HerStory looks at the big milestones of 2018, the instances that united the sisterhood and showed that women can - and will - change the world around them.
History, they say, is always written from the perspective of the powerful, the strong, or the rich. The year 2018, however, showed us something different. In fact, this year will go down as a landmark year – one in which women showed they could speak up, take on patriarchy, demand justice, and seek redressal.
We look back to see what were some of the big milestones, movements, and issues that rallied women to come together and demand change. Here are some ways in which 2018 became a landmark year for the Indian woman:
Talking about periods continues to be taboo in India. A social experiment revealed how a woman carrying a pack of sanitary napkins in a transparent bag at a bus stop had everyone in a tizzy even as, 20 metres away from her, multiple men stopping to take a leak and being caught on camera did not shock.
Imagine women’s consternation when the Goods and Services Tax - rolled out in 2017 – was slapped on feminine hygiene products. It had everyone, from women to NGO’s and social entrepreneurs working in this sector up in arms. The year 2018 saw multiple campaigns across the country; the demand was one: make feminine hygiene products tax-free. In January 2018, school girls from Gwalior started a campaign, and wrote and sent messages on sanitary napkins to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In July 2018, after the 28th GST Council meeting, the tax was removed on sanitary napkins.
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Read more about how sanitary napkins got out of the GST net here.
This movement had every abuser ducking under the desk, checking Google every few hours for his name. That was the power of the #MeToo Movement. It showed the country that if you thought women were fair game, then maybe it was time to think twice.
Actress Tanushree Dutta showed courage and took that one step that liberated thousands of women and led them to speak up in public, in communities, at workplaces, and even their homes against sexual abuse and harassment. Women in media, arts, sports, advertising, entertainment, and corporates spoke up.
The movement was well received by everyone who had suffered some form of abuse, irrespective of gender. The patriarchy fought back with people blaming the victims and gaslighting them (click here to find out what that means) and asking why they woke up years later (here’s why). But MeToo started a process of healing; stories of abuse, molestation, and rape that had not been spoken about were shared. The burden, pain, trauma and fear of being shamed that many women were carrying around for decades were washed away - somewhat.
MeToo, which put the spotlight on some very well-known names, also woke up organisations and led them to re-examine workplace safety of employees. And though it is a long-drawn and an uphill battle, in the face of resistance, lack of empathy for survivors, and rigid patriarchy, women are just getting started.
And men who think they have gotten away should think again. If you haven’t been outed, remember it will be #TimesUp for you soon.
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With the thick veil of patriarchy also encroaching on women’s right to worship, a Supreme Court verdict took on tradition to allow menstruating women between the age of 10 and 50 to worship at Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Unfortunately, things took an ugly turn when many women devotees were forced to turn back and protests against the decision erupted across Kerala and the entire country. Women journalists were heckled, and not allowed to report, while self-styled “protectors’ vowed to shed blood so that the temple could be closed. Till the time of this story going to press, no woman has been allowed to enter though attempts have been made. Just goes to show that religion is mightier than a Supreme Court decision.
But the attempts continue in full swing.
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In October came the landmark judgment by an all-women Supreme Court bench that no means no; that no woman - even those labelled of “easy virtue” – could be violated and raped. (Read more about the judgment here). This also shows why we need more women to look at rape and molestation cases, especially given the rampant abuse, patriarchy, and bias that India is steeped in.
Continuing its landmark judgment spree this year, the Supreme Court also ruled that adultery is no longer a crime and is unconstitutional and discriminatory against women. The court pointed out that having a sexual relationship with a woman without her husband’s consent deprived women of agency. While adultery was no longer a crime, it could be the basis of divorce; in case there was a case of suicide based on an affair that would be seen as a crime.
The other landmark judgment this year was when a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian penal code. This - the judgment that gay sex is no longer a crime in India and is legal - means that the LGBTQIA community in India can finally come out of the closet.
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What did you think was a major milestone this year for women? What do you think about the #MeToo Movement and the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple? Share your views in the comments section below.