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Society

The Ideal Age To Marry? Reflections Of A 20-Something Indian Woman

India is raising the minimum age for women to marry. What does that mean on the individual level (with your parents whispering in your ear)?

-Essay-

NEW DELHI — A few days ago, I got a call from my parents, who wanted to talk about the "ideal age to marry." This came after news about India raising the minimum age for women to marry to 21, to match the age for men. It's a laudable move, sure, but I even wonder if 21-year-olds will be able to fathom the expectations, responsibilities and limitations that come with such a socially-constrained institution.

I am not ready at 26, and won’t be even at 30.

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How Cycling Could Revolutionize Gender Equality In India

India is one of the most gender unequal countries in the world. But the humble bicycle is helping women reclaim space in cities, opening up job prospects, and even encouraging their education opportunities.

“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world,” said American Civil Rights leader Susan B. Anthony, about 125 years ago.

Mobility across the world is often gendered and men and women have different travel patterns. This is partly because women often have greater household and childcare responsibilities than men. Their travel needs are often dominated by accompanying children to school or going to the market for household needs. Women also tend to use different modes of transport than men. What’s more, these gender differences are relatively greater in India than in other countries in the world.

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Wuhan Restroom Murder Sparks Debate Over Transgender Rights In China

China has no specific laws on transgender groups, and even the word "transgender" does not appear in any legal provisions. But the real-life issues of public bathrooms is forcing Chinese to confront the issue, especially after the murder in the city of Wuhan of a trans woman earlier this month.

On March 9, the news of the murder quickly began to circulate on Chinese social media Weibo: A transgender woman had reportedly been killed in a men’s public bathroom in a Wuhan shopping mall, in central China. After debate escalated, the trending topic banner on Weibo was quickly removed — and further discussion, banned.

The user who first posted the report claimed to have been contacted by the police, and was told that the suspect of the crime was being pursued, but no official report on the murder has thus far been released.

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What "Lean In" Leaves Out: Women Need Structural Change, Not Pep Talks

The so-called "Confidence Culture" is a trap that puts the emphasis on boosting women's self-confidence without addressing the real causes of gender inequality.

With Valentine’s Day here, advice about confidence is proliferating. British Vogue enjoins women to boost their sexual confidence with slogans like “feel good in your body” and say goodbye to negative talk. Meanwhile, Selfridges promises shoppers a sex and relationship “MOT”, in which “confidence coaching” for women comes as part of the package.

But (like dogs and Christmas), confidence is not just for Valentine’s Day. It is now a 24/7 obligation for women.

Inequality in the workplace? Women need to lean in and become more confident. Eating disorders and poor body image? Programmes promoting girls’ confidence and body positivity are the solution. Parenting problems? Let’s help make mums feel more confident so they can raise confident kids. Post-pandemic relationship sours? Well, confidence is, after all, “the new sexy”. Even the British Army now targets potential female recruits with the promise that joining the military will give young women confidence that “lasts a lifetime”.

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Economy
Meike Eijsberg

Female CEOs v. Peter CEOs? Dutch Women Protest Stunning Gender Disparity

A campaign in the Netherlands is pushing for more gender parity in the business world by asking women to change their name on LinkedIn to "Peter." The name was chosen for this singularly shocking fact...

Logging onto Dutch LinkedIn earlier this week, you may have blinked twice. “Why are there so many people named ‘Peter’ on my timeline?”And why are they all women?”

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Society
Mar García

Luchadoras Turn Mexican Wrestling And Machismo On Its Head

MEXICO CITY — Huge lamps swing from the ceiling on the sixth floor of a building in downtown Mexico City, illuminating the wrestling ring below. The crowd holds its collective breath as a woman emerges from the shadows. Her bright blue hair whirls behind her sparkling makeup as she kicks out her knee-high black boots. A deep voice booms over the loudspeaker:

“From the Mexican jungle comes Ladyyy Amazonaaa!”

