India’s women are magicians. They dot the countryside labouring in the fields, walking with heavy loads balanced on their heads, their colourful saris making them visible from miles away. Yet, within Indian society, they are invisible and often voiceless. How can women be so visible, yet invisible? There are two Indias if you are a woman. This is the perspective of someone just returning from close to a month in India, travelling in Delhi, Agra, Ahmedabad, Goa and Mumbai. This is the experience of someone who worked with a non-government organization dedicated solely to advancing India’s women. Given current global news coverage of violence against women in India, it seems like a good time to share a woman’s experience in the remarkable place called India.
Indian authorities have been struggling to combat gender-related crime for years. Violence against women is not new in India. Gang rape stories are not new in Delhi or other Indian cities. But this past December, male and female Indians hit the street to protest the heinous, cowardly and brutal crime of gang rape and murder against Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old professional woman making her way home with a friend after a movie. The protests continue in streets that this woman observer had walked alone never sensing any risk of personal danger. What’s changed? India is being transformed; part medieval and part modern. The clash has social consequences.
Women are agents of significant change in India. Women’s work is no longer just the tedious work of factories, agriculture and domestic chores. Women entrepreneurship is having a huge impact by tackling some major social inequities, including illiteracy, systemic injustice and poverty, by providing an infrastructure of empowerment to uncounted women who toil in India’s informal sector. It’s part of the transformation magic. It is amazing to witness it.
There are many organizations working to improve the lives of India‘s women; one in particular, SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, is celebrating 40 years of success.
Understanding what SEWA is doing sheds light on why such extreme violence aimed at a female health care professional can ignite such outrage. There is a growing critical mass of enterprising women in India; their fathers and brothers and spouses are experiencing the power of their empowerment, and thanks to social media the world becomes a witness to the crime in real time. There is no escaping the hideous reality. No one can be bribed to say it didn’t happen.