Speakers at this edition of Feminist rani included Sapna Bhavnani, Harish Iyer, Meghna Pant, ElsaMarie D’Silva, among others
Speakers at this edition of Feminist rani included Sapna Bhavnani, Harish Iyer, Meghna Pant, ElsaMarie D’Silva, among others

Sisters in solidarity: Staking their claim to public spaces

Feminist Rani’s latest edition had women taking centre stage to speak on their own experiences with gender-based violence, and the importance of reclaiming public spaces
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2017 09:05 PM IST

A day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America, over two lakh women descended on Washington DC for the Women’s March, an event that hopes to send a simple, affirmative message to the government on their first day in office –women’s rights are human rights. They’re rallying for freedom from sexual violence, comprehensive reproductive rights, minimum wages, LGBT rights, immigrant rights and more, all concerns they believe will be under threat in Trump’s presidency rule.

Miles away, women in India were marching in a similar fashion, but in an effort to reclaim their rights to safe public spaces around the country. As part of ‘I Will Go Out’, at 5 pm today, women in Mumbai, Bhopal, Chennai, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Jammu, Thrissur and Ranchi, among other cities, took to the streets in solidarity against sexual harassment and misogyny. The hashtag and march comes in the wake of a spate of gendered violence incidents in the country – the year, in fact, began with disturbing images from Bangalore, where several women were reportedly groped in a famous area of the city on New Year’s eve.

“The anonymity and security that a group offers leads men to behave in the worst imaginable ways,” said ElsaMarie D’Silva, speaking at a special edition of Feminist Rani, centred around the march, on Friday. D’Silva is the founder of SafeCity, an online platform that crowd-sources experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in public places. She added that being a mere bystander and witnessing acts of harassment was almost as bad as being a perpetrator. “Sexual violence is not restricted to hours of the day, an individual’s age, or even public spaces.”

Since its inception, Feminist Rani has emerged as a powerful platform to engage and elevate conversations around feminism, by bringing together opinion leaders from varied fields. Friday’s edition saw author and moderator Meghna Pant, queer activist Harish Iyer, celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani, actor-director Dan Hussain and journalist Aarefa Johari, among others. Husain spoke on male privilege, and how the privilege should be everyone irrespective of their gender or orientation. “When I dress up every morning, the thought that I’ll be stared, stalked, felt, groped or even intimidated does not even cross my mind. Unfortunately, this is not true for women,” he said.

Iyer, who began by addressing a question he’s commonly asked – what is a man going to do at a male gathering – spoke on his own experience of being sexually abused for nine years, and how homophobia and misogyny are closely interlinked. “Both of them operate from the same system of patriarchy,” he said, later reciting a bold poem around #IWillGoOut. An excerpt -

Awaara sadkon par awaara ghoomongi,

Khud ko mardaangi ke andar band kar lo tum,

Main toh firungi, khush rahoongi,

I will go out

Iyer captured the essence of #IWillGoOut when he said, “Until some of us are safe, all of us are unsafe.” The causes for the Indian and American marches may be different, but the underlying message is the same – safety and equal rights.

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