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Impressions of Ethiopia – women, economy & climate change

I am on a month long work-exchange in Ethiopia, working with the Food Security team here at the Dutch Embassy in Addis Ababa.

I don’t know what I expected to be very honest but if I had any expectation, Ethiopia has certainly exceeded all of them. My first impression of Addis Ababa was that it’s huge!!! It’s a big city, spread out in what appears to be a valley or several valleys connected together. But with a population of 4 to 5 million, for a Bangladeshi like me, it’s very sparsely populated 🙂

The roads are busy but there’s none of the incessant honking that drives people crazy in Dhaka traffic. And I find that it’s pretty representative of the people here ….. Ethiopian’s are quiet, reserved people, very dignified & proud in their heritage (and absolutely rightly so). Unfailingly cordial and extremely polite, unlike the Bangalis they keep their nose out of other people’s business. One foot in the past – a long glorious heritage, yet one planted firmly towards the future – in progress for everyone. Though deeply religious, women here do enjoy a different kind of freedom.

What that freedom means on a day to day basis is that it’s absolutely possible to have peace & quiet in the middle of a crowd. You can sit quietly in a cafe and enjoy the view without being gawked at, commented at or imposed on in any manner. You can walk down the busy roads without people bumping into you every few feet. And as a woman I feel more comfortable & safer here then in my own country. Ethiopians also have more women parliamentarians then Bangladesh & the labour force participation is significantly higher.

Before I came, I read up on Ethiopia and was impressed by the fact that this country has never been colonised. I expected this to mean something, but exactly what, I couldn’t have said. Now that I am here, I do see the difference between a population colonised vs. a population who were always the master of their own destiny. Even though Ethiopians are very polite, you can tell that the color of one’s skin doesn’t impress here. In former colonies there’s a tendency to idolise white skin people, to give more attention, to try to impress, to cater to, we have not gotten over the ‘white master’ syndrome. If a native person makes a suggestion or give advice, we might shake it off BUT if a white person makes the same, people trip over each other trying to be the first ones to take it. It’s frustrating because it sidelines the suggestion & advice of people who know their country best AND has its best interest at heart. Here, the Ethiopians are very nationalistic & while they are open to advice, they also make it a point to accept suggestions on their own terms, in their own time. Sure it slows things down but it also means that local ownership is high. Which after all is more important in order for development activities to be sustainable.

The previous Prime Minister made a very public declaration that Ethiopia will pursue a climate resilient green economy. A tall order but a very commendable one. While the understanding of climate change, its negative impact on environment & stress on the livelihood of the population varies among various professional, the attention though continues to impress me. As the Native Americans say “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. In our pursuit for economic growth we tend to compromise on that, and perhaps some compromise is inevitable, a trade-off if you will, at least here the choices are being looked at & deliberated on more vigorously.

IMF ranks Ethiopia among the five fastest growing economies in the world and in 2013/2014 the economy grew for its 11th consecutive year posting 10.3% growth. Quite impressive for a non-oil producing economy. However it is still far from its ambition to become a middle income country by 2025. With around 29% of its population living below the poverty line there is much work that still needs to be done. And the government seems to be on the right track with a stable political environment, progressive economic liberalisation  and high focus on green & equitable growth.

Quite an impression for the very first week in a new country 🙂 I can hardly wait to see how much more there will be learn over the upcoming days.

The Amazing Bangladeshi Women series #2

Bangladesh Women’s cricket team captain Salma Khatun is the No. 1 T20 bowler and all rounder in the latest ICC rankings! Congratulations Salma Khatun for this fantastic achievement!

 

You can read more on her in wikipedia and here in ESPN cricket info 😉

The Amazing Bangladeshi Women series #1

#SabinaKhatun, ace forward in #Bangladesh National Women Football Team, scores 16 goals in a match in #Maldives Women’s Football Fiesta http://ow.ly/KGpe2

Sabina became the first ever Bangladeshi women football player to play for a foreign club as she went to play for Police Club, Maldives in the tournament which began on March 14 and will end on April 17, with 14 teams fighting for the title.

