THE PRESENT – MANIPUR BURNS.
It was just another morning for me in mid-July when my social media feeds were filled with protest messages about the Manipur incident. Since I live 13 hours behind Indian time, I get to see incidents much later. For those who are still unaware, a horrific video clip of two women being paraded by a mob of men in a village in the state of Manipur became viral and led to a large political and social outcry. On May 4, two Kuki women were paraded naked by a mob in the Thoubal district of Manipur and subsequently gang raped. Almost two months after the incident, the video went viral on social media, triggering anger across the country and a sharp comment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Within a few days, the main culprits – men belonging to the opposing tribe, Meitei, were arrested. However, the ethnic clashes between the tribes in Manipur are yet to be resolved. We are receiving daily news about the hundreds of rapes, deaths, burning incidents, and other violence in the region which has been happening the past few months. People are displaced, mothers and children are taking refuge in neighboring states and the region has still not recovered from the conflict, despite the presence of armed forces and government intervention (as of July 26, when I am writing this article).
This led me to think.
THE HISTORY – WHY DO MEN USE WOMEN AS PAWNS DURING CONFLICTS?
Why can’t men handle their conflicts among themselves? Why do they use women as pawns and for showing their power? This is not the first time in history, women were made victims of war. I did a quick search online and could find various instances in the recent history of mankind where women were “used” as “war pawns”. The below listing might be difficult to read, but it’s the reality.
The Rape of Nanjing (Nanking) – Second Sino-Japanese War
Time: December 1937 – January 1938
Incident: During the Second Sino-Japanese War, after the fall of Nanjing, the Imperial Japanese Army committed heinous acts against the civilian population, including women. The city was subjected to mass murder, rape, and looting. Thousands of women were raped, and many were paraded naked before being assaulted or killed.
Bengal Famine of 1943 – World War II
Incident: During World War II, a severe famine struck the Bengal province of British India, resulting in the deaths of millions of people. Women and girls, who were already vulnerable due to the famine’s effects, faced increased risks of abuse and exploitation.
Comfort Women – World War II
Time: 1932 – 1945
Incident: The Imperial Japanese Army established “comfort stations” during World War II, where women and girls, often from occupied territories, were forced into sexual slavery. These women were subjected to systematic sexual abuse and violence.
Bosnian War – Balkan Conflict
Time: 1992 – 1995
Incident: During the Bosnian War, thousands of Bosniak women were subjected to mass rape and sexual abuse by Bosnian Serb forces. These acts were later recognized as war crimes and crimes against humanity by international courts.
Incident: During the Rwandan Genocide, which primarily targeted the Tutsi ethnic group, many women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including rape. The widespread use of sexual violence as a tool of war caused immense suffering and trauma.
Democratic Republic of Congo – Second Congo War
Time: 1998 – 2003
Incident: During the Second Congo War, also known as the Great War of Africa, there were numerous reports of widespread sexual violence against women. Militias and armed groups committed atrocities, including rape, as a strategy of terrorizing and controlling communities.
Guatemala – Guatemalan Civil War
Time: 1960 – 1996
Incident: Throughout the Guatemalan Civil War, women were subjected to sexual violence and abuse by both government forces and paramilitary groups. Rape was used as a tool of intimidation and control.
Sudan – Darfur Conflict
Time: 2003 – Present
Incident: The Darfur Conflict in Sudan has seen the use of mass rape and sexual violence against women and girls as a weapon of war. Militias and government forces have been accused of committing these atrocities.
Bangladesh Liberation War
Incident: During the Bangladesh Liberation War, there were widespread reports of mass rape and sexual violence against women by the Pakistani military. These acts were considered war crimes and led to significant trauma and suffering for the victims.
Syrian Civil War
Time: 2011 – Present
Incident: The ongoing Syrian Civil War has seen numerous reports of sexual violence against women perpetrated by various factions involved in the conflict. Rape, forced marriages, and other forms of abuse have been documented.
Nigerian Civil War – Biafra War
Time: 1967 – 1970
Incident: During the Nigerian Civil War, women in the secessionist region of Biafra were subjected to violence and abuse, including rape and starvation.
