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Feminism and gender equality, says Anjali Sharma, always start at home. And to this end, she has many essential and deep conversations with her young daughter. Here, we’re given a peek into those.
The Indian girl child is told often enough that she doesn’t deserve better. That she’s nothing more than a womb. That she can’t possibly ask for more. Yet, women refuse to give up on the dream of equality, of seizing their place in the sun. Starting 6th October 2018, as part of the conversations we have at Women’s Web for the International Day of the Girl Child on 11th October, we present a special series in which a few of our best authors write about #GirlPower. Some write from their own experience as girls, some about the significant girls in their lives, and some even to future daughters – a rich tapestry of emotions that is woven with love, bravery, inspiration, hope, fear, pain, and so much more.
“It is essential to raise confident daughters who understand courage and feminism inside out. But the stories, just one step outside the home, also need to be brought home and discussed, how marginalized girls who also are a rebel in their small world are doing everything to speak up, break out and inspire others,” says Anjali Sharma, a daughter brought up on the tenets of feminism actually practiced at home without naming it, mom to a questioning daughter, and a woman who also works with young underprivileged girls in her daily routine.
Check it out!
“Mom! but why is the book named ‘for rebel girls’? Do girls have to be a rebel to achieve what they really want to?” These days, as we peruse various stories of courage, determination and change page by page in the book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, my eight year old daughter is filled with many such curiosities and questions. “Because isn’t it mumma that when we are happy in doing something that we become successful at that? Why should anyone have a problem with girls doing what they want to?”
Innocent questions; not so easy and straight forward answers but worthy enough to start the must have conversations with my daughter around things which have held us in shackles since many years and in many ways still continue do.
It is said that lucky are those who have daughters, and like you, me and many others, this statement is something we can vouch for. However, I know and you would agree, how opinions around this statement may be polarised and still vary drastically across caste and communities!
Writing on the occasion of International day of Girl child makes me nostalgic and introspective; yes, positive that changes are happening and we have come a long way, also hopeful that future looks better and promising…
I’ve always had a very loving and privileged upbringing. Though no one spoke about ‘feminism’ in those days, I can definitely say that my grandmothers could be called the biggest feminists of those times. Having seen extremely difficult circumstances post partition and literally starting from scratch after moving from Sindh (Pakistan) to Delhi, they raised my parents through some very tough conditions, taking care of not just the household work but also adding to the finances of the family by taking up tasks as stitching and knitting.
I was the first born child of my parents and the only girl child in a boys’ gang of six (real and cousins) in an extended yet very close knit family. Cliched things like “Girls do this and don’t do that … you are a girl so this is expected out of you…as a girl, these things need to be kept in mind…” were never ever a part of conversations at our home. Though relatives tried to meddle and (mis)guide but they only got discouragement and neglect.
Today, as I look back, I easily can attribute much of my ambitions, a result of the aspirations of my grandmothers and mother to see the girl child in the family work hard and soar higher not just equal but much higher than the boys in the family. Guess it was their way to see themselves touching skies which they aspired to but couldn’t; it was perhaps their way to put a hard slap at all those vulnerabilities that they and the girls in their times had seen and suffered from. Thanks to some strong females around me, I excelled in studies and extra curricula at school and then at college, and then sailed seamlessly into a dream job! The women in my life inspired me to dream big and break out!
Times have changed over so many years. When I became a mother to a daughter (again our first born), things had changed; definitely progressive, but far far way from being completely correct. I ensured that I carry the same ideology with which I was brought up. And thanks to the family support on this stand of mine, I clearly see how my daughter at this age, imbibes many aspects of feminism without even much knowing about the term and the concept!
“Mumma why did you leave nani’s home after you got married? Can’t all of us be together in a big house – why is marriage so partial to males in the family?” It is amazing to see questions of my young girl about small observations around her. Her resentment if anyone dares to even shower any special privilege to boys around her or tries giving any special privileges to her because she is a girl, makes me feel positive that perhaps she would raise her voice against any gender discrimination and injustice if she faces it ahead in her life. I feel optimistic; perhaps I am raising a confident child.