Read the full article here: http://www.thedailystar.net/top-news/bangladeshi-girl-scores-16-goals-match-73314

In a world where women are still fighting for equality, being a woman in a developing country is difficult. It’s difficult to get the same opportunities for education, for health care, for living standards, career choices and we are a long way off from being treated equally under the law.

Yet, as I see over and over again, there are an amazing number of my fellow country women who are creating history. They follow non-traditional paths and become trail blazers. They are my heroes. I love that they have the courage to follow their dreams and chose unconventional careers, cracking open that glass ceiling.

A series of my blog posts will now be dedicated to honouring these women, their courage, their leadership and above all the strength of their femininity.

The difficulties of reporting rape or assault

In a world where 1 out of 3 women/girls face sexual assault during their lifetime and 15 out of 16 assailants go free, this is what happens when a victim tries to report rape.

It’s poignant because they have replaced reporting ‘rape’ with reporting a ‘robbery’, goes to show how the system is biased against the victim and who makes the system? Our patriarchal society… yes, even out west, in the developed world, it IS the patriarchal society that makes the rules and bends them.

Below is a mom’s experience of what happened when her teenage daughter stood up to a bully in school. If it was not OK for the boy to ping the bra of his teachers… if it was not OK for the Mom to ‘suggest’ touching the front of the trouser of the f***head teacher…  it was certainly NOT OK for the teacher to ‘ignore’ the boy’s very inappropriate behaviour and suggest that the girl was in the wrong because she reacted in self-defence. Men like these, makes my blood boil and mother’s like these.. make me want to stand up and salute them with deep respect.

Was Bra-ced For A Different Reaction

| SURREY, ENGLAND, UK | BAD BEHAVIOR, BULLY, PARENTS

(I’m an A&E nurse. We’re not allowed our phones on us; they’re to be kept in our lockers. A call comes into hospital reception on a private line for me.)

Phone: “This is [Teacher] from [School]. There’s been an incident involving [Daughter]. We need you to come in.”

Me: “Is she ill or injured? Can it wait until my shift is over in two hours?”

Phone: “[Daughter] has struck another pupil. We’ve been trying to call you for 45 minutes. It really is very serious.”

(I go to the school and am ushered into the head’s office. I see my daughter, her head of year, a male teacher, the headmaster, a boy with blood around his nose and a red face, and his parents.)

Head: “Mrs. [My Name], how kind of you to FINALLY join us!”

Me: “Yeah, things get busy in A&E. I’ve spent the last hour administering over 40 stitches to a seven-year-old who was beaten by his mother with a metal ladle and then I had to deal with the police regarding the matter. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

(After watching him try to not act embarrassed, he tells me what has happened. The boy had twanged my daughter’s bra and she had punched him in the face twice. I got the impression they were more angry with my daughter than the boy.)

Me: “Oh. And you want to know if I’m going to press charges against him for sexually assaulting my daughter and against the school for allowing him to do it?”

(They all get jittery when I mention sexual assault and start speaking at once.)

Teacher: “I don’t think it was that serious.”

Head Of Year: “Let’s not over-react.”

Head: “I think you’re missing the point.”

(The boy’s mother then starts crying. I turn to my daughter to find out what happened.)

Daughter: “He kept pinging my bra. I asked him to stop but he didn’t, so I told Mr. [Teacher]. He told me to ‘ignore it.’ [Boy] did it again and undid my bra so I hit him. Then he stopped.”

(I turn to the teacher.)

Me: “You let him do this? Why didn’t you stop him? Come over here and let me touch the front of your trousers.”

Teacher: “What?! No!”

Me: “Does that seem inappropriate to you? Why don’t you go and pull on Mrs. [Head Of Year]’s bra right now. See how fun it is for her. Or on that boy’s mum’s bra. Or mine. You think just because they’re kids it’s fun?”

