Women have started reclaiming spaces, rightfully belonging to them which by virtue of unspoken decree, misogynistic norms and the tacit patriarchal agreement they have been deprived of and continue to be barred from. Whether it be universities, religious and holy places, public spaces, or the roles of being breadwinners, they are pushing back in what I call the resurgence of the Great Feminine of ancient times.
Spaces are important whether at home or in public, in our minds or a very very intimate relationship like marriage, spaces help us in realising our full potential and even encountering, dealing and facing the beasts within us. There have been instances recently when women started filing for petitions to enter holy places that decided they were "impure", "unclean" to enter the 'sanctum sanctorum' of the dwellings of the gods (male or female) managed by male priests. Notwithstanding the irony of the situation, there has been a debate whether women ought to outrightly reject such notions of faith that render them as sub-human and only fit for presence on certain "pure" days, or whether they should fight for their right to enter them.
I stand by their fight to right for space. Right to religion is a Universal Right enshrined in the most 'sacred' book of all for me - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So it means they are fighting for what has been deemed as a human right by all governing bodies and democratic societies. The Constitutions of South Asian countries too guarantee a right to religion (most of them), hence they are within their constitutional rights too. The thing is 2016 has dawned with the women more aware of their rights and the means of redressing the trespassing of those rights. Digital technology and social networking have made it possible to mobilise large groups under a common mission and a much more watchful media makes it impossible to crush dissent within democracies.
I recently read Faisal Kapadia's article in Global Voices regarding Girls at Dhabas, a movement started by two Pakistani women to reclaim public spaces in South Asia. Faisal reports:
'... the group's Facebook page describes them as “Desi feminists and women defining public space(s) on [their] own terms and whims”. Dhabas are roadside stalls that serve food and tea that are a traditionally male domain across South Asia. They are frequented mostly by men or women accompanied by a man."
This tea-drinking 'passive resistance' movement doesn't confine itself to just eating but draws on the ancient tradition of women gathering by campfires and the medieval practices of street debates and discussions along with snacks. Great ideas have been born through these cultural exchanges inside homes and only privileged women from upper class or elite families could be privy to the political and social commentaries that went on. By breaking the influence of the male bastion in public squares, women who hold 'Half the Sky' and were kept so effectively kept out of policies, amendments, conflict resolutions and peace-building are now fighting for opportunities to empower themselves about their inalienable rights. For information is empowerment these days.
There is an exact mirror resistance movement in Aligarh Muslim University, in India which spilled over to Pakistan too called 'Why Loiter', started by the alumni of the prestigious university. Afiya Islam, an alumni of the said writes in The Hindu:
‘Why Loiter’ challenges the exclusion of women from public spaces often on the grounds that they’re not ‘safe’ for women. It encourages women to ‘loiter’ in public spaces not only to reclaim them but to also counter the expectation that women should be in public spaces only with a purpose (and that if they are wandering purposelessly, they are ‘asking for it’).
Also launched by female students of Delhi, studying in different colleges in the city 'Pinjra Tod' as the name suggests is a mass campaign unravelled against discriminatory practices that continue to prevail in the colleges of Delhi against female students, especially in hostels. Nikita Azad in social media outlet Feminism in India writes: '
'Pinjra Tod urges the female students to break all the cages which bind them and their flight to the world, whether it is hostel timings or regressive policies catering only to the female students. It is a progressive step towards exposing the hypocrisy of society and dual character of our educational institutions. It is an attempt at reclaiming all the spaces of society women have been barred from accessing since ages, to be filled up by women of different colours.
The sexist and misogynist ideologies that lock women in homes, hostels, across the boundaries, seem deeply entrenched in the minds of persons holding legitimate authority in the country".
She further adds:
"...Recently, a shocking diktat was issued to the female students of Sri Sai Ram Engineering College, Chennai which includes refraining female student from carrying mobile phones, using Facebook and WhatsApp, talking to boys, wearing high heels, colouring hair, keeping hair loose, wearing leggings, tight jeans or tops, and even from using transparent or short dupattas!"
The campaign has given an impetus to all the female students across the country to unmask the sexist practices they have to face every day and 'Pinjra Tod' has been receiving huge support from all sections of women, from different parts of the country. On one hand, the argument of ‘securing women’ because of a tremendous increase in the number of incidents of sexual violence has plateaued, while on the other, as a consequence of this campaign, the argument of letting women occupy their spaces themselves has gained nationwide attention.
I cannot help latching it on to the international movement in the US where the Muslim Reform Movement under the unfailing strength and courage of Asra Nomani, a prominent writer and Daily Beast columnist protested in front of Barack Obama's visit to a mosque. The protest aimed at “standing up for women's rights at mosques, as a symbol of broader rights in education, voice and work.” It's the reclaiming of the right to be in a public space without discrimination based on gender. Add to it small personal resistance statements like all women 'Bikernis' of Delhi, breaking records, or Zenith Irfan, the 21-year-old Pakistani on a soul searching motorcycle trip to honor her father's legacy.
Reclaiming our lives, our freedoms, our spaces, our minds is never easy. It faces centuries old barriers of misogyny, patriarchy, old mindsets, and plain ignorance many times. But the resurgence of the Great Feminine is inevitable.