When my daughter was born, I was at the peak of my career with a very hectic corporate schedule. I led the entire customer support team of my organisation which supported a complete customer base across the world in various time zones. I chose to work from home. In spite of a supportive superior who was in US and backed my decision and a lovely family who stood with me whenever needed, I struggled quite often to balance my new motherhood and my professional commitments. By the time my daughter was three, I had decided to slow down and shift gears. A question of priorities, it was! I decided to take a thought through sabbatical. Rather I would say that “we – me and my spouse” decided that a break made sense at that point in time in my professional path.
It wasn’t easy because at no point in my steadfast career, had anyone told me that this could also happen. We decided to take it mutual. We agreed that we would ensure that I use this sabbatical thoughtfully. I slowly got involved into things which I always wanted to but never had time to; thanks to the madness of a corporate life. I picked up piano lessons, community and social work. Something that I had always felt passionate about.
Few years went by into the sabbatical; and at some point when schedules were relaxed and motherhood commitments could be managed; life brought me some exciting opportunities of getting back to my corporate life but I decided to remain with my passion; and decided to give life a second innings with new dreams and vision. Some people objected; others called me a rebel as in deciding against choosing a proven path but I leaned in. I asserted. I decided to pursue my true calling. Guess I passed on a message to my daughter that your career choices may change at different points in time in your life but its important to listen to your heart. To lean in and not just do what others would like you to.
I have always have believed that we need to walk the talk and that it has to start from home. It is essential to raise confident daughters who understand courage and feminism inside out. But the stories, just one step outside the home, also need to be brought home and discussed. Things aren’t good outside; though they are improving. In the underprivileged communities, as on date also if parents of underprivileged girls can send one child for better education and a career, more than 85% choose boys over girls.
My passion for development work often brings me in touch with stories of girls and women, who have literally revolted and persisted, refusing to bow down to the most oppressing circumstances. When constant counselling and hand holding of one such Pooja, a girl in a migrant colony in Delhi, daughter of a vegetable seller and a house help leads her to pursue teachers’ training program, when Amita – daughter of an alcoholic rickshaw puller, pushed into helping her mother clean and mop from house to house takes up a job at a call centre, when seven year old Seema is able to go to school instead of taking care of her small brothers, it feels good.
I carry these stories home! I share it with my daughter. Speaking to her about the winds of change and how marginalized girls who also are a rebel in their small world are doing everything to speak up, break out and inspire others. I take it as an opportunity to discuss with her how courage and determination is everywhere and it’s our responsibility to share it across and let others get inspired!
A couple of days back, my daughter came back in a state of shock. The reason, she had read in a newspaper lying at the reception of her school, that a girl of few days was abandoned just like that. No one knew the whereabouts of parents. The baby girl was left in the dustbin outside Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital. The newspapers today are full of murky stories of female foeticide, abandonment and molestation of girl child, sex trafficking. Does it end there, absolutely no! Today our country ranks as the most dangerous nation for women. Does that disappoint me? Very much yes!
But I feel positive. Feel optimistic that conversations have started to happen. As girls and women, we have started to shake not just age old traditions but also that deep rooted sense of entitlement which is a result of deep rooted patriarchy. More and more women are coming out and raising their voices. The #MeTooIndia campaign is in right there with shocking revelations from females about sexual exploitation and harrasment. The change is showing up as girls and women are shedding their fears, uniting and standing up against years of suppression and harrassment. Isn’t it something to feel positive about?
Tomorrow when today’s girls grow up and take charge of the world as young women, there won’t be any less obstacles but if we keep focussing on things inside out as well as keep the conversations going, however uncomfortable they may be; we would instil that courage in our daughters such that they can tide over any number of obstacles and may be one day proudly say “I am free. Free of gender issues and patriarchy. Free to pursue my dreams. To follow my heart without any need of being a rebel!”
Quoting few lines from the prologue of the book ‘Goodnight stories for rebel girls ‘-
“To the rebel girls of the world
Dream bigger, Aim higher, Fight harder,
And when in doubt,
remember YOU ARE RIGHT.”
Image source: shutterstock
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An engineer and a telecom business professional, Anjali Gurmukhani Sharma is a Delhi University rank
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