Head: “Mrs. [My Name]. With all due respect, [Daughter] still beat another child.”

Me: “No. She defended herself against a sexual attack from another pupil. Look at them; he’s nearly 6 feet and 11 or 12 stone. She’s 5 feet and 6 stone. He’s a foot taller than her and twice as heavy. How many times should she have let him touch her? If the person who was supposed to help and protect her in a classroom couldn’t be bothered what should she have done? He pulled her bra so hard it came undone.”

(The boy’s mum is still crying and his dad looks both angry and embarrassed. The teacher won’t make eye contact with me. I look at the headmaster.)

Me: “I’m taking her home. I think the boy has learnt his lesson. And I hope nothing like this ever happens again, not only to [Daughter], but to any other girl at this school. You wouldn’t let him do it to a member of staff so what makes you think he can do it to a girl of 15 is beyond me. I will be reporting this to the governors. And if you—” *turning to the boy* “—EVER touch my daughter again I WILL have you arrested for sexual assault. Do you understand me?”

(I was so angry I gathered my daughter’s things and left. I reported it to the Board of Governors, several of whom I know from Church (it’s a Catholic school), and was assured it would be strongly dealt with. I also reported it to OFSTED (Government-run school monitoring) and they were equally as horrified and assured me they would contact the school. My daughter was put into a different class for that subject, away from the teacher and the boy.)”

 

What if the world turned on it’s head?

It’s all your fault

Got body image issues? This is for you!

So at some point in time or other, we all get these body image issues. Too fat, too thin, not enough boob, too much boob, jiggling in the wrong places … you name it, either you got it or someone you know does. What doesn’t help is the media portrayal of women who just look too damn perfect! Perfect skin, hair, make-up, figure.. everything is just too perfect!

It’s enough to cause bulimia and anorexia in teenagers. It’s enough to cause any women, regardless of age, body-image issues. In fact, if we could take our mental picture of us and compare that side by side to how others see us… we would be startled at how beautiful people think we are and just how critical we are of our flaws – real or imagined.

Everyone has some feature that others envy. Trust me! Sadly, I have yet to meet a woman/girl/teenager who thought they were perfect the way they are. What does that tell us? So here’s a ted talk from someone who is PERFECT! really! she is! She’s smart, beautiful and has a rocking body. She’s been a model for 10 years now. She’s  literally admitting her privilege and pointing out both the biases and superficiality of the fashion industry (which can severely affect the body and beauty image of young girls everywhere) and the way people judge others based solely on physical appearance (RACE, gender, weight, hair color etc).

The first part to fixing a problem is letting it be known – in this case that happens to be that ‘LOOKS’ aren’t everything 🙂

And here’s a talk that shows the surprising impacts of low body and image confidence—from lower grade point averages to greater risk-taking with drugs and alcohol. And then shares the keys things all of us can do to disrupt this reality.

This post is related to another one I wrote on girls & images: Caught in between lies & half-truths.

A hero & her heroism

 

While most of us, city-people, romanticize rural life. There’s very little that is romantic about it. Life is hard for people who depend on the land to make a living and even more so for the women. While women are discouraged from taking up work outside the home, it becomes a necessity ultimately when the responsibility of bringing up children falls squarely on them in the de-facto absence of husbands. Combined with the hardship of daily life, women ultimately end up working longer hours trying to make ends meet.

Children’s education, a luxury before, is now a necessity. But one that not everyone can afford. Monija, the lady who helps my aunt care for her domestic duty, brought her daughters over yesterday. Turns out that the one I had thought was her younger sister is actually her eldest daughter. Her husband worked in Sylhet for five years and while he sent as much money as he could afford, it became impossible for her take care of her 3 children in the village. She moved them to the city, to my aunt’s place where she has worked before.