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Ideas
Anushka Verma

India's Legal Age To Marry And Shackles Of The Patriarchy

As India debates raising the legal age of women to marry to match the age for men, one women writer asks what it means for her.

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — Growing up in an urban and (mostly) open-minded family, I often had a hard time comprehending the complexities involving women being married off as soon as they turned 18.

My grandmother had been married at the age of 17. My mother, at 21.

As I tried to contemplate the predicament of the women of my family for generations before me, I could feel myself gradually descending into madness — and brimming with questions.

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Society
Jue Liang

No Less Than Monks? Buddhist Nuns Seek Gender Equality

The Buddha's "Eight Heavy Rules" included a stipulation that placed Buddhist nuns under the supervision of monks, which have undermined women’s status in the ancient religion.

In recent years, many Buddhist nuns have taken on leadership roles that require either ordination status or academic degrees, all of which was quite unheard of in Buddhist monastic traditions in the past. However, this change has also met with much resistance, as traditionally Buddhism has allowed only men to serve in these roles.

The early Pali Vinaya texts in the Buddhist canon recount how Buddha thrice rejected the request of his foster mother, Mahaprajapati, to be ordained, before his disciple, Ananda, persuaded him to accept women into the monastic body.

Ananda had to make two arguments for his case: an emotional one – that Mahaprajapati had been kind to the Buddha and raised him – and a logical one – that women, too, had the potential to become enlightened.

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Ideas
Michela Marzano

Can We Still Say "Merry Christmas"? An Italian Take On The Inclusive Language Debate

The European Commission's efforts to push for more inclusive language are important. But we should be careful and make sure we make room for differences.

-OpEd-

ROME — In Italian, it's Buone feste or Buon Natale? "Happy holidays" or "Merry Christmas"? The controversy triggered over the European Commission's Union of Equality guidelines makes very little sense.

The EU does not prohibit anyone from using the word "Christmas." Such guidelines only serve to highlight the importance of language in preventing inequalities from being perpetuated or worsened.

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China
Wang Yu-jie

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single

A stand-up comedian in China recently used the term "single panic" to describe fears among women about being alone, and the words have since resonated in online discussions.

The "panic" is a product, the female comedian pointed out, of pressure and prejudices in Chinese society against single women. The only way for single women to be regarded as "not that miserable," the entertainer joked, is to live a more glamorous life than a married woman. "But even then, people will still say, 'look, she lives in such a big house and there's not even a man in it.'"

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THE CONVERSATION
Homa Hoodfar and Mona Tajali*

They're Back: Why Taliban Return Is Such Bad News For Afghan Women

The Taliban insurgents continue their deadly war to seize control of Afghanistan after the departure of United States and NATO forces. As they close in on major cities that were once government strongholds, like Badakhshan and Kandahar, many Afghans – and the world – fear a total takeover.

Afghan women may have the most to fear from these Islamic militants.

We are academics who interviewed 15 Afghan women activists, community leaders and politicians over the past year as part of an international effort to ensure that women's human rights are defended and constitutionally protected in Afghanistan. For the safety of our research participants, we use no names or first names only here.

"Reform of the Taliban is not really possible," one 40-year-old women's rights activist from Kabul told us. "Their core ideology is fundamentalist, particularly towards women."

From subjugation to Parliament

The Taliban ruled all of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Everyone faced restrictions under their conservative interpretation of Islam, but those imposed on women were the most stringent.

Women couldn't leave their homes without a male guardian, and were required to cover their bodies from head to toe in a long robe called a burqa. They could not visit health centers, attend school or work.

In 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban regime and worked with Afghans to establish a democratic government.

Officially, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was about hunting down Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. The Taliban had sheltered bin Laden in Afghanistan. But the U.S. invoked women's rights as a justification for the occupation, too.

