10 Lessons 2017 Taught Us

... and how we can carry these feminist lessons into 2018.

by Priyanka Sutaria

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If we had to give 2017 an emoji, it would be the one with the pair of hands perpetually raised in celebration. Make no mistake -- it wasn’t an easy year for women. But it was also a year of empowerment, a moment in time where solidarity and social justice combined to create a seed of anger. For every Harvey Weinstein, there was a Salma Hayek. For every stalker, there was a Varnika Kundu, and her father. All these moments combined in a year whose most defining word (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary) was feminism. Feminism definitely had a moment in 2017. And here are 10 ways to carry that momentum into 2018.

1. In 2017…

The first day of Donald Trump’s Presidency began with nearly 500 marches and 5 million taking to the streets for the Women’s March; a women-led movement aimed at highlighting both the power of women’s suffrage, as well as their ability to take control of issues that affect them. On the same day in India, across 20 small and large cities across the country, protests were held under the collective chant of #IWillGoOut in response to the mass molestation which took place in Bengaluru on new year’s eve. Both protests were aimed at reclaiming a woman’s agency to occupy space in a patriarchal world.

In 2018…

Regroup. Revise. Resist. Now that we have discovered that we have the power to speak up against the systematic suppression of our voices, we must persist. We must overcome our privilege, and open the movement up to all sections of women. Let’s empower the voices of those women who have less opportunity to amplify their voices.

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2. In 2017…

Sexual harassment at the workplace was finally taken seriously. From The Viral Fever’s terribly misguided response to the sexual harassment allegations against CEO Arunabh Kumar, to Phantom’s case with Vikas Bahl, to allegations made against the owner of High Spirits in Pune, this was one issue that rattled the public conscience. Women opened up -- whether anonymously or openly -- braved months of ridicule on the internet, battled everything from naysayers to threats of rape, and ensured that their voices were heard.

In 2018…

Women have been working in toxic work environments for centuries, and many have come to accept that sexual overtures and harassment are part and parcel of working as a woman. News flash: it isn’t. In your own life, make sure this movement includes the women who work in your house as help; women who perform manual labour and work for a daily wage; women with children and no monetary support; women from lower castes who scavenge manually; women who keep in function the very system which oppresses them. Strive to protect them from gender violence at their place of work.

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3. In 2017…

Women of sports did not take any misogyny lying down. First the Indian women’s cricket team made it to the World Cup finals, and then Mithali Raj - captain extraordinaire - slayed journalists who dared to ask her who her favourite male cricketer was. Following the lead of another badass brown sports-woman, Sania Mirza, who took down Rajdeep Sardesai’s sexism on national television, Mithali asked the journalist why they never asked male cricketers to pick a favorite female cricketer.

In 2018…

Offer in women in sports the same dignity offered to sportsmen. Offer them the same resources, television time, monetary funding, national support and basic dignity. Alternatively, if you’re a journalist, start asking female sportspersons better questions. After all, you’d never ask Virat Kohli if he would quit cricket after marriage, would you?

 

4. In 2017…

Culture Machine made the controversial and much-debated decision to introduce period leaves. In a country (nay, world) where less than half the people of menstruate and a negligible number of males who genuinely understand what a menstrual cycle is, period leave was a much-needed intervention. Almost every person who menstruates knows the range of discomfort to full-blown physical debilitation which comes on a monthly basis, and it’s about time that workspaces recognised this.

In 2018…

Have empathy. Recognise that privileged, middle-class, cis women are not the only ones who menstruate. Women who work in the unorganised sector, trans individuals, housewives, and others also deserve the benefits that a period leave entails. Let’s recognise their contribution to the economy and offer them the same options that the organised sector does.

5. In 2017…

Lipstick Under My Burkha took on the censor board and fought for their “lady-oriented” content. In a country where women carry the burden of shame, the movie truly galvanised women across the country to fight for representation in popular culture, and the movie turned out to be a success!

In 2018…

Make more space for women in popular media. Fight for women’s right to be shameless, to take see themselves where they have only ever seen macho man saving them. Support women who have known always that they are the ones doing to saving in everyday life.