It’s a big house with joint family so there’s always the need to have an extra pair of hands around. She found employment, has been given a house to live in and now sends her 3 kids to the Madrasa for education. I asked her why she didn’t send them to the government school, and she said that her husband wants the kids to get religious education. He wouldn’t hear of them going to mainstream school and she is tired of fighting him for every little dream that she has for her children.

Thing is the quality of education in Madrasa is far below par. Yes they will probably learn to read and write but the emphasis will always be on learning to read Arabic so they can read the Quran or perhaps just memorize it. However, for many others like her, this madrasa education is already a step up than what she had not been able to get and moreover, this is all that she can afford. She hopes that her 14-year-old daughter will do well in her Secondary School exam and if that’s the case, she hopes to be able to continue her education further to Higher Secondary level.

While I marveled at the thick bamboo clumps and the tall maize plants, I saw beauty while she saw danger. She doesn’t want to live in the village with her daughters. She fears that places like these are for girls to be taken away to and once they have been deflowered, whether forcibly through rape or willingly because they imagine themselves to be in love, no other man/boys in the village will want to marry them.

The collectivism of the rural life will not protect her daughters and it won’t let them or anyone else forget either. Since her daughter is now as tall as her, for villagers, she’s old enough to get married. Forget about the fact that neither the girl nor her parents wants her married off. If something happens, then the burden of it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the family and worst case scenario, they might even face ostracism from the community.

In places that has only a handful of people living in it, hardly a couple of hundred, everyone knows everyone’s business. Yet to not be allowed to interact, buy, sell or trade with these people can be a serious disadvantage. So she has chosen the path of individualism, living in the city, hoping to be able to give her daughters some education and delay marriage for as long as possible.

The lack of mobility is a serious drawback for the women of the village. While I am lucky enough to ‘whoosh in and out’ in a car, that is a luxury most people don’t even dream about. The highest aspiration in a lot of cases seems to be able to afford at least one bicycle – in fact that is quite frequently part of dowry demands. For women, whom no one would dream of giving a bicycle to, mobility frequently means the ability to walk for miles to get to the nearest town or even the village bazaar. The difficulty of making a trip to the doctor in illness under such circumstances is not something that I have enough imagination for.

When I think of heroes, these days, I always end up thinking of women like Monija. Women who somehow find the courage to continue in the face of insurmountable odds. Women who somehow still have dreams for their children even when they are struggling to put 3 square nutritious meal on their plates. Women who go from one day to the next without knowing what awaits them around the corner. Women who dedicate their life and all of their effort into raising a brood of children, hoping that they’ll be able to give them at least a little bit more of an edge in the race of life.

Anyone who can face so much and still persist in living & dreaming deserves to be capped as heroes.

Caught in between lies and half-truths

Perhaps one of the greatest paradox of human life is that while we profess to upholding the truth above all else, the reality is that we are all caught in a complex web of white lies, half-truths and out-right lies. We are indoctrinated into this lie at a very early age and we either do not question it at all or we have all kinds of reasons as to why this is so.

Who else but humans would be capable of creating such a rich web of spinning words that catches and holds you like the spider’s web?

We bring up our girls on a steady diet of Disney princess and first loves and true loves power. We bring them up to fall in love and get married and stay married. Our fairy tale prince’s are not perfect, in fact, they might be downright abusive, but the princess doesn’t leave. No, she stays and she works on him, till he is perfect (a la carte beauty and the beast).

Do we bring up our boys on the same diet? To be worthy of being a prince? To fall in love with one girl and stay with her no matter how imperfect she is, until their love is perfect? How many boys do you know who are obsessed with Disney prince, vis-a-vis, some other cartoon character like Ben 10?

We bring up our girls to be super-woman. If she wants to work outside, fine but let’s not forget that she must be a domestic goddess first. The domestic goddess maybe battered and bruised and exhausted from having to do with too little sleep on a chronic basis, but never mind, she can mind the house, the babies and her husband before she goes out and discharges the duties of her career.

