A week or two ago, a young woman was cycling in her city, and a group of young men in a car knocked her down, on purpose. She fell, naturally, and received some nasty bruises and scrapes, including a pretty bad one on the side of her face that hit the concrete. The narrative around violence against women, particularly in public spaces, is always and depressingly the same: what was a woman doing out anyway, women in public spaces are exposing themselves willfully and inevitably to violence, violence is bound to happen to women because in public they are outside the safe ambit of their homes (let’s pretend for a minute that there is no violence inside homes). The bottom line being perpetuated each time is that women don’t belong anywhere except at home. Anything outside of that—a trip to the tailor, window shopping, getting a rickshaw to go anywhere, clinics, the school run—is unnecessary. Forget about leisure, dawdling, sitting under a tree or just walking or cycling around for fun. That’s even worse; that kind of public exposure doesn’t even have a legitimising reason! And so the way women are conditioned to see themselves in the world grows narrower and narrower until it reaches a point where some women don’t even know the way back to their homes. If you were to leave them at a certain point they would have no clue as to where or how they could get back home. Imagine that for a minute—being such a stranger to the outside world, the city where you live being so alien to you.

It’s not unusual, at all. Women are trained from an early age to police themselves, their bodies and their movement, always so that they can feel safe. Women are told from the earliest age that they are vulnerable, and so we raise nervous women who in turn raise girls who are perpetually looking over their shoulder for an aggressor. This is how gender roles, and their entrenchment, happens. Little kids, toddlers, don’t have that sense and so my two year old daughter runs neck and neck with her best friend, who happens to be a male cousin her age. They both dig up flowerbeds, they both chase balls and they both make pretend tea. In a few years I might not but the people around her—teachers, household help, relatives, friends—will start telling her it isn’t quite seemly to play with boys. That she shouldn’t wear shorts, or run, or drive alone. People will start pushing her back inside.

This is where the brave girls come in. That’s why brave girls are not just important, but vital. They are the girls who push back. They are the ones who wait at bus stops every day to catch a bus to college or work, and have to listen to men say “Mashallah” as they pass. They are the ones who don’t apologise for asking for a raise at work. They are the ones whose hearts sink a little when it gets dark, but drive home anyway. The brave girls wipe up bloody chins and rush to doctors. They are the ones who cycle because they like it, because it’s a way to talk to one’s city. The brave girls are the ones who get knocked off their bikes, but they are also the ones who organise bike rallies to support each other. The brave girls are the ones who play cricket and, win or lose, have heart enough to tie their competitor’s shoelace for them. Brave girls are special because they have to work twice as hard to get what men take for granted, be it something as (seemingly) simple as sitting on a bench and being left alone, or being praised for an accomplishment. Brave girls usually have brave women around them—the mothers who never did, but let their daughters. Aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends, co-workers, neighbours; brave women all pushing back in whatever way they can, they ways they know how. Sometimes they get help from the brave men around them, because men might be able to cycle anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they are free. The patriarchy isn’t going to be smashed in one grand revolution. We’re going to do it slowly, brick by brick, by being brave, and being enablers, because the brave girls are the ones paving the way for my toddler to be one too. So on her behalf, thank you.