After the Taliban was driven out, women entered public life in Afghanistan in droves. That includes the fields of law, medicine and politics. Women make up more than a quarter of parliamentarians, and by 2016 more than 150,000 women had been elected to local offices.

Rhetoric versus reality

Last year, after 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. signed an accord with the Taliban agreeing to withdraw American troops if the Taliban severed ties with al-Qaida and entered into peace talks with the government.

Officially, in these talks, Taliban leaders emphasize that they wish to grant women's rights "according to Islam."

The Taliban disagree with the basic principles of democracy, including gender equality and free expression

But the women we interviewed say they believe the Taliban still reject the notion of gender equality.

"The Taliban may have learned to appreciate Twitter and social media for propaganda, but their actions on the ground tells us that they have not changed," Meetra, a lawyer, shared with us recently.

The Taliban included no women in its own negotiating team, and as their local fighters are taking over districts, women's rights are being rolled back.

A schoolteacher whose district in northern Mazar-e-Sharif province recently fell to the Taliban told us that, "In the beginning, when we saw the Taliban interviews on TV, we hoped for peace, as if the Taliban had changed. But when I saw the Taliban up close, they have not changed at all."

Members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan protesting against the Taliban, in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1998 — Photo: RAWA/CC BY 3.0

Using mosque loudspeakers, Taliban fighters in areas under their control often announce that women must now wear the burqa and have a male chaperone in public. They burn public schools, libraries and computer labs.

"We destroy them and put in place our own religious schools, in order to train future Taliban," a local fighter from Herat told the channel France 24 in June 2021.

In Taliban-run religious schools for girls, students learn the "appropriate" Islamic role of women, according to the Taliban's harsh interpretation of the faith. That consists largely of domestic duties.

Such actions demonstrate to many in Afghanistan that the Taliban disagree with the basic principles of democracy, including gender equality and free expression. Taliban negotiators are demanding Afghanistan adopt a new Constitution that would turn it into an "emirate" – an Islamic state ruled by a small group of religious leaders with absolute power.

Women in Afghanistan have been struggling for and gaining new rights for a century

That's an impossible demand for the Afghan government, and peace talks have stalled.

A history of equality

Many Muslim countries have steadily increasing gender equality. That includes Afghanistan, where women have been struggling for and gaining new rights for a century.

In the 1920s, Queen Soraya of Afghanistan participated in the political development of her country alongside her husband, King Amanullah Khan. An advocate for women's rights, Soraya introduced a modern education for women, one that included sciences, history and other subjects alongside traditional home economics-style training and religious topics.

In the 1960s women were among the drafters of Afghanistan's first comprehensive Constitution, ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. In 1965, four women were elected to the Afghan Parliament; several others became government ministers.

Afghan women protested any attacks on their rights. For instance, when religious conservatives in 1968 tried to pass a bill banning women from studying abroad, hundreds of schoolgirls organized a demonstration in Kabul and other cities.

Afghan women's status continued to improve under Soviet-backed socialist regimes of the late 1970s and 1980s. In this era, Parliament further strengthened girls' education and outlawed practices that were harmful to women, such as offering them as brides to settle feuds between two tribes or forcing widows to marry the brother of their deceased husband.

By the end of the socialist regime in 1992, women were full participants in public life in Afghanistan.

In 1996 the rise of the Taliban interrupted this progress – temporarily.

Resilient republic

The post-Taliban era demonstrated Afghan women's resilience after a grueling setback. It also highlighted the public's desire for a more democratic, responsive government.

That political project is still in its infancy today. The U.S. withdrawal now threatens the survival of Afghanistan's fragile democratic institutions.

The Taliban cannot win power at the ballot box. Only around 13.4% of respondents in a 2019 survey by The Asia Foundation expressed some sympathy with the group.

So the Taliban are forcing their authority over the Afghan people using warfare, much as they did in the 1990s. Many women hope what comes next won't repeat that history.