Our boys worldwide are pampered. Unburdened of housework or even the simplest acts of picking up their dinner dishes from the table and washing it off, boys have their childhood extended into their adult life. The pampering that starts with mama, continues with the wife. If it doesn’t, hey, most major religions will allow him to beat up his wife until she understands and fulfills HIS needs. If not directly with fists, then the same results would be obtained with half-lies and emotional blackmail: “Yeah, you are a great wife, but if only you would….. “ fill in whatever you want that either caters to him, his children or his parents or his family.

Is it any wonder that our girls are disillusioned? Bewildered? Disheartened?

This is not how it was supposed to be… this is not what happens when you are taken away by your knight in shining armor, who rides in on his white horse to save you.

And then we leave them wondering – did no one love them enough to tell them the truth? To warn them of the reality? To stand beside them as they muddle their way through this foreign landscape of half-truths and lies?

And even worse are the self-criticism that we are so good at installing in our girls, the doubts. The ‘maybe I wasn’t good enough’ statements that can be added and applied like a condiment to almost any situation in life. And of course we add some more spark to that fire by expressing our displeasure at the fact that she has failed to make something work out. Failed. Like the entire burden of making a relationship or a career work out is solely on the shoulders of the girl.

Why do we bother giving our girls an education? Why do we tell her that she can do anything, while we subtly discourage her from pursuing interests that are not in line with her gender stereotype?

Why do we tell them that they can have careers, children, husband, all of it… if they would just work hard enough and then work them down to their bones? Until they have nothing more left in them? Until they are so empty from giving, that living doesn’t make any sense to them?

Why do we not tell them instead that they would need to make some hard choices and its ok to make them? That she needs to do what is best for her. When a girl questions her choices, what do we tell her? More lies and half-truths?

But let’s face it, as long as one out of every three women worldwide continues to face violence, as long as more than 90% of that violence is carried on by either intimate partner or someone she knows, as long as we resort to comparison with a man in order to validate a woman’s accomplishment with statements like ‘she’s the man’, we still have the problem of half-truths and outright lies.

It’s all your fault

AWESOME SARCASM !!!!

The satire is poignant in pointing out how ominously, mercilessly, unthinkingly WE allow woman to be victimized – over and over again. Yes, we ….. not some anonymous ‘someone’ or ‘others’….. it is certainly ‘we’ consisting of you and me.

SO……… the next time you are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of being the guardian of “social morales”

wag your tongue and remind a woman of what she ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ do,

what she is ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ to do,

what ‘society’, ‘family’, ‘friends’ will ‘say’ about her or her parents or her upbringing…..

hold your tongue….

IF you can … stop & think and ALLOW common sense to prevail.

She’s busy fighting her way through the 24 hours that already exist in the day, she doesn’t need you to make it harder for her.

We, the women, allow the victimization of other women. We watch silently from the side, while someone else is getting victimized. We ‘allow’ the victimization of our own mother’s, sisters, sister-in-laws, aunts, cousins, nieces, friends, neighbors.

We justify it with ‘what can I do?’, ‘this is not my problem’, ‘it’s a family matter’, ‘what happens between husband and wife behind closed doors is none of my business’, ‘she was asking for it’ and we close our eyes to the violence.

We ‘allow’ it with our silence.

We ‘allow’ it every time we let someone step all over ourselves or someone else.

We ‘allow’ it when we want to avoid making a scene by calling attention to ‘this’.

We ‘allow’ it when we are too busy saving ‘faces’, instead of really looking at those faces around us.

We ‘allow’ it when we leave it to others to take action.

We ‘allow’ it when we encourage others to speak up but quiet down when it comes to our own self or family members  – by neither reporting the perpetrator nor helping the victim.

We ‘allow’ it when we advise a victim to ‘keep quiet’ in order to uphold the ‘family honor’.

REALLY?? Does the family’s honor, the woman’s honor, her social status, her worthiness as a human being, reside in her ability to keep quiet?

in allowing victimization??

in silently putting up with mental, verbal, physical abuse???

