They are called the Silence Breakers–a group of courageous women who came in the limelight for saying enough is enough. Their united conviction to raise their voices against gender discrimination, sexism and harassment brought down walls that stood erect for decades. The world applauded their courage and joined them as they fought Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. This resulted in #MeToo, a social media movement that inspired women from across the world to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
Raising voice against gender discrimination is but one step towards achieving women’s empowerment. Women face several other forms of injustice that are often swept under the rug. The voices of women are sometimes heard, sometimes not. And when voices go unheard, it’s time for change. Change begins and ends with acknowledgement, awareness, empathy, and support.
Many individuals strive to be agents of change, engaging in conversations to support women on their path to empowerment. On International Women’s Day, Soulveda speaks to a few such individuals who choose to challenge the status quo. They share with us their thoughts on women’s empowerment, the progress made over the years, and hope for the future.
Vaishnavi Sundar, film-maker and women’s rights activistMy interactions with women at the grassroots has made me realise the progress we have made with women's empowerment is superficial. While educated women with privileges stand up for their rights, the less privileged continue to suffer. The way forward is for strong, empowered women to get out of their bubble, and support those who are not. In my capacity, besides making women-centric films, I speak to young people about gender equality.
Salma, poet and women’s rights activistWhile women are shining in every field today, society does not value women any more than it did until a few decades ago. Women still have to deal with gender discrimination, violence, and sexual harassment every single day. We are not even close to getting equal representation in the parliament. True equality can be achieved only if people change their attitude towards women.
Fióna Bolger, poet between PlacesBy empowering women, starting with allowing girl babies to be born, society stands to gain in every way. An empowered woman knows her worth, determines her path, and realises her potential without struggling against discrimination. This is possible only when everyone acknowledges the need for it. Boys and men must be educated to understand the value of women. Media should recast women as subjects of their own narratives.
Sonal Kapoor, Founder-Director, Protsahan India FoundationNot many understand the depth of women's empowerment. It has to be inclusive in all capacities. Empowerment should be physical, emotional, financial, sexual. It needs to happen on economic, social and cultural levels. The starting point of it all is empathy. Moreover, women should stop judging other women and instead, try to pay it forward by supporting and mentoring each other.
Ramesh Aravind, actor and film-makerThe day there is no need to discuss women's empowerment is the day women will be truly empowered. People are more aware today than they were a decade ago. But we still have miles to go. Recently, I came across a study that said more women in India die than men because men hesitate to touch a woman's chest when she needs a CPR. This has to change. After all, we are all human beings and there is no other way to look at it.
Dr Michael Kimmel, Professor of Gender Studies, Stony Brook University, New YorkWe cannot fully empower girls and women unless we engage boys and men. Thankfully, men are increasingly supportive of gender equality because it's the right thing to do. Men are indeed stakeholders in this struggle. The more gender equal our countries, the happier people are. The more gender equal our companies, the more profitable they are. And the more gender equal our relationships, the happier our children, partners and we, men, are.
Dr Savita Singh, Professor, School of Gender and Development Studies, IGNOUAn empowered woman is one who does things in a creative and constructive way, as she knows that her decisions would affect those around her. She enjoys freedom of expression, and resists anyone denying her this. An empowered woman is expansive and inclusive at the same time. However, women are still in the process of getting there. Real empowerment means being able to challenge the values that encourage oppression and violence against women.
Harish Sadani, Co-founder, Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA)We have made significant progress with empowering women, but there's still a long way to gender equality. At the root of gender discrimination and violence against women are the social constructs of masculinity and patriarchy. Gender equality is still viewed as a women's issue. Unless we engage in dialogues with men and bring about a paradigm shift, we won't have a world where people of all genders live in peace.