"I am so glad that children of powerful people are not being able to get away with rape.” I heard this from a 25-year old who was reading the news on her phone a few days ago. I am so glad that Macron married a woman his mother's age, said another. I am so glad Nirbhaya's rapists are to be hanged: another comment. I am so glad that Le Penn lost, European Union is safe. I am so glad the Chibok girls have been returned. The I-am-so-glad list could go on. Bangladesh, essentially a land of political adda in every tea stall around the corner thrives on opinions. These opinions need not come from public intellectuals, but they come from the most basic people with basic needs. But these matter.
Women, poverty, injustice always top our agenda. Basically, women tend to be poorer, smaller in number when it comes to representation and are often faced with discrimination. Therefore, we are always making headlines. Either the men are turning us into headlines through abuse, indifference or we are attempting to make a mark because of who we are. Irrespective of achievements, women generally live in the space of danger. No one is ever spared. Rape may begin at 5 and stretch till 90. In a shocking incident of inhuman sexual assault in Kerala, a 90-year-old woman was allegedly raped brutally in March this year; in Dusseldorf, a teenager pleaded guilty to raping a 90-year old in the courtyard of a church as she couldn't give him any money.
Who's safe and where? The recent story of two young women being raped in a hotel and of filing cases after almost a month raises eyebrows. Why would they go to a party in a room in the hotel? Why were they silent for so long? And why would the accused use the gun of an armed bodyguard to threaten the girls? How could the case not have been consensual when they were in the room themselves? Every time these thoughts crossed my mind, I kept on reminding myself that these women are “people” with their own judgments. Prejudging women must cease and we must patiently wait for the true story to surface with time.
In all honesty, (no pun intended), I often list a standard advice to all the young ladies that I meet in this town:
1) Always carry a scarf or a shawl when you are out, just in case if you come across strangers telling you that you need to be more modest;
2) Don't ever be alone while you are walking to catch a public or private transport;
3) Always have your phone fully charged so that your close ones can reach you;
4) Be careful all the time and be mindful and check if you ever suspect anyone to be posing a threat to you;
5) Text your close ones when you leave a venue and try and be on the phone with your mother or a friend while you are returning late from work or an event.
6) Subscribe to the “general” code of propriety when it comes to dressing… (in spite of knowing even using head scarves don't matter to violators. Remember Tonu?)
To this list, many young women respond and share that the list is exhausting and that they would rather not leave their own rooms instead!
It's happening everywhere. In 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped in the town of Chibok in Nigeria, out of which 57 escaped, 21 released in October 2016, two more rescued the next couple of months. 6 are reported as dead and 82 girls were freed only three days ago. Where are the rest 108? Is there ever going to be any hope for their parents to see their children, ever again?
Three weeks ago, United Nations elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is a body that is dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. Forty-seven states supported Saudi Arabia's election to the commission, out of which three were European. Irish and the Danes are apparently outraged by their country's support on this. A country which promotes 'qiwamah' (concept of guardianship) giving authority of guardianship to men for women today leads a global forum. Ironically, in the same month of April, 29-year old Mariam-al-Oteibi fled Riyadh to escape abuse but was dramatically captured and brought back to a prison in Al-Qassim today. In the same month, 24-year old Dina Ali Lasloom wanted to escape from Kuwait and head for Australia only to be returned to Saudi Arabia after being detained and almost kidnapped in Manila while she was in transit.
Utterly ludicrous is yet another example of Lebanon's appointment of a man as its first-ever women's affairs minister. Utterly discouraging is the Indian instance of noisy campaigns to protect cows while abuse and insecurity of women increase, an issue rightly nailed by Jaya Bacchan during a parliamentary session.
Are we any better? In spite of the positive gains in politics with regard to the gender parity in our country, most women live with chauvinists who claim and believe that they are the ones “providing” for the family and are stressed about the security of “their” women. Patriarchal attitude haunts many women and mostly serve as backlash against the more progressive and talented section of women. This chauvinism, which is probably triggered by a sense of weakness in men, kills many of us. For many women amongst us, marriages have turned into organisations women create and run, husbands turning into projects to manage and our sacrifices becoming a necessity to sustain our marital ties. Most of the women are not “allowed” to function as a normal human being as we are supposed to be “precious” and our responsibilities have to be “borne.” Most of the women are given more “protection” than is good for us. And when it comes to assuming a responsible position in the ladder, women are often told that the corporate world is a jungle infested with beasts and sickness, and that we are best served as an on-demand sandwich on a platter at home or in the workplace, while being carried in doggy bags only to be exposed and consumed as and when required.
It personally pains me to write all of this, specially as, in spite of being in the corporate world for the last two decades, women like us still find it increasingly difficult to combat bias at every corner. As responsible women, we are supposed to lead, but not be seen to lead; as women we are supposed to excel but not be perceived as a performer. When are you ever going to change, men? This question may remain unanswered for the longest time to come. And this column may just end up to be regarded as a feminist rant. There's nothing here that we don't know. Yet, women need to repeat their stories, shame chauvinists, break ceilings and move on. Move on with faith and defy routine. That's the best route to tread and be grounded on. In the end it's women for women and it's up to people like us telling our daughters that we once lived in a more secular society than the one that they live in today and that though times are tough, they have better chances of winning their wars, because of their own merit and temerity.
The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.