When women “disappear”… and take control too

I happened to be in Mexico City and watched with fascination and admiration the call given by a collective of Mexican women’s associations to observe this year’s International Women’s Day (March 8) by simply disappearing from public places — offices, public transportation, grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls… everywhere. They decided to do so to protest against the growing culture of violence against women.

Considered a landmark protest since the #MeToo movement, Mexican women chose this unique form of protest to show their frustration and anger at what they considered was their government’s apathy to increasing violence against women. In recent years, Mexico has seen a huge increase in gruesome violence against women, including murder and rape. Recently, a 7-year-old girl’s naked body was found in a polythene bag. In another instance, a woman was killed and partially skinned, allegedly by her own husband.

Mexico has an estimated 21 million registered women workers and it was heartening to watch the huge support that this initiative got from government organisations, banks, educational institutions and corporates… all of them publicly supported this call given by feminists to Mexican women “to simply disappear for one day”.

As I read this novel form of protest and what the women in Mexico faced in their daily lives, a chilling similarity emerged between Mexico and India. Apparently in Mexico, one-fourth of the women who are killed breathe their last in their own homes.  Sadly, even in India, don’t we see girls/women being subjected to gruesome violence in their own homes…  be it through female foeticide, as proved by our falling sex ratio, or dowry-related violence, wife beating etc. How many times have we heard women activists/researchers tell conference after conference that “the Indian home is not a safe place for women”?

But the silver lining is that as in Mexico, in India too, women have now decided that enough is enough and they will no longer keep quiet. The Nirbhaya rape case worked on the collective psyche of Indian women, and men as well, and the outrage erupted through angry protests, which ensured that the criminal justice system sprung into action, the criminal rapists were apprehended, tried and hanged on the very morning I wrote this editorial.

On the day the Mexican women decided to “disappear”, corporate offices, restaurants, malls etc ended up being mere shadows of their normal selves, and the women did manage to send out a strong message that women, their dignity, their safety, their lives… they do matter.

It reminded me all over again of one of my most favourite poems… Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. Yes, we women are indeed phenomenal. The Rotary family has many, many of them. They stand side-by-side of male Rotarians, lend a helping hand, a generous heart, and loads of both compassion and commitment, sometimes taking leadership roles too, to improve the lives of the less privileged. During these tough times, when COVID-19 has turned the entire world topsy-turvy, the resolve, commitment, restraint, control and compassion that women can bring into anything, are required more than ever before.

How often have you seen in your own homes that in a crisis, it is the woman who keeps her sanity and holds the family together? This crisis too will pass, and all of us, men and women, who navigate the tough terrain ahead, will emerge better human beings… for this virus is reminding us once again what our priorities should be… good health, clean air, better hygiene and sanitation, responsible behaviour, and above all, a thought for our fellow human beings and other forms of life on our planet.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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