Women's Day 2020 #EachforEqual

I was born the day before International Women’s Day twenty seven years ago. I like to think I fought my way out of my mother’s womb because I was eager to join the chorus of voices, some in screams and others through song, who celebrate women in all their diversity and who understand that action for accelerating gender equality is still acutely needed. Be this actually true or not (honestly, I was much more concerned about feeding and sleeping!), it has carried me to where I am today. Living on the fringe of one of Kolkata’s red light areas is causing me to learn from sisters, friends and aunties alike what it means to really dream of a world liberated through gender equality. With fibres of romanticism about this fight slowly having made an exodus from my rhetoric, I still wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.

I consider it a profound privilege to be part of the crew at The Loyal Workshop. It is an incessantly humble reminder that in the words of Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist and activist, ‘trying to help’ is a waste of time if we don’t understand that our liberation is intimately connected with those who we seek to stand in solidarity with. Liberation from the systems and people and messages that oppress can only flourish if we appreciate our own mix of vulnerability, pain, and bravery as well as our neighbour’s, and choose to continue showing up to fight together anyway. Our yearning and fighting for gender equality, women’s stories of suffering, and our moments of championing are indeed more intimately connected than we can know. What my relationships at the workshop have taught me is that dreaming about a world where gender equality exists means first welcoming a simple sense of needing and choosing one another. Genuine mutuality is always an equalizer.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Each for Equal. It champions the notion that collectively, all of us can help create a gender equal world. One where the women in our neighbourhood don’t have to live in fear of reporting domestic violence to the police for anxiety of being told it’s their fault. Where access to information and care for women’s health issues isn’t percieved as shameful. Where women aren’t ruthlessly held to traditional gender roles by threats from partners, family members and neighbours. Where girls have the same access and inspiration to receive an education as boys. Where the character of unmarried women is not questioned or second-guessed. Where girls are not trafficked or commodified, and women are not forced to sell their bodies for the demands of male customers. Honestly, somedays the list almost seems inexhaustible. At Loyal, we move in a neighbourhood where the lives of women are gut-wrenchingly frought with this type of inequality, gender-based discrimination and violence, and systemic injustice. Having seen their extraordinary resilience, courage and resolve, I have concluded that I can only stand in awe of what they carry, rather than judgement of how they carry it. Maybe it is this posture which has taught me that fighting for a gender equal world means acknowledging those who bear the weight of much inequality, rather than insulating ourselves from them. Insulating is easy when the fight for gender equality isn’t perceived as personal. However, acknowledging one another’s struggle moves us towards liberation.

Indian author, Arundhati Roy, said it straight when she stated, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.” The women who surround me daily are individuals with strong opinions and stories from their lives, with questions and answers about the world, with experiences ranging from dignifying to distressing, with nuggets of gold that we miss if we don’t turn an ear.

One Loyal artisan who is passionate about seeing her daughter flourish in a world different to the one she grew up in, recently voiced, “Where people said there is no way, I am opening a way for my daughter. Although there is no rest in my body, the struggle is worth it because through struggling so hard I am now seeing my daughter happy and transformed. Even a little of that brings me a lot of happiness.” In the year gone, another artisan boldly stated, “Women often suffer at the hands of another… This change has to start with us.” Another passionately and frequently says, “If we spread the word to one woman at a time, then more women will be able to gain freedom… If we share about freedom opportunities in this way, looking to help each other, then lots of women will gain the opportunity for freedom.” I am reminded regularly in conversation with them that making steps toward gender equality and liberation necessitates the simple and sacred act of listening, most especially to the voices of women from the margins.

Harriet Tubman, the American abolitionist who was born into slavery, escaped and subsequently lived to free others, once said, “I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.” And so, may we be strong as we stand and fight for #EachforEqual. Moreover, may our fight be informed by our need for each other, may it be held by our awe of women who carry much, and may it be shaped by listening to the voices of women from the margins. May you choose to join the chorus of voices and may you choose to not be anywhere else.