What Was 2015 Like For Feminism In India & Chayn India?
International Women’s Day (8th March) marks one year of Chayn India
March 8th – International Women’s Day – is the day Chayn India officially launched its web platform one year ago. We decided to launch on Women’s Day because what better day for a launch than the day dedicated solely to Indian women’s achievements, rights, and issues? We soon realised that one day wasn’t enough to celebrate Indian women – we needed a whole year!
Our first year wasn’t without its challenges. Finding volunteers in India proved difficult because we found that volunteering in India is mostly done on the ground and online volunteering is a very new concept. We’re always looking for passionate, self-motivated and driven volunteers in India so if you think you’d fit in with our incredible team of international volunteers sign up here!
Other challenges included connecting with NGOs and charities that work directly with women so they can use our resources and tools, and building long-term relationships with the press and media. But while Chayn India is only a year old, 2016 has been off to a very promising start to an exciting and very busy new year!
2015-2016 was a year of shattering stereotypes and expectations:
Pinjra Tod: breaking the hostel locks and ending oppression of female university students. The Pinjra Tod movement sparked protests, sit-ins, and vital discourse about how women and men are treated differently in India. The college hostels served as the perfect cross-section for Indian society – female residents need permission to leave the hostel and can’t wear shorts, while male students had no restrictions placed on them whatsoever. Pinjra Tod sparked protests across the country, even reaching across the border to Pakistan, demonstrating once again that Indian and Pakistani women fight the same battles.
The Fearless Collective – a collective of artists, activists, photographers and filmmakers who use art to speak out against gender violence – also exploded last year with incredibly provocative street art popping up everywhere from Delhi to Karachi.
Domination of Indian women and women centric stories in the Indian media, menstruation and temple politics, and the Budget 2016 which sets the precedent for women-related schemes and policies for the whole year rounded up what 2015-2016 was like for women in this country.
Here’s what this year of looked like for Indian women:
At the end of February the brilliant “A Bad Girl” graphic poster goes viral. Created by art students at Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology based right here in Bangalore, the poster was a cheeky take on good girl/bad girl stereotypes in India.
In March Chayn India officially launches! A day later, Leslee Udwin’s infamous documentary about the Delhi rape of Jyoti Singh (Nirbhaya) India’s Daughter is released to both criticisms and praise. The documentary sets the tone for the rest of the year, with the media playing a big part in Indian women fighting for their rights and giving voice to their struggles. During the same month a viral ad starring Madhuri Dixit told the world to “start with the boys” to prevent violence against women.
In April, actress Kalki Koechlin bravely came out, revealing her past as a survivor of child sexual abuse, and took a stand regarding the importance of the issue of consent.
May brought more critiques of the role of mainstream Indian media in confirming patriarchal and sexist values. Unsurprisingly, Bollywood was the biggest culprit. On the other hand, a video that went viral showed a young female Agra resident climbing on top of the Mercedes of a local politician whose bodyguard winked at her showed the world that Indian women have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment. Indian women certainly have a knack for going viral, like these Indian brides who kicked off a trend of refusing to marry unsuitable boys who just were not good enough!
In June, Chayn India manager, Nida Sheriff wrote a blog that was published in the Brown Girl Magazine describing the link between working to empower Indian woman and being a better citizen. Chayn also launched the Mental Health Toolkit, a tool NGOs in India can use to battle the negative effects abuse has on the victim’s psychological well-being. The Delhi government also made a new ruling regarding the two-finger test used in sexual assault examinations.
In July we discovered a hilarious Instagram account by a desi artist that perfectly captured everyday experiences of desi girls. India also met Ashwini Waskar, India’s first competitive female bodybuilder whose inspiring story made us proud to be Indian. We were also reminded of the hypocritical nature of Indian laws when we learned that coming home late without informing one’s wife is an act of cruelty – but marital rape (which is still legal in India) is not!
In August stalking, cyberstalking, and online harassment were hot button issues, and we read accounts like this one where real Indian women detailed their own maddening experiences with stalking.
In September Chayn India participated in an enlightening and fun Twitter chat with Sayfty about abusive relationships. The chat was a fantastic opportunity to educate tweeps about abusive relationships, and in turn learn more about people’s real life experiences and thoughts on abuse.
October 10th marked World Mental Health Day – something we think should be more prominently represented in India. This cool video taught us a little bit about how women are really represented in Indian advertising – and how we can change it! We also learned, in this groundbreaking account by Mariya Taher, that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not only practised in far away places – it is also practised right here in India.
In November we learned that 48% of Indian women leave their jobs mid-career. This number is astronomical but not as high as America’s 51%. However, if these women were retained in the workforce, the Indian GDP could increase by as much as 2%.
December brought light to good experiences and bad ones for women in India. A student in Bangalore shared her horrific experience of trying to find accommodation in the city, but she was only met with racist and sexist remarks, with some homeowners even going so far as to calling her indecent! On the flipside, an amazing woman from Kerala took to Facebook to publicly call off her wedding and criticise the groom’s family for demanding dowry. Lesson learned from 2015: don’t mess with Indian brides!
January brought a whole new set of contradictions for Indian women. We discovered that our schoolchildren are being taught horrifically sexist lessons from their textbooks, such as comparing housewives to donkeys. Thankfully, Priyanka Chopra’s win at the People’s Choice Awards proved just how amazing Indian women can be despite sexism and racism! Priyanka also presented an award at the Oscars the following month. Another Indian woman, Apurvi Chandela, shattered a world record at the Swedish Cup Grand Prix, won 2 gold medals and was named “Shooter of the Tournament”! Neena Gupta then became the youngest scientist to solve a 70 year old Maths problem and Kalki Koechlin came back with a fantastic performance of a poem critiquing the media. In uplifting news, Mumbai launches its first LGBT-friendly taxi service, and a group of fearless acid attack survivors opened up their own cool cafe in Agra.
Chayn India also debuted a fresh brand new logo!
February was a month full of groundbreaking news for women in India. A Gujarat businessman invited 18,000 widows to his son’s wedding to dispel the harmful myth that widows bring bad luck to life events. Then, a New Delhi court ruled that Hindu women can be legal head of the household. Villages in India decided to ban unmarried girls from using mobile phones, and at the same time, the Bollywood blockbuster Neerja about the courageous Indian flight attendant who saved lives in a terrorist hijacking was released.
The year in news for women in India proved to be as paradoxical as India itself – but amongst the symbol of old-fashioned patriarchy rearing its ugly head were promising signs that Indian women are speaking up louder and are being heard more than ever before.
We wish everyone a very happy and inspiring International Women’s Day!