While we are celebrating International Women’s Day today, I remembered an incident from a few days ago. The incident was not pleasant, but it wasn’t the first time it happened either.
I went out for a walk late in the evening, around one of the many ponds in my locality. It was dark and I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking to myself how unfortunate it is that I cannot even take a simple walk by myself without being scared of predators.
Just as I was about to turn back again, I saw a man on a bike speeding towards me. Before I could reach for my pepper spray, he grabbed me and sped away. I stood there, numb and speechless, not knowing what to do.
It would be easy for people to quickly point out how I should have fought back, but it is not as easy as you think. A woman in the same position as I was would know what I mean.
That day, I realised that there is very little ‘women empowerment’ in the real sense of the term, in our society. I was angry because from the next day, I would have to take a different route for a walk. Or maybe I would not have the courage to go out by myself at all.
If there is one thing, among several others, that would make me feel empowered, I would want to go out on a walk by myself alone at night, without having to carry a pepper spray or look over my shoulder every few seconds.
For this article, I decided to ask some women from around India — all of them in their 20s — what change in society or our mindset would be a real step towards women empowerment for them.
“There is still a disparity in something as basic as access to education in a developing country like ours.” says Kajari Saha. “It is important to build a stronger social safety net for women in general, making travel safer for them — might improve their access to a lot of different occupations that men usually have better access to.”
“In terms of bringing about a change in the societal mindset, we need to do away with victim-blaming,” she adds.
Indeed, women are often subjected to harassment by society, and worse, at police stations when they are a victim of a crime like sexual assault.
“People just need to stop blaming the victim,” says Aishwarya. “This mindset prevents women from coming forward with their issues, and they might even feel the need to avoid going to a certain place altogether — for example, their place of education or workplace or a relative’s house.
“Women should be seen as people with both abilities and flaws. The trend that we see in society now is that a woman is either elevated to Goddess-like stature or is completely banished if not conforming to the set rules. It would be great if people let women just be,” says Shraddha.
Echoing Shraddha’s thoughts, Sayantani says: “I feel true change will come only after men learn to respect women as an equal entity at every step of their lives, not simply celebrating them for one day in a year or glorifying them through the ideas of mythological goddesses. It starts with small steps — be it refraining from using misogynistic slangs to vent your frustration or not shaming a survivor of sexual assault for her attire. There are fault lines in the male perception of women in our society, and until those gaps are addressed and healed, it’s futile to revel over ‘free drinks for ladies’ at a bar on Women’s Day.”
An avid reader, Ahana Bose from Kolkata recalls reading one of the greatest classics ever written.
“Louisa May Alcott’s novel ‘Little Women’ shows how marriage is often considered as a financial option,” she says. “If I talk about real change, I want change in the mindset that women should be married off if she is not doing well. There are many women doing well in their life but I want society to give a chance to those who are yet to do well — let them take their time please?”
“The fact that men think they are entitled to allow us to do something. Equality means that neither side should have to ask for permission,” says Aditi Chatterjee.
If you talk to dozens of other women, you will find various other issues plaguing society and in turn causing immense distress to women. Despite women putting up a fight for years, the world still reeks of patriarchy, misogyny and injustice of all kinds.
If you want to celebrate Women’s Day, take a step towards creating a change, and even more importantly, being the change.