In early March, the statue of a “Fearless Girl” was positioned at Bowling Green, near the New York Stock Exchange, to stare down the famous Wall Street Charging Bull. It is an installation that has been commissioned till the end of April. Whilst only 4 feet tall, the young girl stands defiantly staring down a 7000 pound charging bull, a sign of America’s strength and prosperity.
From the start, the contrasting yet powerful image of these two structures has captured the imagination of everyone. The media has been raving about the statue, people have been posting pictures on social media, young girls are proudly imitating the fearless pose and the New York state Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou insists that the statue becomes permanent and has raised a written request to that effect.
"Fearless Girl shows us that the might of a charging bull, and that which it symbolizes, can be easily matched with the determination and defiance of young women," Niou's letter reads.
I decided to visit this statue whilst I was on a work trip in New York. On a very cold but sunny day, I managed to take a picture of the girl without being bombarded by tourists. I looked at her expression and it resonated with my own self-belief. It also reminded me of a young 13-year-old girl from our campaign whose picture I use often to tell the story of empowerment and local change.
My organisation Safecity crowdsources stories of sexual violence in public spaces and showcases this information as hotspots on a map. One of the hotspots in Delhi was on a busy main road in a low-income community in which we were working. Due to the presence of a tea stall, men would loiter and stare at the women and girls passing by. This intimidated them. Many curtailed their routine, diverted to a different route and some even dropped out of school. So when presented with the information about sexual harassment and asked what they would like to change in their neighbourhood, the young girls said they would like the staring to stop.
Along with the Fearless Collective, we organised an art workshop and the girls and women painted a wall mural next to the tea stall. The mural had a lot of “staring eyes” but it also had messaging in Hindi and English that read, “Look with your heart, not with your eyes”, “We won’t be intimidated by your gaze”, “We will raise our voice”, “Stand up, Speak up”.
In a deeply patriarchal society where it was difficult to confront a man and voice one’s deepest concerns, this wall mural spoke for the girls and women. It was so effective that the community took note and the loitering and staring stopped because it was no longer acceptable anymore.
In order to succeed, young girls need an environment that gives them an equal opportunity to succeed, a non-threatening socio cultural environment that will allow them to explore their potential and assurance that they will be safe at all times in public spaces. Assemblywoman Niou says, "We need to recognize the importance of encouraging women to be leaders in as many fields as possible.” We have to debate gender equity and encourage young girls to achieve their potential.
As the painting was in progress, one of my team members took a picture of this 13-year-old girl who looks so confident and “empowered” to stand up for herself. She gives me hope, just like the Fearless Girl.
This post was submitted in response toMoments of Hope.
The author is ElsaMarie D'Silva, Founder & CEO of Safecity
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