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Germany
Marcus Lorenz

A Cold German Takedown Of Gender-Inclusive Language

There's a fundamental flaw in the case being made against certain grammatically gendered nouns.

BERLIN — Not too long ago, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published the following sentence: "60.5 million citizens are eligible to vote in the German general election." It wasn't, perhaps, the most exciting sequence of words. But at least at first glance, there's also nothing particularly objectionable about the statement.

And yet, for one particular group, the sentence was highly offensive. Why? Because it contains the word "citizens," which in German is a masculine noun — and thus implies "men." So argue proponents of gender-inclusive language, who point to a whole array of psychological research.

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Egypt
Hadeer El-Mahdawy

The #Metoo Backlash Against Egyptian Women

Four years ago, then president Adly Mansour made sexual harassment a criminal offense. And yet, women who report such cases have been publicly shamed, demeaned and even fired.

CAIRO — Laila​ (not her real name) was sexually assaulted at work by a colleague. But that, she soon discovered, was just the beginning of an ordeal that took another dark and disorienting turn when she decided to report the attack.

"It's like the gates of hell opened onto me. I could no longer trust myself or anyone else," she says. "I know that it will take a long time to recover, and that it won't be easy. I have panic attacks thinking about people judging me."

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Italy
Ersilia Vaudo Scarpetta

Simply Into Science: How To Tear Down STEM's Gender Wall

One study says it will take at least 100 years to bridge the global gender gap. And 217 years to close the pay gap. But we can do something now.

"Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius' — George Sand

PARIS — Five hundred pounds sterling a year and a room of her own. According to Virginia Woolf, that's all a woman needed in order to write, and to realize her potential in a world dominated by men. In other words, a woman's intellectual freedom depends on her economic independence, and her creativity depends on her intellectual freedom. Privacy is the necessary condition for her individuality and an equilibrium between her personal life and her work. Simple, yes, but not easy.

It was 1928 when Woolf described this formula during one of her lectures at the women-only colleges of Cambridge. That was the same year that voting rights were granted to all British women, yet it took another 19 years for Cambridge to recognize the equality of the degrees it awarded to men and women. What Nelson Mandela later deemed the most powerful weapon for those seeking to change the world — access to education — was now irreversibly extended to women.

If we look at the numbers, education is the field where progress towards gender equality has been the most impressive. Young women entering the labor market today are more educated than their male counterparts, making up 57% of all college graduates in the developed nations of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Women perform better academically, study more, and finish their studies in greater numbers than men do. We could naturally deduce that this dynamic would be pervasive in life after college, but it isn't. After graduation begins a process that disperses the talents and skills of women, and it grows worse at every stage of life.

Here are some statistics: Only 59% of Italian women with college degrees find a job after graduation, compared to 65% of men. The gap widens with the passage of time, and women find it harder to pursue the same career opportunities available to men. Women earn less money than men who hold the same positions and possess the same qualifications. Women rarely become managers or CEOs: Only 27% of managers in Italy are women, compared to 29% in Germany and 32% in France.

The mysterious relationship between life and science lends itself to a seductive need for discovery.

There is a growing loss of talented women at every rung of the career ladder, and the path to gender equality is an uphill climb. The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take at least 100 years to bridge the global gender gap at the current pace of progress — and a whopping 217 years to close the pay gap.

Being a part of this half of the world and feeling the accumulated weight of social and historic conditions makes one more aware of the forces holding women back. Despite the slow rate of progress achieved so far, the growth of the critical mass of college-educated women represents a powerful impulse towards change.

A reminder of both the limits and possibilities came Tuesday, with the announcement that one of the three researchers chosen for the Nobel Prize in Physics was Canada's Donna Strickland, the first woman to win the prize in 55 years.

This dynamic could be given a further push if women had a stronger presence in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This would give rise to a profound and irreversible revolution, a pervasive and enduring change that would subvert the current equilibrium and allow women to definitively stake their claim in the places where we imagine and construct our collective future.

