One cannot forget the picture of two Muslim girls Aysha Renna and Ladeeda Farsana protecting young male students from being beaten up by the Delhi police during the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Nor will we quickly forget the viral video of the young woman with the pink scarf standing up for her rights. The clarity with which she expressed her views was very inspiring. Further, agree or disagree with Mamta Banerjee, she was one of the first Chief Ministers to announce that the CAA and NRC will not be implemented in her State, paving the way for other Chief Ministers to follow.
Women like them are turning out to be the face of the resistance. They’re not the first of the year to speak out. We started this year with millions of women forming a human chain called the “women’s wall” which extended 620 kms from one end of Kerala to another. This act was in solidarity with the Sabrimala judgement allowing women of menstruating age to enter the temple and was symbolic of gender equality and inclusivity.
Women are participating vociferously and fearlessly in protests all over the country and around the world. Take the protests in Sudan and Russia and you will find a woman as the face of it. Even the global fight for climate change is being led by a 16 year old girl from Sweden – Greta Thunberg.
It feels as though #TimesUp, as the trending hashtag indicates. Women want a change. They want a better, inclusive and safer world where they have an equal opportunity to the benefits of social, political and economic policies.
It is true that gender insensitive policies have left women and girls behind and whilst they are by no means a minority group, they are often treated as though they are. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic impacting one in three women on an average around the world as per UN Women. In India, everyday there are almost 90 rapes and that number for sure is under-reported. Women in India earn 65% of what their male peers earn and their numbers in the formal labour force is at a dismal 24%, falling year on year. This year alone, Uttarakhand, a state in India, issued a red alert because in the previous three months there was not a single girl child born amongst 216 births in 132 villages.
And if we take the recent widely reported rape cases in Unnao and Hyderabad, it brings home the reality that India is a dangerous country for women, corroborating the perception survey by Thomson Reuters last year.
Furthermore if you take the CAA and NRC, women are the ones who will be most adversely affected for a range of reasons, including the following. Often it is women who do not have access to proper documentation, depending on the male members in their family. For a long time, women have been excluded from inheritance laws and have no formal rights over property. Many have been married off before the age of 18 thus foregoing a formal education and have no school leaving certificate, let alone a graduation certificate. In many parts of India, births take place at home and therefore a birth certificate is not a given. In the North East, many follow the matrilineal systems whilst the NRC is forcing one to choose a patriarchal lineage leaving many without the requisite documentation.
At the best of times, women have been treated like second-class citizens and in times of adversity, they are definitely going to have to fight to reclaim their rights. So, it is no wonder that women and girls are stepping up to make their case, reclaim their agency and protect themselves from discriminatory policies. I applaud them and look forward to a better India because of their efforts.