Why Do Women Focus On Choosing To Survive And Not The Fight For Justice?

Deciding what is 'morally' correct or incorrect is a confusing road for most of us. However, when does helping someone become more of social justice and less caring?

Deciding what is ‘morally’ correct or incorrect is a confusing road for most of us. However, when does helping someone become more of social justice and less caring?

A few years ago, right after I started Her Rights, I was working with ASFI (the Acid Survivors Foundation India) in Kolkata. And was trying to gather funding for a rehab home proposal of theirs.

As a side activity, with my high and mighty goal of ‘helping’ the survivors, I also imposed upon the times of the volunteers and victims discussing the cases. I was particularly adamant from my ignorant position on what really should happen absolutely in every case: prosecution of the assailant.

Your justice may not be their life

How could cases not be filed against individuals who do this? I was very strong-headed in putting the burden of pursuing social justice on those who had survival to think of.

A woman, whose husband threw acid on her for accepting a soft drink from another man provided the answer. I came to know of the story through the then head of ASFI. What looks like the right path from a distance, changes significantly once you enter the room.

In this case, the woman was disfigured for life without a way of living on her own, let alone work. With the success rates with government compensation or non-profit assistance (and the insufficiency of it even when received in full) keeping her husband out of jail was her only way of living and being with her children. I still remember her telling me, “Your priority is justice. Mine is life.”

Is feminism only a long walk with no destination?

These days, I come across this in the most unfortunate ways and more often than not from women. On social media forums and group discussions, there is the point made about ‘equality’, ‘unacceptability’ and ‘limits.’

Feminism, or in broader, more acceptable term the fight for gender rights, has come a long way. But strangely, it seems like it has been coming a long way for a long time, but never really getting there.

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As women, we are equal citizens who are paid lesser. We also have women’r rights protected under special provisions. However, these are right there with the legal requirements that put women in harm’s way deliberately and disproportionately. We acknowledge sexual harassment as a widespread problem. And yet, in the urban and educated elite, a strange ignorance towards the horrible crime of gender based violence still exists.

The matters may be good to know of from a distance and are best to catalog as things that happen under unfortunate circumstances to unfortunate people. A good example of this could be the reaction of the masses toward the movie Chhapaak and its not doing as well. Also as a side effect, we don’t just have men but women too dictate what other women should or shouldn’t do.

Do we really have choices or is it a mere farce?

Now to be fair, we have a ‘telling’ problem in general. We don’t shy away from telling men not to cry, to protect their families, and to be man.’ But I l write particularly about women here because the need of the hour is for feminism to arrive. We have travelled far too long.

Every passing day of a woman earning less than a man, getting beaten up, censored, and ridiculed for wearing a dress, or for not wearing a dress, being killed in the womb, or having to feel like a burden, is a day too many. Economic and human indexes will soar with gender parity – so why not choose to achieve it?

Well, the why lies as much in the absence of the choice as it does in its existence. In a recent forum, I was discussing ‘choices’ women have with other women.

It was established that every human, needs to have earnings of their own/financial means to sustain themselves and the ability to cook. But beyond this, there are often additional discussions around fidelity, family responsibility, and responsibility of social justice. And I am not even going to talk about the misogynistic ‘shoulds’ put on the women’s shoulders. ‘Nirbhaya’s mother should forgive because it is a woman’s role.’ ‘Motherhood is what a woman is made for. So parenting should be more of a mother’s job than a father’s.’

The only ‘must’ is ‘it depends’

To be honest, I don’t know the answer and I struggle with this question a lot. We are all indebted to incredibly strong women who chose personal hardships and made selfless choices to take the causes further. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t have had right to vote, or legislative provisions against workplace sexual harassment. There is indeed something to be said about making a statement and taking a stand.

My mother worked all her life, bearing ridicule and often disdain of her children, to make a point on women’s right to work. She lost precious years fighting for property rights for women. This cost her domestic peace and wellbeing.

However, every case is so personal – from tolerating a hit, to supporting husband’s career growth by sacrificing your own, or choosing not to register a complaint against an assailant – that the only ‘must’ is really ‘it depends.’

I am in no way here advocating tolerance of abuse for love as shown in Kabir Singh. The problem with that is a glorified mass media projection of individual incorrect behavior. Role modelling. Which is significantly different from what a very specific personal decision might be despite knowing right from wrong.

How ‘right’ is the ‘right?

I am trying to ponder out loud against generalisation and dictation, no matter how right the ‘right’ seems. And I feel that somewhere, it is as problematic as the opposite: tolerance and normalisation of gender discrimination and subjugation.

I want us to think if there is a difference between the following two scenarios. When a mother-in-law says, you should give up your career and stay at home because that is the right thing to do or when a religious says women shouldn’t cook during menstruation. As opposed to when I say, women absolutely should cook, irrespective of what she wants because she has a statement to make. Or when an empowered woman with resources at her disposal says another woman should absolutely leave her husband.

And again, it is common sense but worth spelling out – I am not talking about a situation here where the woman is incapable of making the choice, is at risk of further worsening of her situation, doesn’t have all the relevant information, or is putting other’s at risk. Our known reality is not the only reality, and despite best intentions, tolerance and progress are hindered when we lose sight of that.

Path to true choice is eventually letting go of the decision chord after making sure you have provided all the information. Hopefully, there’s a path to that without sacrificing the path forward.

Picture credits: Pexels

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About the Author

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...

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