A pledge to stop gender-based violence by recognizing and ending the chauvinism of our own beliefs, words and actions.
The Delhi gang-rape of December 16, 2012 is remarkable not for its brutality or fatal result but for the ferocity of the response it inspired. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence are so common in India that they rarely make the front page. 23 women die every hour in India because their husbands were not paid enough dowry. A national genocide of female foetuses shows no sign of abating. Sexual harassment occurs so often that its absence, rather than presence, is remarkable. “Let it go,” we are told when we complain about a neighbour who finds ways to touch our breasts, “it is not worth disturbing the community.” “They are not hitting you,” a policeman told me when I complained about men whistling and yelling, “slut” after every woman that walked in front of them. “It is such a little thing.”
But rape is in the little things. And if we want to stop rape, we have to start with those little things. It is our tolerance for gender-based discrimination and violence that lead to the dehumanization of women and girls. Think about what was done to the gang-raped girl in New Delhi – iron rods were shoved so deep inside her that when they were taken out, her intestines came out with them. Think about the most common headline when reporting anti-Dalit violence: “women stripped and paraded naked”. Think about the first violent act that accompanies every Hindu-Muslim riot – the rape and dismemberment of women, especially pregnant women.
And it’s not just the rioters and rapacious landlords. A man is abused in Hindi by calling him a mother-fucker or a sister-fucker, a woman by calling her a cunt or a slut. In both, women are objects to be violated. Clearly the men on the bus are not alone in seeing women as non-human.
This is why the response to the Delhi gang-rape should give us all hope. Those countless images of young women with candles: they are speaking up for all those times they stayed silent. The middle-aged men with tears in their eyes and black tape on their mouths are admitting that they lie when they say they have forgotten. The angry woman on a traffic pole, raising her middle finger: she is angry about the time when it happened to someone she loved and no one protested. We are grieving for what we have lost, what we have forced others to lose. We are acknowledging the little things and saying ENOUGH. We refuse to be less than equal. We demand to see and be women differently.
I hope the protests continue forever. To amplify their impact, I want to change what I think and do – the ordinary words, the everyday actions, in the home and on the street. Our power is at its highest, not as legislators, police officers or judges, but as citizens.
Therefore, I make the following pledge:
I will STOP the violence.
I will not allow dowry and female foeticide in my family. No civilization can accept the outrage of a woman’s family paying someone to marry her. I will protest, report and publicize every act of female foeticide even if – especially if – it is happening to someone I know. Every aborted female foetus makes it that much harder for our babies to be born into a just and kind world.
We have to be our own heroes. We have to stand up for our mothers. Stand up for our maids. Stand up for our colleagues and our friends. Protest violence against women in every home we know. Say it. Act on it. At the very least, the woman will remember that someone, someone out there, thought she had the right to not be abused.
I will PROTEST the inequality.
I will not be silent when people around me use words like “cunt”, “whore” and “slut” that reduce women to body parts and sexual acts. When people around me confuse an attractive woman with an invitation for sexual harassment, I will be the hero. I will object.
I will not stay quiet when my boss says something demeaning about a woman based on her appearance or sexuality. I will not allow the mantle of being an elder to absolve people in my family from their culpability in discriminating against women in the workplace and at home.
I will reject, songs, movies and advertisements that erroneously portray physical attractiveness as the driving ambition of girls and women, remembering that all around me, every day, in cities and in villages, inside the house and outside it, I see them working longer, harder and for less pay than men.
I will BUILD for justice.
I will insist that the girls in my family are brought up to be confident women who accept their equality to men as a birthright. I will insist that the boys in my family are brought up to be confident men who accept their equality to women as a birthright.
I will counter gender stereotypes, not just by buying dolls for boys and trucks for girls but in the activities I encourage and the rules I develop. If I don’t allow my daughter to go out alone at night, I will make clear to her and her brother that it is because of our collective failure in ensuring her security, not because it is her responsibility to keep from being harassed and attacked.
But most of all, I will believe that we are all capable of doing better than this, being more than this. I draw precedence from our history: from the feminist shlokas of Gargi the Vedic priest to the military leadership of Razia Sultan. I draw faith from our gods: from Durga’s one-woman defeat of evil, Kali’s fearsome power, Saraswati’s wisdom and Laxmi’s prosperity. I draw evidence from our present: more girls passing board exams than boys, more women collectives to develop micro and small businesses and more women leaders in financial institutions than perhaps anywhere else in the world.
Join me in making the pledge to never stop fighting for gender equality. There is no other fight in the world that is as necessary and as universal. We must fight for gender equality because in its representation of the universality of the human experience, it assures the dignity and longevity of human civilization.