Understanding the kyriarchy is one thing, but practicing intersectionality in our every day feminism is wholly another. How can we be purposeful in our endeavours to create a more inclusive society? How do we end our complicity in oppressive systems? For me, it begins with the below:
1. Listen, Learn, Share
Listen: First hand narratives offer powerful insights into real women and their struggles. They are ground zero for checking our own preconceptions and privileges. As allies, we should listen to women when they share their stories without interruption, doubt or judgment.
Many think education will make everything okay, but we know that it is not what happens. Safeena Husain, executive director, Educate Girls
Learn: As we actively seek sources to understand and empathise with marginalized women whose realities are different than our own, we should try to learn not just of their individual challenges and triumphs, but our part in the relating systems as well. They are more than statistics, and we are more than bystanders in their oppression.
Share: First-hand narratives are not always easy to come by, especially in India. Language barriers, education barriers, social stigma, limited access to technology and distribution greatly inhibit women from sharing their truth. So whenever possible we should take it upon ourselves to provide platforms and support those who have shared their own stories.
As a side note, we should be mindful in our consumption of stories. We should not extort or rewrite histories for entertainment purposes, or support those who do. (We cannot appropriate the stories of others for shock or entertainment value.)
2. Full diversity
Diversity in one of the biggest buzzwords in corporate India today, but it's not as simple as throwing more women into leadership positions - though that'd be a great start. It's about getting a range of women from all backgrounds and beliefs in these roles. As champions for diversity, we can't only seek to add people like us.
3. Avoiding quick and easy solutions
Too often I hear "education" hailed as the solution for all of society's problems, especially from the well intentioned but ill-informed. While education is critically important for empowering all peoples, it alone is not enough. Understanding the kyriarchy means understanding the systemic and cultural barriers that are built into society.
Safeena Husain is the executive director of the non-profit organisation Educate Girls. Husain explains, "Many think education will make everything okay, but we know that it is not what happens. For instance, if you look at Middle Eastern countries, like Bahrain. A lot of women are doing their Masters and PhDs and a lot of boys are dropping out after 10th grade. But that doesn't necessarily lead to women being able to fulfill their potential, because mindset change has not happened. Women still get left behind or subjugated, even though they're highly educated... Education is critical, but without a change in mindset it's incomplete. [India] won't be able to go down the road to equity without both of these growing in parallel."
At some point, someone may tell us we are a part of the problem. As long as we are willing to listen and [reflect], we can grow.
Education is too simple an answer for complicated problems; touting it as the ultimate solution is disingenuous and condescending to those who are struggling to better their situation. We live in a complex world, and that isn't a bad thing. We should not try to solve other people's problems with quick or easy answers.
4. Checking ourselves and others
We can't always be right or the most informed. If someone checks your behaviour, it's best to listen with open ears. As activist Audre Lorde puts it, "If I participate, knowingly or otherwise, in my sister's oppression and she calls me on it, to answer her anger with my own only blankets the substance of our exchange with reaction. It wastes energy. And yes, it is very difficult to stand still and to listen to another woman's voice delineate an agony I do not share, or one to which I myself have contributed." At some point, someone may tell us we are a part of the problem. As long as we are willing to listen and take a step back for reflection, we can grow.
Additionally, good intentions don't count for much. Don't be afraid to check your friends and loved ones. It's one thing to believe in equality; it's another to stand up for it. In the pursuit of equality, allies are paramount. Our sisters need our voices.
Love all those you encounter, and love hard. Hold each other up. This life is too difficult a thing to not have your sisters' back. We're all we've got.
Below are select activists, resources and organisations to help those interested in learning more about intersectional feminist issues in India today.
General resources and storytelling platforms:
LGBTQ community activists/organisations/resources:
MINGLE, Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment
Bangalore Pride March
More comprehensive list of General LGBTQ resources
LBTQ Women Specific Organisations:
Social networks/online resources
Wonderful Things Happen (matchmaking service for lesbian and bisexual women in India)
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
Madhu Bai Kinnar
Dalit women activists/organisations/ resources
All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM, or the All India Dalit Women's Rights Forum)
The Dalit Mahila Samiti (DMS)
Dalit Women's Self-Respect March
Social networks/online resources:
Christina Thomas Dhanaraj
Dr. V Rukmini Rao
And finally many many rebellious more.