 

6. In 2017…

Varnika Kundu did what almost every woman is afraid to do - legally chase the men who stalked her on a highway in Chandigarh. Not only did she highlight the insidious issue of Geri culture, she also demonstrated the amount of scrutiny a victim of gender violence faces from law and order, as well as media and society. Braving brickbats and fighting a corrupt system, she garnered incredible support for her fearless refusal to drop the case against the son of a BJP mainman.

In 2018...

Take inspiration from the Kundu family. Take a stand against sexism in your life and call it out when you can. Be more like Virender Kundu, fighting by his daughter’s side and refusing to allow his parenting to be questioned. Fight for the rights of the women in your life. Even if law and order become obstacles, keep persisting. In a world made by the examples others have set, women like Kundu (and their families) become a source of empowerment for women across the country. We need more of those.

7. In 2017…

Ram Rahim Insan, self-styled Godman of the Dera Sacha Sauda, was found guilty of rape by a special court. In a country plagued by such self-styled gurus and sadhvis, this case was an important victory for women in a unique intersection of our country -- those who are inducted into religious cults and either raped on grounds of “cleansing”, or coerced into sexual acts by charismatic, powerful men.

In 2018…

Make the law accountable. Amplify the voices of survivors and do not be afraid to criticise the law of the land if it is biased in favour of those who occupy positions of power. Men who take advantage of women and treat them as prey deserve to face the consequences of their actions.

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8. In 2017...

The King of Saudi Arabia lifted the long-standing and oppressive ban on women drivers. The fight for the right to drive has been an important symbol in women’s activism since the 1990s in Saudi Arabia, and the new law is a striking change for a new, egalitarian world -- a real victory in dark times.

In 2018...

The suppression of women manifests in different way across the world, but without a doubt nearly EVERY civilisation in the world is a patriarchal one, and each culture creates unique obstacles which women must overcome in order to “succeed”. From the right to abortion in Ireland to sexual harassment laws in India to misogynist presidents in the USA; each country has its own battle, and it is time to unite in sisterhood and fight the patriarchy instead of using one another as standards of women empowerment.

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9. In 2017…

#MeToo happened. Tamara Burke’s idea proposes to highlight the magnitude of sexual violence women undergo, and make it obvious to the privileged few who ignore it. The movement went viral when women in Hollywood found the courage to out producer Harvey Weinstein for the sexual predator he is. In an unprecedented, empowering act, more than 80 Hollywood actresses – from Salma Hayek to Gwyneth Paltrow – tore down the wall of silence and collusion that had allowed Weinstein to get away with his lechery and assault for so many years. It opened a floodgate of conversations, action (Weinstein’s wife left him, he was asked to step down from his company, he was expelled from the Producers Guild of America, and so on) and exposed the dirty underbelly of the film world.

In 2018…

Sexual violence exists. We know this. So why is it that we are unwilling to take women who come forward seriously? Learn from these courageous women and fearlessly call out sexual abuse when you see it. Be a part of a feminist sisterhood and support those who call it out too. Listen to survivors, and support them through their trauma. Change the conversation. End the shame that comes with victimhood in 2018.

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10. In 2017…

Iceland voted Katrin Jakobsdottir, a feminist woman prime minister into power. The impact of women in leadership in the 21st century is already making a difference! It is now illegal in Iceland to pay a woman less than a man for the same work; a law which will benefit both the gender dynamic and the economy positively in the long run. Although women with certain platforms such as actresses Diane Kruger and Robin Wright have demanded equal pay, it is the working-class woman who suffers most, earning about 70% of what a man makes for the same work. Race and caste further reduce this number.

In 2018…

Actively encourage and promote good work by women; appreciate women’s labour by investing in it. If you are in a position to hire, actively and consciously meet more female candidates, employ more women  make up for the imbalance in the gender dynamic. And PAY THEM AS MUCH AS YOU WOULD A MAN!

 

Above all, keep the conversation going. Discuss, discuss, discuss. Ask questions of people. Read feminist literature. Debate the consequences of important events -- the Triple Talaq ruling, the #MeToo movement -- with people around you. Always keep your privilege in mind while doing so and consider how each of these events impacts women across socio-economic, disabled and caste spectrums. Your individual actions matter. Choose to make a difference!

 

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