The Voice of Half A Billion: DemocraShe with Shaili Chopra
We are 50% of India’s population. We are 9% of the world population. We women are not a number, we are a force. To give you an idea, women of India are three times the size of Brazil, 5 times the size of Japan and twice the size of United States America. Yes, I am still talking of Indian women.
Here’s something to think about. We are not just half of the population. We produce and raise the other half. We are half the vote in our country. So we should be at least half the voice. But we are not. Why are we absent from the headlines? Why don’t we know the amazing stories of so many women? That’s what I wanted to get behind.
In 2012, a young girl was gruesomely raped in India. You have all probably heard about Nirbhaya. It changed many of us. It completely broke me down. Rape wasn’t a woman’s issue, it was a national concern. It took media that severe a case to put women’s issues on the front pages. This needed to change. Women’s issues are everyone’s problems. Why just problems. What about also celebrating women? Would you not want know how women are breaking the glass ceiling in math and science, how the government is changing policies, or that India’s mission to moon and mars are led by women?
A 2016 survey shows, of every 1000 stories done in Indian media, 80% are on Indian government, cricket and Bollywood. Women’s social issues like abortion, child marriage and others collectively get only 10% of coverage.
This needed to be changed. India is the world’s largest democracy. The Indian constitution starts with three words. We The People. But somewhere in the promise of justice, liberty and equality we forgot the women. And that’s how was born, SheThePeople – a space for women to call their own, for information, news, opinions, perspective, data and more. A space for inspiration to live life on their own terms. Someone, had to tell their stories.
I will tell you a few powerful stories. Rohini is a well educated girl from western India. Her parents were worried she was too qualified too educated and so no one would marry. When she did get married, her husband would not allow her to work. But she wanted to. She enrolled for an internet learning program and figured how to use the phone to learn. She pushed her husband to find a job in the city and stayed back in the village. Through the internet she learnt bee keeping, made honey and circulated her produce to sell via social media and other apps. Her first batch was 10 bottles, her second was 50 and sold out before they were ready and her third was 500 bottles, branded and labeled. All done in a small room of her house by learning on the internet. Rohini had the fire to inspire so many of us. But who was telling her story? She wasn’t getting 1 billion dollar valuation so she wasn’t so sexy for the general news companies. For us she was the headline.
Indian constitution starts with three words. We The People. But somewhere in the promise of justice and equality we forgot the women. That’s how SheThePeople was born.
Another quick example. When farmers in India commit suicide, we do long reports on the cause of the suicide. who do we forget? The widows these farmers left behind. Who then have to sell themselves again and are forced to prostitution. They sell their children because they have no money to feel six mouths. They are indebted again. Why do we spend so much time telling the stories of those who are gone and not enough of those left behind? So who is telling these stories? We need a gendered lens to think and then tell these stories.
We have to change they we talk, report and reflect the stories of women.
Women deserve and need full media spotlight on what they are doing, and how they are doing it. We have a live struggle. It won’t change until we talk about ourselves. We need take on the status, the patriarchy, the policies, the politics. We can do this with flags and marches and we also bring change by telling stories. By having a conversation.
Then come normative values. We are conditioned and seasoned to think women have to be a certain type. When I was growing up, because I was a girl, I was always told to talk softly. To not get angry. To not voice opinion. And not dissent. The day I got my first job as a journalist, I saw the writing on the wall. When a man stands in the middle of the newsroom and shouts, he is a leader in control. When a woman does it, she is aggressive. She has no skills. Apparently, when you are woman, there is a way to do things. There is a way to speak. There is a way to sit and even a way to be who you must be.
So I asked myself. Was this my struggle alone? Did half a billion in India feel this way?
We have to change they we talk, report and reflect the stories of women. Media coverage is a starting point. Stories we tell will shape us and our next generations. We also need to change mindsets. We need to empower women to take on rusted norms of society. As we move into the future, we need to think about what we are willing to accept. No constitution calls for inequality, but society does. Why should we be told what we are ‘allowed’. So the question is, are you going to wait for change or go out find it yourself?
And so as I talk on half a billion women in India, for me creating SheThePeople is an effort to go beyond the headlines. It’s a movement. And we must all be part of it. I urge you all to talk and story-tell women and their success and struggles in a big way in your state, in your village and in your country. To me, every little change counts in shifting impressions, changing mindsets and building belief and encouragement. There is nothing more powerful that an inspiration from one woman to the other. Let’s use our collective power to change the way we report on women around the world.
Because to me there can be no We The People without #SheThePeople.
Shaili Chopra is a Stanford Draper Hills Fellow 2019. She is an award winning journalist of 18 years and the founder of SheThePeople. Views expressed are the author’s own.