‘Indian feminists should involve younger women’

March 25th, 2009 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 25 (IANS) The feminist movement in India needs to involve younger women in metros and its scope could be expanded to address the skewed gender ratio in the north of the country, according to participants at a forum here.
The feminist movement in India is facing two major challenges, according to Mary E. John, director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies here.

While it is yet to reach out to the younger generation of women in metros and tier II cities, it is pushing multiple agendas that have to find a common ground, she said Tuesday at a panel discussion on “Women Today: Expectations vs Reality” at the American Center as part of its Women’s History Month celebrations.

The discussion was attended by feminists, scholars and filmmakers.

“Younger women across India are yet to be a part of the movement because of so many uncertainties and the struggle for survival. Feminism demands much more of them than the everyday battles. Moreover, feminism in this country has multiple agendas. We will have to bring them under one platform before enlisting youngsters,” John said.

Feminism as a movement to empower women was born in the West in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. The history of the movement can be divided into three phases - early struggle in US for women’s franchise rights at the outset of the 19th century, the demand for equal opportunities and pay in the 1960s and 1970s and the push for freedom of choice and lifestyles, that started in the 1990s, and continues.

John said feminism arrived in India a few years after it took the US by storm. But the feminist movement in this country is fraught with complexities because of the socio-cultural and historical legacies.

Recalling the early feminists, the scholar cited the example of Sarojini Naidu, the poet-politician, who once famously said: “I am not a feminist”.

Naidu felt that feminism had a “negative tenor to it” and associated it with demanding special privileges. “I don’t identify myself as a woman who needs special privileges,” John said.

Analysing the major gender trends in the country, John said: “Upper class Indian women do not want to identify with feminism on the ground that they have a few years of freedom to enjoy after which they will be married off. It seems a rather unwelcome term for the homemaker in India. This is a major challenge.”

The city of Delhi, she pointed out, had a skewed gender ration of 860 girls for every 1,000 boys, whereas in Punjab, the ratio was 790 girls for every 1,000 boys. The feminist movement could expand to address the issue, she said.

Sagari Chhabra, writer and director of the movie “Brides are not for Burning”, said the feminist movement in India was still a war for “basic human rights and the economic empowerment of women to eat at least twice a day”.

“All of us are human beings first and have the right to co-exist with men and children. The essence of the feminist movement should be better social justice for women and men for there is liberation of men in it, too,” she said.

But Aanchal Kapur, founder and team leader of feminist forum Kriti, was of the view that more women were calling themselves feminists today than before.

“The definition of feminism has changed over the generations. But I call it a way of life,” she said.

Kapur’s earliest lessons in feminism was hearing her mother tell her father: “I am not a doormat”.

The highlight of the session was a documentary, “I Was A Teenage Feminist”, by Canada-based filmmaker Therese Shechter. The discussion was moderated by Elizabeth Thornhill, deputy public affairs officer of the US Embassy.

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