My last piece for Femcyclopaedia is called You.
Wherever you are in the world, you belong to a global culture of patriarchy that is one-size-fits-all. But it looks different for you, as it does, for me. For you, it probably looks like unequal pay. For me, it looks like child marriages. For you, it could look like date rape. For me, it looks like female genital mutilation. For you, it may manifest as sexual harassment. For me, it manifests as street harassment. For you, it looks like trafficking. For me, it looks like honour killings.
And through it all, both you and I, and every other sister of ours in the world, we rise.
My journey as a gender equality activist began with volunteering. When I worked with these organizations, I was just a writer and a social media campaigner. I was a little part of a very, very large system spread across continents and oceans from where these organizations functioned. I would stare at a computer screen and churn piece after piece after piece, following copious research.
When I wrote, I narrated the stories of women in distress. I told the world of real stories, of stories that were so real, they had to be fictionalized for the world to digest, of sordid and morbid realities that could leave you shaken. I told the world of the things women went through, children went through. I told the world what it already knew- or at least, most of the world already knew.
Stories of Rape.
Deprivation on gender-based grounds.
And as I wrote, I grew. I grew because I didn’t just tell these stories, I felt them. I realized that what were just words for me here was the reality, the harsh truth for a woman, miles away. I realized that as much as the world was “ahead”, it was also terribly backward. I travelled in my research. I went to war stricken Afghanistan where women bear the brunt of living a crippled life- facing domestic violence, honour killings, rape and an abject deprivation from their every right. I went to DR Congo where women still bear the brunt of Sexual Violence aplenty, and suffer indignities in the hands of the very society that should protect them. I went to different parts of India, where I learned of girl foetuses being killed in the womb because they were girls, where tribal women are forced to dance naked to be able to get a meal. I travelled to parts of the Middle East where women are the property of their men, and could even be killed or raped, with no one asking. I went to Nigeria, where girls are subjected to the harsh malpractice of genital mutilation, and their cries were too loud, that they were silent. I went to Pakistan and Palestine, where women are subjected to the awful nightmare of murder in the name of protecting their familial honour. I went to South East Asia where girls are born into brothels, and lived their lives there, without knowing that they were made slaves. I travelled to Kosovo and Houston, Texas, where their dirtiest secret is the filthy game of human trafficking has many a woman under its fold. I went to Latin America where “poverty has a woman’s face”.
I realized that in the same world where a woman had the freedom to work as an equal with a man, a woman was also subservient to a man and could not work whatsoever. I realized that in the same world where a woman had the right to be educated, a woman was also forced to give up school because her society ordained otherwise. I realized that in the same world where a woman was free to choose who she would marry and when she would marry, a woman was forced to marry a man many years older than her while she would be a mere child. I realized that in the same world where women would be respected and their honour safeguarded with dignity, a woman would also be used as a miserable sex-slave. I realized that in the same world where women would be in charge of making peace, the bodies of women would be battlegrounds where war would be waged ceaselessly, devoid of all compunction.
A point in my journey came when I began to revive a boredom-induced hobby of zen-doodling, and gave causes life through them. By the end of it, Femcyclopaedia was born, and I was taking it as one portrait a day, putting back one story a day in history.
And even as I do that, headlines scream at me from newspapers. “Girl, 15, raped in a temple.” “Girl raped by eight teachers at school.” “Girl commits suicide after uncle rapes, films, blackmails her.” My stomach churns. On the internet, I hear about how Brock Turner will walk free while the girl he raped will be haunted by his terrible conduct. I read about the young woman in Chicago who was gang-raped and that entire incident was showcased on Facebook Live. I read about Farkhunda’s murder in Afghanistan, about such a large number of girls being hurt, abused and violated that they are but mere statistics.
I don’t have words, sometimes, because the pain is heavy, like a burning orb of grief sitting in the middle of my stomach, threading needle after needle into my heart each day. And so, I pour myself into art, doodling my grief away.
With this overwhelming grief, “You” was born. YOU, is a gift to each of you. For rising. For fighting. For persisting: every, single, day. For holding on.
Does it make any difference? Did it make any difference? I have no way of telling you for sure.
But I know that it made enough of you think. Enough of you, so that when we rise in arms, half the sky will be out of place.