While the video above had been a satire, the one below unfortunately is not. Do not fool yourself into thinking that this is a South-Asian problem, an Indian problem or a Bangladeshi problem or an African problem. As report after report with mountainous statistics show…. this unfortunately is true the world over, including the first world countries, the developed world.

When women make up half of the world’s population, why do we put up with being abused by the other half? If we band together and stand up against this, can such impunity really exist?

 

Powerful monologue by Kalki Koechlin

Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin wrote a strong monologue for a solo performance at the 13th Indian Today Conclave on International Women’s Day on March 8. The monologue, which she dubbed as ‘Just Another Rant’, is a frustrated ode to women everywhere chained and bound by traditional patriarchy.

Here’s the full text of her monologue:

You remember in the beginning?

In the beginning God made man.

God made man in his own image.

And then that’s was it. ‘Man’kind, hu’man’ity, wo’man.

Man, man, man.

What chance in Hell did we ever have?

We were sidelined from the Big Bang.

You remember Draupadi?

Draupadi married off to all five Pandavas.

She garlanded only Arjun

But they told her you got to marry all of us.

Five husbands! That can’t be fun.

God know I have enough trouble with one.

Or what about Eve and the apple?

Blaming one woman for all mankind’s evil?

Soorya and Kunti,

The Virgin Mary

Do you know Gaia?

The Goddess Mother Earth

She’s the one we all trample on.

And remember Aphrodite

Goddess of love and beauty

Lest we forget, she was also

The patron of prostituting.

Persephone,

She was less known

Raped by Hades

She became Queen of the underworld,

Not even goddesses were left alone.

You might not know A’isha,

She was one of the wives of Prophet Mohammad

She challenged a Califh for power

It created quite a ruckus,

It led to war in fact,

All because of one woman’s fuss,

And so was born the tradition Islamic

That women should not engage in anything politic.

But of course they did,

Thank god they did.

Women have their ways,

As somebody once put it.

The Queen of Sheba, Empress Theodora, Rabia al’ Basra,

Cleopatra, The Victorian Era, The Mona Lisa

The Suffragettes, Marilyn Monroe, The sixties and burning bras,

The unpopular Thatcher and our own Indira

Et cetra et cetra and now here we are.

Here we are,

We’ve survived this far,

Thanks to seduction, perhaps some manipulation,

But mostly thanks to Mother Nature and ovulation.

Now look at all the queens and goddesses of history,

No prince came to the rescue,

No king ever went down on one knee,

No deity was even that trustworthy,

Yet all we’ve be told since we were three,

Are fairytales, adverts, and pretty stories,

Telling us to pray, hope,

And wait to be saved.

Here we are today.

Here we are,

On International Women’s Day,

With some minor disappointments,

And a few little things to say.

The woman in red,

The girl in pink,

The widow in white,

The Burqa in black,

The colour of lipstick,

Viva Glam, Lady Danger, Fresh brew, Faux, Frenzy, Hot Gossip and Sweetie.

Ramblin, Siss, Crme cup, Paramount and Modesty

Fetish, Spice it up, Naked Paris, Honey love and Odyssey.

Apply, line, smack, seal, pout,

And you’re ready to go out.

Ugh!!!

Sometimes I just want an oversized T shirt, boxer shorts, unkempt hair and unibrows.

I want armpit hair long enough to plait,

I want a clean face without a trace of make up

I want to look the way I do when I wake up.

I want to scratch my head,

Dig my nose,

Lick my fingers,

Stretch my legs

And spread my toes.

I want to smile with my gums showing,

Bare my teeth and

Contort my pretty face into wrinkles.

I want my crow’s feet to look sexy,

Or my salt and pepper hair,

Or my sun burnt skin,

I want to be George Clooney basically,

But with breasts and a muffin.

Alas,

No…no…shhh…control, control!

Keep it down.

Stuff it up, bottle it in, switch it off,

Cross your legs, wear a bra,

Sit straight and smile sweetly for the camera.

