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On #DayOfTheGirl, what kind of freedom have women really achieved?

We all woke up to a greeting from Facebook: Today’s Girls, Tomorrow’s Leaders. “On the International Day of the Girl, we celebrate the potential of every young woman to be a powerful voice in her community. We hope you’ll join us in wishing every girl a bright future,” it read.

While the message is apparently quite appealing and powerful, how much substance it holds is a matter of debate. We are living in an age in which every other organization aims at promoting gender equality and freedom for women. While we may have achieved a lot with time, is it enough?

Revolutionary philosopher Rosa Luxembourg wrote, “Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all.”

Let’s revisit the quote in terms of women. The sad reality: whatever freedom that women have in today’s age, particularly in the context of the South Asian region, is exclusive to the women belonging to the upper or upper-middle classes. The working woman in urban settlements is far more independent than the female peasant working in the fields of Sindh and Punjab. I have the freedom and independence to choose, for example, how I will dress. But is that really ‘women liberation’ given that numerous counterparts of mine dwelling in villages are getting married at tender ages? While I express my views as I pen this piece in the cozy confines of my air-conditioned corporate office, a majority of my kind do not even have a voice.

Last month, I attended a workshop on ‘Overcoming Bias: Covering Gender, Ethnicity & Social Class’. Talking about the presence of female voices during the workshop, Mahim Maher referred to Prof Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay, titled ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’. She asked why a White British man should have to save Brown women by criminalizing suttee in India.

“I do not understand or condone suttee,” Maher said. “What Spivak is saying is that the White man decided to speak for the Brown woman and tell her what was good for her.” She added that one may not like the niqab but they have to respect the woman who chooses to wear it.

But is that happening anywhere? A certain country in the West bans the burka. Most countries in our South Asian region blame the woman for ‘inappropriate attire’ when she gets raped. Why is the world so polarized and dictatorial when it comes to women? Are we really free? It is NOT freedom if I do not get to choose that I want to wear a burka or take it of thereof. As Luxembourg put it, it “is no freedom at all.”

UN will continue to make amazing videos on these celebratory days. But the only way we will gain our real freedom is when we, as women, will occupy all the spaces that men have dominated for ages. As they say, “we will have to educate, organize and agitate.” Until and unless we take to the streets to wage a war against the existing power structure and gender imbalance, we will continue to suffer as a whole. A number of people or even your inner self will remind you that women are not meant to be on the streets. “It’s not safe.” “It’s not lady-like.” At times like these, remind yourself that it was our female ancestors, the suffragettes, who fought for the right to vote by demonstrating on the streets. No one, including our old ‘friend’ United Nations, is going to give us our rights on a plate. We, as women, will have to fight for them. There will be men who will be our allies in this battle. But the battle is ours and no one’s going to fight it for us.

One day, I hope to see a world where every woman, irrespective of her class, race, religion or any other superficial label, has achieved true freedom and equality. Until then, I refuse to say ‘Happy Day of the Girl’.

Tahir, Minerwa. On #DayOfTheGirl, what kind of freedom have women really achieved?. Samaa, October 11, 2017.

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