Two centuries ago, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, the first science fiction novel the world had ever seen. Dr. Frankenstein challenged nature with his dangerous activities, eventually losing control of the horrible creature he created. Shelley was just 18 when she wrote that book, driven by her deep interest in all things scientific. Even with its inherent dangers, the mysterious relationship between life and science, between humanity and technology, lends itself to a seductive need for discovery.

So why are there so few women today who choose to study science and technology? It's certainly not due to an intrinsic lack of capacity. A study recently published in Nature magazine revealed there was no gender disparity in quantitative and mathematical ability in children aged between six months and 8 years. The differences begin to emerge later, primarily due to social and cultural factors.

While boys and girls generally achieve the same scores in science and math, it's the former that tend to dream of becoming scientists, engineers, or IT professionals. Women make up only 39% of STEM graduates in OECD countries, representing a minority of physics and engineering students. Even fewer women — just 7% of all STEM students — study information technology and communications.

There is hope outside Europe: In India, the number of women with IT degrees has risen to match that of their male counterparts. Indonesia is not far behind.

Women at work in a lab at Akanksha Hospital & Research Centre in Gujarat, India — Photo: Subhash Sharma

Of course, the career prospects for a woman with a STEM degree aren't encouraging, to say the least. There are a number of invisible barriers that are difficult to overcome: Only 17% of scientists earning over 80,000 euros ($92,600) a year are women. Women are listed as the primary authors in just over a fifth of scientific research articles. Only 20% of peer reviewers are women, and that number falls to 15% in editorial boards where the reviewers are paid.

Things seem better in the digital world, where the competence of women is valued and amplified. While women earn less than men with the same qualifications in almost every other sector of the economy, women in the male-dominated IT and digital professions actually earn more than their male colleagues.

This trajectory begins to diverge around age 15

Rational considerations, like asking what kind of life she wants in the future, play an important role in determining a woman's decision to study a particular subject. This trajectory begins to diverge between boys and girls around age 15. According to an OECD report, there are essentially two factors that influence this decision: the student's self-appraisal of their own abilities and chances of success, and their attitude towards science and scientific professions. A young person's self-confidence and perception of their own identity are shaped by the social context in which they live.

Stereotypes about women and their perceived inability to succeed in STEM fields have played an important role in discouraging young women to study these disciplines, leading to a loss of the very talent that industrialized countries need to build a sustainable economic future.

We should ask ourselves if this has created a vicious cycle, where girls are conditioned against technical and scientific degrees despite their academic excellence because they're told that engineering is dry, that physics is difficult, and that IT is boring.

Automation is transforming our society, and this will most probably influence the way we teach. There are ever fewer tasks that robots cannot perform, and the future of the labor market will depend on other abilities that cannot be automated. The future rests with people who can combine their technical proficiency with strong interpersonal skills, creativity, and interdisciplinary thought.

As some countries have already realized, the education of future generations will have to take this new world into account. These students will have to become "Renaissance" men and women who can transcend humanism and science.

The German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz once asked, "why is there something rather than nothing?" He added that nothing is simpler and easier than something. It is our capacity to ask questions that makes us human: our unavoidable desire for knowledge, to grasp what escapes and transcends us in this vast and cold universe where we are little more than an instant in time. Pursuing studies in STEM is an opportunity for an extraordinary intellectual experience and the sensation of pushing our minds to go where we have never been. It's the wonder of discovery and the excitement of the impossible becoming real.

Science needs more women. Women will be empowered through science, and science will make it possible to pass the point of no return in the quest for gender equality. Occam's razor, a bedrock of scientific thought, is the principle that the simplest solution is also the right one. A future founded on the premise of greater equality and inclusion is definitely the right solution. It's also deceptively simple.

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India
Avijit Pathak*

Turning Feminism Into A Spiritual Quest

The power of love, or the celebration of a future society that values spiritual oneness rather than patriarchal divisions, is the ultimate source of resistance.

