This day of women (and men, hopefully!) in solidarity to advocate for women’s rights means something different to everybody, both around the world and to women living side by side in the same cities. Whilst we should be advocating for gender equality around the year, today is a good day to celebrate how far we have come and acknowledge how much more remains to be done to dismantle the patriarchy.
Women’s legal rights and the treatment they receive have always varied tremendously across the world and throughout history. It was just 100 years ago the 19th Amendment in the USA was ratified to give white (with the increased melanin comes increased obstacles) women the right to vote. The marriage bar, which refers to the termination of employment of a woman upon marriage, was only removed in 1966 in Australia. This is the same year India had its first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi. The same year the National Organization for Women was founded by activists wanting to end sex discrimination.
Sex discrimination is still prevalent in many forms today with laws requiring men to give women permission to obtain a passport in several countries, with marital rape still legally permissible and laws still preventing women to have an abortion. Even where laws may promise gender equality, horrific gender based treatment manifests in female genital mutilation, sexual assault, domestic violence, rape, honour killings, unequal pay, glass ceilings at work, and the all annoying mansplaining. I’ve probably left out a hundred other things us women face, but we can’t list things all day.
As someone fortunate enough to be born in London, I have many privileges others do not. A typical night clubbing with friends, wearing a tight low cut dress and coming home at 3am would be illegal in Saudia Arabia and invite potential rape in Delhi. I shouldn’t be saying in 2020 that I am lucky to be able to live a life with this relative freedom and feel safe enough to take it for granted. It should be a given that a woman is allowed to conduct their everyday life without a male chaperone, can walk alone at night without feeling unsafe, and can wear as much or as little as we want without people calling us a prude or a slut, but alas we’re in a patriarchal world, not my utopian society.
As a British female, my country offers me legal protection against gender based discrimination, although it was only in 2017, a law was made stating that company dress codes can’t force women to wear heels or dismiss you for not wearing them. Thank goodness for that now, as I hate heels. I also have the wonderful privilege of voting, although only 34% of the House of Commons are female, of dressing how I want, although I still run the risk of being groped or cat called, and of being in charge of my sex life with access to birth control, despite the double standards thrown upon me as a women. Oh, and the fact that I’m also Indian. We…don’t do that. Openly. Especially if you’re a woman. Forget about your milkshake, holding hands with a boy will bring all the aunties to your yard.
Being raised in an Indian family in the UK brings an added layer of complexity to feminism. No, I don’t mean honour killings, locking me in the house to be the domestic slave to my future in laws, controlling my entire life and believing a son would have been more worthy to my parents than me and my sister. Whilst this happens to south Asians here, to people in India (it’s not the 4th most dangerous place for women for no reason), as well as to people around the world, I have not had to experience anything as extreme as this.
Way back in the day, (I’m talking Vedic times, circa 600 BC) Indian women were bosses. Equal to men, educated, working in every sector, had joint custody of property and financial asset with men, were able to marry who we liked and even co-habit with partners (these were known as gandharva marriages). We were fucking goddesses (as well as professors, poets and military commanders) and treated as such. We slayed, but then a bunch of invasions, colonization’s (thank you country of which I now reside in *eyeroll*) and events in history kind of slayed India and today is a rather different state of affairs.
Today India is one of the most patriarchal societies, rife with sexual violence, femicide and inequalities, in the world. In my own family, education has always been of paramount importance. My family, including my feisty grandma, has always encouraged my sister and I to strive to obtain knowledge and they don’t even push us down the route of being the stereotypical lawyer, although my clever sister went down that route anyway, she did it like a boss brain at the LSE. They’ve always wanted us to be happy. My mum has worked throughout my whole life and circumstances have meant my dad stayed at home for a long time, taking on traditionally female duties like doing the laundry and taking me to school.
My extended family has women who will tell you their opinion and some of them will do it with sass, make no mistake about that. I grew up seeing my aunts be strong, independent, working and some of them unmarried. I didn’t have to think about how my sex made me different as a kid, because I grew up seeing a more blended picture and envisaged I would be a strong woman when I’m older like the ladies in my life, and supported by a man like my dad.
However, I grew a little older and began seeing a little more. I started my period at the age of 10 and incredulously asked if this would really happen every month. I learnt I wasn’t meant to go temple at this time, and questioned why something which happened to 50% of the population could be deemed as unclean and keep you from God. It was also something always mentioned in hushed tones, but I would always proclaim when it was my time of the month as my dad would wonder why I was puking so much and sick. Now I shout it from the rooftops that it’s my time of the month and my dad is on hand with a hot water bottle and understands a little more.
Family functions like Diwali and Christmas usually saw a gender divide. It is usually assumed the women will be cooking and cleaning (as if it’s not their holiday to enjoy and celebrate too *eyeroll*), whilst the men would have the mere task of getting up to take their food when it’s ready and bringing their plate to the kitchen when nourished. I questioned why the boys could never cook or wash the dishes. This was with the exception of one uncle who brings us the taste of Italy with his melanzane and homemade cocktails on occasion. Now, the younger men in my family are getting more involved in the kitchen (shout out to my brother in laws delicious falafels!), however my mum and aunts are still routinely sat at the dinner table last.
Eating meat can also be a cause for sexism at times. My extended family ranges from vegans to omnivores that eat everything but the holy cow. I was vegetarian for 18 years before I dipped my toes into having both fish and chips. My dad has always occasionally eaten meat. My vegetarian aunt, whilst making her views clear on the subject, never scolded my dad from eating meat, but once told me I have a grave in my stomach. Charming. Whilst the majority of my family are not like this, and it is a small example of sexism, sadly, it is one example of how women are upheld to a higher ‘moral’ standard than men and behaviours, such as enjoying dinner, can be judged more harshly if you’re a woman. A number of British Asians often lead double lives having to hide things from their parents, with more pressure placed on women to hide alcohol use, low cut dresses, beef burgers or relationships. It is typically more acceptable for men to be found out for these things than for women, and whilst this is also changing as British Asian families modernize, the pace could be hastened.
The more serious issues faced by British Asian women such as honour killings, domestic violence, forced marriages still take place and have disastrous consequences. Many women of my parents’ generation had arranged marriages, some which resulted in love and happiness, others which resulted in domestic abuse and the ones in the middle. Many women have been trapped in staying in marriages that are loveless at best, and violent at their worst. They bare scars on their arms and couldn’t get away because of so called honour. These wounds tell stories of just how much we need International Women’s Day and are a painful reminder of the fight that is still left to end discrimination. Even if the scars fade, the gravestones of those killed out of honour, vile rapes and acids attacks again out of ‘honour’ will never let us forget of the mistreatment so many women face.
I am proud to be a British Asian woman, because I have had what others have not had and can be stronger for it. My being female has mainly resulted in more trivial encounters of sexism (which still should not be occurring) as opposed to what so many others face. I feel stronger for it, because I am able to live my best life the majority of the time and can openly eye roll when things are unfair, and advocate for change. I am frustrated at what so many women still go through, but proud of those making strides so that we can continue to pick each other up, support one another and ultimately, smash this patriarchy.