South Sudan – South Sudanese Civil War
Time: 2013 – Present
Incident: The South Sudanese Civil War has seen widespread sexual violence against women, including rape and forced marriage. Both government and opposition forces have been implicated in these acts.
Chechnya – Chechen-Russian Conflicts
Time: 1994 – Present
Incident: During the Chechen-Russian conflicts, women have been victims of sexual violence and abuse by various armed groups involved in the region’s instability.
Time: Feb 2022 – present
Incident: From heightened trafficking and gender-based violence to the loss of crucial livelihoods and rising poverty levels, the women and girls of Ukraine are facing severe impacts. The large-scale destruction of infrastructure has left survivor services, healthcare, and other critical forms of support out of reach for many.
Those were just some conflicts in recent times, if you look at even older history, we hear stories of wars being fought for women, inflicting violence on women and children. We have heard stories of valor by great Kings who went to war with neighboring states, looting and enslaving women and children as a symbol of victory. While we glorify those wins, we often forget the violence inflicted on people, in many cases, call it “collateral damage”, when, it’s blatant murder, rape, gender violence, and human rights violations.
THE FANTASY: THE BARBIE WORLD
In July, the world also watched a female-directed movie, “Barbie, the Movie” which showcased a fantasy story of a glorious doll, which has been aspirational for every girl across the globe for the past many decades. The iconic Barbie doll has been a beloved toy for generations, captivating children’s imaginations worldwide. Its numerous pros include fostering creativity and role-play, encouraging storytelling, and social interaction among children. Barbie’s vast range of careers also inspires young minds to dream big and explore various professions. The doll’s stylish clothes and accessories promote fashion interest and personal expression.
However, the Barbie doll has faced some criticism over the years. Critics argue that the doll’s unrealistic body proportions perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards and might negatively impact body image in young children. Additionally, some have raised concerns about the materialistic focus in Barbie’s world, potentially influencing children to prioritize appearance and consumerism over other essential values.
The Barbie movie portrayed both these in a fantastic manner with its vivid colors on the screen, hard-hitting dialogues against patriarchy, and a comical yet gripping narrative. But I am sure if a male director had directed the movie, 40% of the dialogue would have been chopped off. And the story, twists, and ending will be different.
Hollywood is evolving to be more female-centric, giving female storytellers and moviemakers opportunities to narrate women’s minds.
Barbie had several goosebumps moments and dialogues for feminists. Things we wish we could change do exist in the Barbie world! Though a fantasy story, some scenes brought tears, made my heart heavy and some made me excited, and thrilled.
In Barbie’s world, a girl can be anything, a President, a Supreme Court Judge, an astronaut, or anyone she wants to be. But in the real world, a girl must keep jumping thorn walls to reach even one step ahead. Be it the workplace or relationships or society in general.
This movie will open the eyes of people drenched in patriarchy with its sharp comical dialogues against patriarchy and how it’s used as a skeleton of the movie.
Wish more women moviemakers get mainstream opportunities. Kudos to Greta Gerwig (Writer and Director) for this creation on behalf of all women. A movie without guns, violence, etc can be made and yet become super successful. Lead actors Margot (as Barbie) and Ryan Gosling (Ken) and all the others, especially the mom (America Ferrera, as Gloria) and the teenage girl were wonderful.
From Fantasy World to The Real World
There is one particular scene in the movie, where Gloria (a supporting actress and a representative of women in the real world) gives a monologue to Barbie on the reality of women in the real world. It summarizes what women in today’s world face on a daily basis.
It goes like this.
“It is literally impossible to be a woman.
You are very beautiful and very smart… and it breaks my soul that you think you’re not good enough like we’re always supposed to be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.
We have to be skinny, but not too much and you must not say you want to be skinny. You must say you want a healthy weight, but also… YES you have to be skinny.
You must have money, but you can’t ask for money because that would be rude.
You gotta be a boss, but you can’t be tough. You must lead, but you cannot crush other people’s ideas.
You’re supposed to love being a mom, but you don’t talk about your kids all the time.
You have to be a professional, but also always take care of everyone else.
You are responsible for men’s misbehavior, WHICH IS CRAZY, but if you notice that, you’re accused of being a whine.
You’re expected to keep yourself pretty for men, but not so pretty you ‘try them too much’ or threaten other women… because you’re supposed to be part of the sorority.