I went to a party,

I went to a party where

I was looking for something real.

Glittering, flashing lights,

Sparkling clean glasses with something bubbly and expensive inside,

Stuck on smiles of painted lips and gorgeous, skinny, beautiful ladies all around,

I craved a touch, a caress,

But my senses were intimidated by cloned perfection.

I thought I could hear muffled wailing,

Nervous giggling,

Intoxicated complying.

I thought I could hear the buzz of millions, screaming out their instructions,

Sit down, stand up, stay,

This way, that way, go away

I can’t breathe, I’m choking.

This room is filled with smoke

From regrets and weak, nicely packaged cigarettes.

This room is filled with luxury and fame

And false dreams.

This room is full of fat sharks

With sharp teeth

Sliding through delicate skin

Like a hot knife through butter.

God I’m so hungry.

There’s nothing to eat.

No food except some frozen bits of fish

On a silver platter

I eat one. I’m still hungry.

I eat another and I’m stared at by the waiter.

No matter. I take the whole platter

Totter off to my little corner

Next to an old and and eat from my platter.

I’m stared at by the latter.

No matter. I continue to eat from my platter.

I wipe clean the crumbs from my platter.

I lick clean the whole platter.

What? What are you looking at?

Stop. Stop looking at me like that.

What? I was hungry.

Haven’t you ever seen somebody eat before.

Stop it. Seriously, stop staring at me.

Hey, I’m talking to you,

Are you deaf?

Stop staring at me!

Stop it. You’ll drive me crazy!

Oh god, I’m dizzy.

It’s that bubbly stuff they gave me

This is one hell of a party.

I have to leave.

I’m spinning and bumping into people and furniture,

I’m spinning and bumping into everything.

Bumping into shiny lies, through living ghosts,

Past sickness,

Ramming right into anger,

Into wastefulness, nothingness,

Bad times, endless sleepless nights,

Half dead daylights,

Violent bumps from losing loved ones,

Losing innocence,

Losing dignity,

Losing looks,

Losing, just losing.

I’m craving, I’m starving,

For something real,

Something breakable,

Something tangled,

Fragile, imperfect and free.

I am starving

To be me.

What am I complaining about?

What right do I have to complain?

I have money, friends and fame.

I’m not fifteen and married,

I’m not a little girl who’s been lied to that she’s a woman,

Who’s been told not to question

A stranger who shares her bed,

I’m not a little girl who’s been

Raped before she’s been kissed,

Who’s been made mother

Before she’s had time to play,

Does she even ask to be free?

Does she dream?

When her husband enters her

Is it Shah Rukh Khan she tries to see?

Does she feel sexy?

I don’t think so.

This is her job,

Twenty four hours,

Seven days a week,

Zero pay,

Just get through each day.

Do you think she cares freedom, rights, about politics or religion,

She’s fifteen.

She cares about food

And what her neighbors say.

Politics and religion are for the luckier,

The wealthier,

The stronger,

And in our country,

Politics and religion are enviable careers.

So your religion tells you to cover up,

Your religion tells you to shave your head,

Your religion tells you to be meek,

Keep your eyes lowered,

Keep having children,

Or keep your mouth closed.

What if your religion told you to hate the other,

What if your religion told you to burn alive on a funeralpyre,

What if your religion told you to do whatever you felt like,

Spit, scream, gossip, fight, lose control, make noise, pollute,

Marry a child, perform an honour killing,

Rape, torture, discriminate,

Keep breaking the law,

Keep locked up,

Keep uneducated,

Keep submissive,

Keep ignored,

Keep under control.

Does God have a say in your religion?

Has God become a politician?

Dear men,

Dear powerful men,

I know you care about women.

I know you care about her.

I know you want her to feel like a princess,

I know you want to put her up on a pedestal,

Make her a goddess,

And give her a special day

International women’s day.

You want to carry her so she can’t walk,

Hold her, so she can’t be free,

Tell her, so she can’t know any differently.