NEW DELHI — No feminist, irrespective of the school of thought she or he adheres to, would disagree with the fact that it is a sustained struggle against the ideologies and practices of domination, objectification and self-curtailment. And it goes without saying that patriarchy – an inherently violent system based on an asymmetrical distribution of material as well as cultural resources, and a hierarchical duality of masculine versus feminine – sustains these three evil practices.

Yes, the aggression and privilege of masculinity in a patriarchal system allow men to have almost complete control over women's life-practices. Likewise, its sexual politics is centered on the objectification of women as symbols of desire, conquest and possession. Not solely that. As a woman is transformed into a role, a "protector of virtues' (say, as Vivekananda once articulated, "all-suffering, ever-forgiving mother"), or a docile object confined to the boundaries of what Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen aptly described as the "doll's house," it leads to a high degree of alienation making self-actualization almost impossible.

Instead, women are compelled to live with self-curtailment; with the burden of socially imposed and culturally constructed identities, it becomes exceedingly difficult to realize oneself, hear the call from within. While a brutal system humiliates the victim, it dehumanizes the victor who constructs French writer Simone de Beauvoir's "second sex" with the Freudian "penis envy," or Manusmriti"s woman with "carnal passions," and impure desires' to be beaten by her husband with "a rope or a split bamboo."

Does modernity have anything to do with patriarchy?

The irony is that it makes men "powerful," yet ethically/aesthetically/spiritually dull – completely incapable of experiencing what Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung described as "anima": rediscovering the hidden femininity, seeing eternity in the eyes of the beloved and thereby getting reduced into zero, becoming like an androgynous Krishna playing with the flute for hours, and realizing art in the everyday-ness of the world.

How is patriarchy sustained? A usual answer informs us that religion-centric/traditional/feudal societies have often retained the patriarchal structure; and feminism is, therefore, seen as a promise of modernity, its libertarian quest for individuation, liberty, equality and fraternity. However, I wish to ask yet another question: Does modernity with its scientism, capitalism and consumerism have anything to do with patriarchy? In fact, these three practices of modernity have not eradicated patriarchy; instead, patriarchy has become more ornamental, sleek and deceptive.

Yes, scientism is based on the principle of domination and control; its inherent instrumentality causes the violence of dualism: mind and body, reason and feeling, subject and object, value-neutrality and self-reflexivity and science and nature. This hierarchy has further reinforced the patriarchal violence – a "masculine" ideology of techno-scientific progress (sustained by the Baconian doctrine of knowledge is power, or the Cartesian notion of abstracted pure reason, and dispirited nature as an object of perpetual masculinist intervention) devaluing what the likes of Susan Hekman would have characterized as the "feminine" spirit of care and relatedness.

Likewise, capitalism, because of its very logic, transforms us into commodities; "commodity fetishism," Marx elaborated with great insight, kills the soul and symmetry of human relationships. As capitalism and patriarchy often work together, a man-woman relationship becomes heavily distorted. Its manifestation can be seen in the cult of consumerism, which, as Erich Fromm argued brilliantly, promotes a "having" mode of existence; everything has to be possessed, consumed and used as an object of instant gratification.

The popularization of pornographic culture through new technologies of mass dissemination of symbols and coded messages, the normalization of the "beauty industry" reducing women into mere outer appearance, and the neurotic obsession with sexual imageries in the promotion of sale-able items like cars, packages of shaving cream or bottles of wine: the cultural landscape does by no means indicate the arrival of any liberating consciousness. Well, none can deny that the new economy has enabled a section of women to come out of the domestic domain of "reproduction" and "care," and enter the public domain of "work"; the possibility of economic independence has enabled them to transcend many constraints imposed by the traditional patriarchy, and realize themselves as economically independent "working women" rather than dependent "housewives."

