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How Can You Support & Empower Other Women In Practical Ways, Not Just With The B/W Challenge?

Posted: August 1, 2020

The black and white challenge is trending on social media for ‘women supporting women’, but what can you do in real terms?

Sharing photos is just one way in which we can lift other women up. For more robust empowerment and long lasting change, we need to focus our actions and intentions in more practical ways. Here are a few things that any woman can do, to empower and support the women around her.

Let us do a little thought experiment, shall we?

As Indian women, we are all incredibly frustrated and angry with the rapes of women that happen too often. We are upset that the judiciary, law enforcement and the government as a whole seem unable to ensure the safety of women and children.

The problem with a social media challenge

So far, this is the truth. We haven’t had to imagine anything. But now, imagine that you started a protest on a social media platform, in which you posted a photo of yourself, with hashtags such as #noviolenceagainstwomen and #weneedbetterlaws. Imagine that it soon goes viral, and that other women from your country join you, sharing photos of their own, and trying to call attention to the real and urgent problem of the lack of safety that you live with. Imagine that at some point, people from a faraway western country look at it and without understanding the real purpose of it, decide to turn it into a “fun” thing to do, and change the hashtags to something like #yougogirl or #womenareawesome. Imagine that the trend then continues around the world, under these new hashtags, as your pain, hurt and call for action start getting buried under millions of happy, joyful posts.

How would you feel? Keep that feeling in your mind as you read the rest of this post.

Why I have stopped participating in most tag challenges

I’ll be honest – I first dismissed the black and white photo challenge as just another tag challenge. These challenges crop up every month, under some new avatar, and almost under the excuse of “lifting up women,” or “appreciating yourself.” There was a time when I would participate in them, but over the years I have stopped enjoying them, and had stopped responding to tags about the same.

Sure, they feel good, and I don’t deny that they may give a temporary boost to our sense of self-esteem and happiness, and help women bond with each other. However, they did not really change anything in the life situation of any of the women. True empowerment, in my opinion, should change things in a way that the persons involved are left in a better position socially, politically and economically, than they were before. In that sense, these challenges usually leave me feeling more disappointed than uplifted.

Also, more often than less, the comments on the pictures tended to focus on the ‘looks’ of the women, rather than on who they are as people or on their achievements. Since last year, I have been trying to make a conscious effort to compliment women more for what they do and who they are, rather than for how they look, and so this was yet another reason why participating in the challenge did not appeal to me.

No judgement or shame for the people who did participate – to each their own, but I have decided that these challenges are not for me.

Why I participated this time

This time though, things changed, when Sandhya Renukamba, the Senior Editor at Women’s Web, asked a simple question – “Where did this challenge begin?”

Trying to respond to her question, I googled, and ran into many different origin stories, the most important of them being that it was a protest highlighting the rampantly growing rate of gender based violence in Turkey. Turkish women had started this campaign after the murder of Pinar Gültekin, a 27 year old student, with a view to draw the attention of the world to the issue of violence against women, and to push the Turkish government to follow through on the Istanbul Convention (A Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.)

This, I felt was something I could get behind. I wanted to bring the focus back to the original purpose of the challenge, and in doing so also talk about some of the concrete ways in which we can empower women around us.

Following is the post I put up.

My black and white challenge post

#kadınaşiddetehayır
#istanbulsözl

Going to take this opportunity to stress that this trend, #WomenEmpoweringWomen has a much deeper significance beyond being just another social media challenge. It is a protest against femicide and gender based violence. Sandhya Renukamba explains the background in her post here with clarity.

Kirthi Jayakumar ‘s Saahas app can help you access resources and information if you are a survivor of gender based violence or a bystander/ally who wants to help.

I commit to listening without judgement to women who are survivors of gender based violence and to supporting them in any way I can.

A few other things that all of us can do to empower women in a concrete and practical manner:

  1. Donate to fundraisers/organizations combating gender based violence and abuse. Breakthrough India and Give India are currently running a fundraiser to create a system of help for survivors of domestic violence in rural India https://breakthrough.giveindia.org/
  2. Support (by spending money on, promoting etc) women led businesses, and women’s work. Shout out to Aparna Vedapuri Singh, Rachana Gupta, Anupama Dalmia, Indu Nair, Kalpana Manivannan Saras Viswam, Poorabie Khare.
  3. Celebrate women’s achievements. And yes, every woman is an achiever, whether or not she works outside the home, and whether or not her work has been acknowledged. Shout out to Lakshmi Iyer, Poorabie K., Aabha Khadgi, Namrata Kulkarni, Sonali Bane, Sandhya Renukamba, Kasturi Patra, Anushree Kulkarni, Piyusha Vir, Shraddha Niphadkar, Anupama Dalmia, Anjali Gurmukhani Sharma, Pooja Priyamvada, Hema G, Kirthi Jayakumar, Seema Taneja, Shivani Salil, Purnima Arun, Sudeepta Mohapatra Sarangi, Saumya Srivastava, Pratyusha Mandal, Payal Ghosh for being my personal inspirations and pillars of support (and to every other woman on my list here. All of you are important.) Many of you I haven’t met in person yet, but I think all of you are wonderful!
  4. Commit to challenging internalized misogyny and to stop putting down women for making choices that break from tradition.
  5. As Savarna-dvij, upper class, cisgender, straight, and able-bodied women to stop occupying space, and to pass the mic to women underrepresented in mainstream feminism, to the point that the mic stops being ours to give in the first place.

What else can we do

It has been heartening to see more posts like mine. Another woman on my friends list posted that while she loved seeing all the lovely photos being put up for the black and white challenge, we could also do practical things like, helping out new moms, or if we are women in an authority position at work, we could hire, train and mentor other women.

Coming back to Turkish women specifically, what has happened to them is insult added to injury. Their efforts should not have been trivialized. At the same time, as this instagrammer points out, “although this time around the challenge originated from the continuous struggle against gender-based violence of women Turkey, it opens up an incredible opportunity to talk about female empowerment globally.” In the slides that follow, she offers a list of organizations that we can donate to, and other steps that we can take to address the problem of gender based violence around the world.

2020 is showing is repeatedly, that we can take nothing for granted. That the old ways of doing things are just not enough anymore. More than anything, we are learning that to make a real impact, we must put ourselves out there. Even as one problem after another batters us, we have also witnessed common people rising up to help those around them.

Let us bring that spirit to such tag challenges as well. Even as we post the photos, let us commit to doing something more as well.

Image source: VJ

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