Change.Org Country Director Nida Hasan: Feminism In India Is No Longer Limited To Activists

Posted: July 15, 2019

“Women have each other to draw inspiration from, to hold one another’s hands when the going gets tough,” says Change.org Country Director Nida Hasan, “and to celebrate our victories together.”

As a child, I was a tom-boy! I wore shorts and basketball jerseys, played cricket in the scorching June sun, without a care for how much I tanned, went to the market to buy groceries, cycled around the neighbourhood, fell, scraped my knees, got scars on my legs that would last a lifetime. I wore the ‘tom-boy’ tag with pride, my entire childhood.

By the time I entered college, I was the only girl in my Journalism class who drove a car (albeit a rickety Maruti 800, nicknamed ‘Tuttad’). But it was in college, when I first realised how this label of ‘tom-boy’ from my family and friends that I proudly sported, was one of the biggest pieces of baggage I had to carry.

Carrying the ‘strong’ woman’s burden

I felt the need to be loud and aggressive in order to be heard. To cuss and swear as I navigated Delhi’s streets in my tuttad. To always be strong, never showing any signs of weakness.

Joining one of the most vibrant newsrooms in India straight out of college, was such a rush of adrenaline! But soon it hit me. The thing I had been mistaking for adrenaline was in fact testosterone. In this male-dominated space, women had to fight twice as hard to be able to make themselves heard. And for the first time I observed that I wasn’t the only one with this heavy baggage.

Strong, powerful women had to alter their behaviour, in order to fit in the masculine world. They had to “adjust”.

The fear of showing my vulnerable side cropped up during an overseas assignment while I was working for a foreign television channel. I had gravely injured my thigh while climbing over a fence wire in Bangladesh. The wound needed serious medical attention but I couldn’t let my weakness show. Not in front of an all-male team! They would think I was being a “delicate darling”. So I quietly went to a doctor for a tetanus shot and continued the shoot for over a week. I still have that scar on my thigh. And on my mind.

But that changed when I joined Change.org

This is how I understood feminism for a very long time. A need to become equal with men. By acting and behaving more like them. It was only when I was about to turn 30 and joined Change.org that I finally began to realise how wrong I was.

Of course, feminism is about equality and so much more. There is no singular definition; it manifests itself in our world in different ways. And we see that on change.org every single day.

Like when a woman like Poornima Govindaraju raises her voice. She took 30 years to finally speak about the abuse she had faced as a child. She started and won an online petition to remove the time-limit for filing police complaints in cases of child sexual abuse. This is feminism manifesting itself as a story of overcoming personal trauma to seek justice.

Or when Almas Virani gets the producers of Chhota Bheem to commit to making a special show on ‘Chutki’ as a strong female lead. This mother, who wants to shatter stereotypes for her 4-year-old son, is feminism for me.

Another mother Subarna Ghosh asserting her right over her own body, starting and winning a campaign to get the Indian government to take steps to curb the commercialisation on Caesarean sections, is feminism screaming from the rooftops for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

Or when survivor Masooma Ranalvi, starts a movement to end Female Genital Mutilation, an age-old practice of cutting the clitoris of girls in the Bohra Community – this too is feminism manifesting herself as a challenge to religious hegemony.

Over the past five years while working at Change.org, I have seen so many incredible women, who have fearlessly shared their own stories with the world, who have thrown an open challenge to patriarchy, and who are embracing their feminine power in all its strength to fight misogyny.

And I’m a stronger feminist as a result

I have learnt from these women and I am a stronger feminist because of the influence their stories have had on me.

So now, every time I find myself in the middle of a dinner conversation with my extended family on triple talaaq and rights of Muslim women, Masooma’s story and resolve come to mind. They help me frame my arguments better on why certain religious norms need to be challenged and why it is so important for women from the community to rise up and speak for themselves.

Or when my 4-year-old son wants me to buy a pink kitchen-set, I don’t twice think about it because, like Almas, I too am trying to raise a feminist son.

Feminism is finally flexing its muscle in India. It is no longer just limited to a handful of women’s organisations and leaders. Regular women, whether they manage their homes, and offices, or both are now realising that they are fighting everyday battles for equality for all women in this country.

Here’s the best part. Now we know that we are not alone. We have each other to draw inspiration from, to hold one another’s hands when the going gets tough, and to celebrate our victories together.

That’s why, in the coming years, I am confident that there will be many more movements like #MeToo and when the right moment comes, we will all be prepared!

Editor’s note: Feminism has exploded over Indian screens and minds in the last few years, bringing what was considered an ‘uncomfortable’ topic into everyday speech, with all its hues and forms, warts and all. Wonder of wonders, it is even becoming an accepted way of life!

In this series, we invite women of note who’ve made a mark in their respective fields to share their Feminism – how they have experienced it, and how their view of it has evolved over the years.

Nida Hasan has been part of the Change.org India team since 2014. She is currently the Country Director for Change.org in India. She is responsible for developing a vision for Change.org’s work in India that is deeply inspiring and motivating to the team, and aims to more effectively empower Indians who use Change.org to create the change they want to see. She leads the growth of the Change.org brand in India, increasing the coverage of the remarkable stories of the campaign creators; communicating the power of Change.org’s brand and model.

Nida Hasan was also responsible for establishing a strong environment and infrastructure that facilitates citizen community and movement building. She initiates and nurtures strong partnerships with women leaders, civil society organisations working on women’s rights and stakeholders in government.

This is the seventh article in the series #WomenWhoMatter. 

Want to know what our other feminists say? Read the thoughts of the inspirational feminist Kamla Bhasin of Jagori and Sangat here.

Image source: Nida Hasan

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