However, the new patriarchy, we should not forget, has created yet another source of oppression – sexual violence in workplaces, perpetual pressure on women to look "good," "attractive," "presentable" and "glamorous," and above all, the induced notion of pleasure as freedom from boredom in fleeting relationships of "liquid modernity" that dissociate sex from love, and further promote psychic violence of what Herbert Marcuse would have regarded as "repressive desublimation" causing obstacles to the path of a life-sustaining man-woman relationship.

Feminist Question: Love of Power, or Power of Love?

Through love, the dead man becomes alive.

Through love, the king becomes a slave.

– Jalaluddin Rumi

The critical voice of feminism, we know, subverts these practices of both old and new patriarchy. It opens our eyes to see multiple paradoxes prevailing in our times – female infanticide amid the celebration of the mother goddess, domestic violence amid glamorized wedding ceremonies, inflated dowry rate amid the glitz of consumerism, disparate wages for the same job that men and women perform, and continual reproduction of the images of women as "eat-able items' through the "popular culture" of the Honey Singh variety. And yes, as a movement and life-churning critical pedagogy, it gives immense confidence to women to come out of the trap of patriarchy, and rediscover themselves as human possibilities.

From the discourse of "rights' to the act of debunking socially constituted gendered ideals, from Lata Mani's nuanced reflections on the debate on Sati in colonial India to Uma Chakravarti's inquiry into what happened to the Vedic Dasi, from Vina Mazumdar's revealing report, Towards Equality, to the recent movement centered on Nirbhaya gang rape case, from the growing demand for an inclusive public sphere to the assertion of one's right over one's body and sexuality, or, to use Shulamith Firestone's words, the victory over "kingdom of nature": feminism is playing an important role in altering the way we look at society, culture, politics, sexuality and religion.

Vina Mazumdar—Photo: Payasam Mukul Dube

However, the question remains, is there something more that ought to enrich feminism? At this juncture, I wish to make a distinction between love of power and power of love. True, in a situation that is hierarchical and oppressive a moment comes when the oppressed in the process of their struggle tend to acquire power and seek to defeat the oppressors at their own game.

It is the beginning of a breakthrough.

This, to use Frantz Fanon's words, has tremendous therapeutic significance for gaining confidence, overcoming the frigidity of silence, and healing the wound of marginalization. It is like Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's much talked about story, "Sultana's Dream," that takes us to a "lady land" where men are kept away from the public sphere and women rule the society. Not surprisingly, in popular feminism, the urge to prove that "we too can do it" is very strong; and hence, "successful" women are often defined in terms of the same discourse of power: a female police officer, a female warrior, a female pilot, a female prime minister, a female boxer, a female entrepreneur. This is what I regard as the love of power. It has its role. It is the beginning of a breakthrough.

But then, a mature struggle for liberation has to go beyond it, beyond this compulsive urge to prove that "we too are powerful like you"; instead, at its highest stage it alters this discourse of power, and seeks to liberate, as Gandhi imagined, even the oppressors from the rationale of domination. And this is possible through the power of love. And herein lies the spirituality of feminism.

While the love of power retains the duality by trying to make things upside down, the power of love transcends dualities. It unites; it breaks hierarchies, the walls of patriarchy, the logic of objectification, the violence of commodification and possession. This love emanates from a deep spiritual realization of oneness amid symmetrical differences, the flowering of the indivisible soul integrating the masculine and the feminine. This love is the ultimate power – the power of reciprocity and union, the power of mutual elevation, the power of dialogue amid differences in biology and life-choices, the power of spreading the enchanting ethos of androgyny in every sphere of work, be it cooking or gardening, doing physics or acting as the prime minister.

