prevented us from engaging fully and without shame with the society.

How can I remain true to my faith while honouring my identity as a woman? Which aspect of my identity should prevail in a dilemma?

On a positive note, we also saw many women demolish old stereotypes of marriage and motherhood. Jacinda Ardern gave birth to a child while holding office of the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Her partner seems happy and secure enough to be First husband and prime caregiver. Mary Kom, mother of three, blazed to gold medal glory and has set her eyes on the next Olympic Gold. Sonam, Deepika and Priyanka, leading actresses from Bollywood married their boyfriends without the fear of matrimony ruining their career. Kareena Kapoor is back to work a year after having her baby. While celebrities might be a tiny minority, they do provide role models to many young women who see new possibilities  for their own lives.

Celebrities might be a tiny minority, they do provide role models to many young women who see new possibilities  for their own lives.

How can I balance marriage, motherhood and a career? Is this privilege of choice something only within the reach of a select few?

It is my hope that the next year will bring some answers to the questions that this year brought to the surface. 2019 is the election year in India. It is a good opportunity for women to influence the state of the nation. I will vote and hope that others will do too, not just as a political act but as an expression of their voice. We should demand and expect stringent implementation of the laws for rapists and abusers.

I will vote and hope that others will do too, not just as a political act but as an expression of their voice. We should demand and expect stringent implementation of the laws for rapists and abusers.

It is important to keep alive individual hope and struggles. I hope that GLOW- Growing Leadership of Women, the organization which I have co-founded will go further in our mission of helping women find success and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives. We hope to positively impact many more women to shift their limits and realize their potential. There are many wonderful organizations that are doing their bit not just for women but also for the community.

At a personal level, I hope to find more courage and compassion in my life, to shed some of my own inhibitions and embrace all aspects of being a woman in the world today.

Nirupama Subramanian is an author, leadership development facilitator, certified coach and co-founder of GLOW-Growing Leadership of Women. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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