But NO!

No. That’s not how works equality.

It’s hard work

To change a nation’s mentality

It’s hard work to go unnoticed,

Change the roots and the minds

Of a people who have been too long deprived

Of education and basic rights

Who are steering towards intolerance and misanthropy

Because of shameless inequality.

Dear men,

In all this will you give me the power?

Will you let me stand in your place?

Will you let me laugh in your face.

Will you stop staring, judging and accusing me

Or will you arrest me for blasphemy?

Label me as sexy, slutty, lose or crazy?

Call me Basanti, Pinky, Sweetie and whistle at me?

And wait a minute!

Wait a minute!

Not just dear men,

Dear auntie,

Will you stop gawking at me?

Dear Didi,

Will you stop telling me to shut up?

Dear women,

Will you, at least, stand up for me?

Enough of a woman who has become viscous from her environment.

Enough of a woman who has to become a man to compete.

Who has to weaken where she is strong and strengthen where she is weak.

Enough of a woman that has to make space for child and lover,

That has to occupy what space is left over,

Enough of uninformed teenage girls

Bleeding after losing their virginity and keeping silent after,

Enough of having to deal all alone with the morning after,

Enough of the disposed foetus,

Enough of the unwanted daughter.

Enough of girls in fairy dresses,

With bulimia and major complexes,

Enough of parents in denial, gender gaps and dividing sexes.

I’m tired.

You’re tired.

We are all tired.

We’re tired of waxing, manicuring, excercising,

Aborting, procreating, trimming, posing,

Smiling, threading,shopping, fucking, water-bursting,

The pill, make up, high heels, stainless steels, tampons, covering up,

Nurturing, caring and crying.

Ahhhh.

Sometimes I just want to breathe,

Sometimes it’s hard to even just breathe.

Like when a man is pounding incessantly on top of you in a daily routine,

It’s hard to breathe

When he turns away to sleep

Leaving you completely I satisfied sexually,

It’s hard to breathe

When your clothes are too tight,

The underwire of your bra is poking into your ribs,

It’s too hot to be wearing all this,

And it’s hard to breathe

When you want to stop being stared at but everyone always is.

The watchman, the rickshaw wallah, your neighbour’shusband,

They’re all watching your chest heave,

Everytime you breathe.

Sometimes, as a woman, you feel guilty to just breathe.

Of course we are going to be hysterical

Of course we are going to scream,

Of course we’re going to be unreasonable.

You think it’s reasonable to restrain somebody’s breathing?

Hello. Namaste. Salaam.

I am a Hindu a Muslim a Christian a Buddhist and an atheist.

I am twenty, thirty, forty and fifty.

I am single, married, divorced and half the country.

I am a mother, a daughter, a wife and a prostitute.

I am a stereotype, a trophy and a prisoner or patriarchy.

I am a woman in Indian society and I am not yet free.

But forget about all that for a moment and just look at me.

Look beyond my body, really look at me.

I am not a hardcore feminist to be very honest.

I am not a rebel as some would like to believe.

I am not even such an impressive celebrity,

I am not always made up and dressed up perfectly.

And my therapist assures me that I’m not crazy.

So look beyond all that. Look at me.

Look at what you’re seeing.

You’re seeing another human being.

You’re seeing another you in me,

And really there is no difference between you and me.

That’s all we need to grow up understanding,

To make ours a better society.

What if the world turned on it’s head?

What if the world turned on its head and you woke up one day to a society like this.

What would change for you?

as a man…

as a woman…

as a human being…

Wise men say before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoe. Yet we specialize in jumping …. to conclusions, to forcing others to live up to what we expect from them, what society expects, what religion expects, tribal laws, family laws/customs or whatever else we can drum up…… ever stop to wonder what they expect from themselves?

Have you ever asked someone what they want for themselves and REALLY listened?

This is not an invitation to debate, it IS an invitation to stop and think. Take a moment, take a breath and reflect.

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