Yes, at its highest stage, feminism becomes spiritual in this sense, and hence ecological and communitarian. It invites men to have a new beginning, and cultivate their repressed humanity. It becomes an awakening that makes us see the hollowness of hyper-masculinity, the brutality of technocratic capitalism, the futility of militaristic nationalism and war, the trivialization of Eros and the shallowness of market-induced freedom: freedom to dress like a film star, freedom to remain perpetually restless, and freedom to buy, consume, use and throw away even relationships into the dustbin. The power of love or the celebration of a future society that values spiritual oneness rather than patriarchal divisions is the ultimate source of resistance against all that is ugly, be it rape or "honor killing."

Is it utopian? I call it a feasible utopia because its time has come.

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Sources
Emma Tobin*

Rude Awakening, When A Young American Woman Moves To Morocco

Emma Tobin decided to take a gap year in Africa to work on women's empowerment issues. Little did she know she was about to join all those women across the world who are little more than objects in the face of a male-dominated culture.

MARRAKESH — I remember a friend saying that gay rights is the issue of our generation, and while I agreed at the time, I can't help but feel that he wasn't entirely correct.

As a woman, I fight every day to be respected and treated as an equal. In my middle-class American family, I'm not a second-class citizen, but in the larger world it's very apparent that I am. I now see how naive I was about women's issues growing up. I attended an all-girls school, have two sisters and have been given a plethora of opportunities. So it wasn't until I moved to Morocco that I began to see how segregated and sexist the world really is.

I live in the newer and lower-income section of Marrakesh, and on my way to work I constantly face street harassment. Men of all ages comment on my body no matter how covered up I am, and look at me with eyes that speak volumes about their disregard for anything but my body. Men and boys approach me daily to try to talk to me while I stare straight ahead and ignore them. While walking home one day, a man yelled "nice tits," even though I was wearing shapeless clothes. He continued to follow me while editorializing in crude terms about my body until another Moroccan man stepped in and told him to stop.

Here, I can't be out past 9 p.m. alone. It doesn't matter to men what I or other women wear. I can be in a hijab and still be harassed because it's not a male responsibility to treat women with respect here. Instead, it's the responsibility of women not to tempt those men.

This obviously isn't an issue limited to Morocco. All over the world women are harshly objectified, and worse, every day regardless of what they wear, how old they are or their socioeconomic background. In a study of 630 women by India's Centre for Equity and Inclusion, 95% reported that they were restricted in public places because of male harassment. A survey by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women found that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, both physical and verbal.

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In Marrakesh's market — Photo: Valdiney Pimenta

I came to Morocco to learn about women in Muslim societies and to be involved with some form of women's empowerment. I knew it would be difficult to be a woman here and that I would struggle to be respected simply because of my gender. What I didn't expect was to stare into the face of a man who told me he wasn't going to send his 6- and 8-year-old daughters to school but that he would send his sons to school if he had them. In other words, he believed his girls weren't worth the investment.

What this man and so many ignore is that educated women are less likely to get married and have children at a young age and therefore less likely to die during childbirth. They are better caretakers of the children they have, and are better suited to find work that will support their families. Educated women basically lift entire families out of poverty.

In this very same village of Akrich, just outside Marrakesh, there was a tragic accident that took the life of a local man. His wife is illiterate, which makes it virtually impossible for her to find a job to support her three children. It's a terrible situation — but not an uncommon one. "By acquiring literacy, women become more economically self-reliant and more actively engaged in their country's social, political and cultural life," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said. "All evidence shows that investment in literacy for women yields high development dividends."

Akrich isn't an exception. The ingrained sexism and social expectations for women run rampant across much of the world. How am I supposed to change the way people have been thinking since the beginning of time? How can I convince both men and women that we need to change our ideas about the role of women? How do we adapt whole cultures and religious interpretations to illuminate the archaic treatment of half the population?

Though the world celebrated International Women's Day on March 8, it didn't change the fact that every day girls across the world are forced to marry at staggeringly young ages. They are raped, catcalled, forced to leave school or demeaned because of their gender. The UN has said that it will attempt to reach gender equality by 2030. In which case, we have a long way to go in 14 short years.

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