You must always stand out and always be very grateful… but never forget the system is fixed, so find how to acknowledge it but remember to be grateful.
You must never grow old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never stumble, never fail or show fear and, of course, you must never be sassy.
It’s very hard, it’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you. And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you doing everything WRONG, but also, everything that happens is YOUR FAULT.
I’m tired of seeing myself and every woman doing the impossible for others to love us.”
- America Ferrera as Gloria
This dialogue by Gloria becomes a jolt not just to the doll, Barbie, but to each of us watching the movie. The imminent question is can we bridge the barbie world to the real world?
THE FUTURE: CAN WE BRIDGE BARBIE WORLD TO THE REAL WORLD?
It might seem too farfetched to even dream of what Barbie’s world has in the present-day real world. But, looking back at the progress that feminist movements have brought to the world in the past couple of centuries, we do have some hope. Of course, we do face the challenge that when we take one step forward, we might be pushed back two steps due to the sensationalization and politicization of feminism.
However, as an eternal optimist, I do hope that we are progressing at a faster rate than before, thanks to the greater connectivity that we have in today’s world. More people are becoming aware of their rights, liberating themselves from oppression, be it from patriarchy or the clutches of masculine political/social power.
I am hopeful of a future where girls can become anything they want to, where women lead social, economic, scientific, and all aspects of life with their intellect and power. And do you how it begins? It begins with collective efforts of empowered women in empowering more women. It begins when small groups of women join to make the world better for more women.
A few days back I was fortunate to participate in two such women’s groups in the Bay Area, in the US. The first was as a keynote speaker at the Femigrants Leadership Event. The Femigrants Foundation in California is a non-profit founded by an Immigrant from Azerbaijan, Ms.Aytakin Aliyeva. At the event, I met a wonderful set of immigrant women from various countries around the globe. The All-white attire event was not just inspiring but also an avenue for immigrant women to share their journey and lend support to each other.
Women’s stories are the same everywhere! Stories of struggles, patriarchy, abuse, and finally, resilience to overcome challenges and move forward in life!
THE BETTER FUTURE: STORY OF ZARA AND KYRGHYZ WOMEN
It was at the Femigrant event that I met Zara first. She was noticed by everyone because she was there with her one-month-old baby and was also seen breastfeeding her baby while listening to the talks. I don’t think any woman who just gave birth to a baby will do this anywhere else! This blew my mind to even think that women are coming together to make the future of babies like Jamilya (Zara’s one-month-old girl)
Zara is from Kyrgyzstan. I had previously heard the name of this country only in my geography classes!! But now, I met a bunch of women friends in that country, who want to impact the lives of more women in that country! A week later the Femigrants event, around 6 Kyrghyz women met with me and we spoke at length about how women in Kyrgyzstan can be empowered with digital skills and career skills to help them get financially independent. A new non-profit will be formed in Kyrgyzstan, similar to Prayaana Labs (in India which I founded for women’s empowerment ) very soon by these amazing women, under my mentorship.
Kanykei, Aidan, Aizada, Adilya, and Aiturgan, all are Kyrghyz immigrant women working in various professions in the BayArea and are united by their desire to help women’s careers in their country, Kyrgyzstan.
As more and more women join to make the world more just and beautiful, am sure, the planet will breathe better!
I wish, more and more initiatives like these keep mushrooming across the globe in the coming years. This is the only way to make our planet gender equal and nearer to the Barbie world!
And this is my wish for this month. August is also “Independence Day” for India. We need independence for women from male atrocities and rewrite the history of men enslaving women for their power battles. It might take decades or centuries for this to happen. But I am hopeful.
And most importantly,
INSTEAD OF JUST HASHTAG CAMPAIGNS ON SOCIAL MEDIA, WE NEED WOMEN EMPOWERMENT SPECIALISTS ON THE GROUND!
WE NEED WOMEN WHO SUPPORT EACH OTHER.
WE NEED MORE WOMEN TO FLOURISH TO THEIR FULLEST AND BEST VERSIONS.
Universal Love and Abundance,
(Dr. CeeVee is the pen name of Dr. Chandra Vadhana R, Founder of Prayaana Labs and Managing Editor, SheSight Magazine)