Could ‘Leisure’ Fit Into Our Idea Of Women’s Empowerment?

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By Stuti Kulkarni:

With an influx of social media activism and the increase in socially charged infographics in digital spaces, the notion and tone that the words ‘solidarity’ and ’empowerment’ have taken up are relatively serious and solemn. What comes to one’s mind immediately is GoFundMes, petitions, and hashtags. This association is inevitable, as demands for fundamental human rights have been gathering steam in the online space. Without prolonged, concrete action and solidarity, change seems like a distant dream.

Yet, with this increase in discourse about topics such as feminism in online spaces, one finds it’s easy to forget the other aspects of empowerment – which are tied very strongly to being human. Experiences such as enjoyment, relaxation and community engagement are also fundamental to truly understand what it means to be a free and equal human being.

While conversations of enjoyment and relaxation come to us quite naturally, the harsh reality is that they’re also a matter of privilege. Ideas of mental healthcare and breaks tend to take place within spaces of privilege. What do communities that work without days off know of leaves? What do they know about mental healthcare? How do these ideas figure in their lives?

This Women’s Day was particularly unique for me, I did something quite off beat – I was part of an event with a community of women I’ve hardly ever interacted with before – at least not beyond talking about the daily functioning of a household. I spent this Women’s Day with domestic workers! Hosted by a coalition of organisations, this event created a space for fun learning and engagement while also having necessary conversations surrounding the rights of women domestic workers and children from the urban village community.

It was a very fresh experience for me to witness the different ways in which empowerment can be brought about, whether is through legal reforms, healthcare facilities or just simple pleasures. It was wonderful to be able to experience two different emotions that I would usually place on different ends of the spectrum–solidarity and enjoyment.

Between taking pictures, making paintings (some of them for the first time in their lives) and attending storytelling sessions, women and children were also having conversations about health, safety and their wellbeing in professional and non-professional spaces. Central to this event was conversation, but it was different from the idea I had about solidarity-centred conversations before – I became keenly aware of the fact that it does not always have to be serious and long drawn, it can also be as simple as asking someone “Would you like to take a picture with your group?”. Empowerment does not just come from reinforcing slogans and extensive acknowledgements of hard work; it also lies in relief from that toil and to be able to enjoy the full essence of a break day. It can show itself in multiple forms, whether that is through active resistance or through revelling in simple joys we tend to take for granted.

This pandemic has brought with it extremely trying times for everyone, but this hits a little harder for domestic workers, whose livelihood depends on work within households. They are taken advantage of and are exploited physically, mentally and sexually because of the dependence on their jobs and the financial repercussions of leaving. They’re seen as workers, never as women. The event turned these notions on their head. . Every interaction I had proved it.. One particularly striking response came from a young boy, who gave a simple yet firm answer: “Ladkiyon ko chedhna nahi chahiye, unhe galat jagah pe nahi choona nahi chahiye, unse acche taraf se vyahvar karna chahiye aur unhe pitna nahi chahiye” (Translation: One should not harass girls, we should not touch them in the wrong places, we should behave with them well and we should not hit them).

The conversations I had brought me a deeper understanding of how issues intertwine with everyday life, which is something that no amount of reading online can bring. It also brought within me a sense of hope, many thanks to the clarity and determination of the community while discussing their problems and demands.

The lockdown last year has already shown us the necessities of face-to-face conversation. Women’s Day with the incredible women and children of Harijan Basti proved that it extends to spheres of activism, solidarity and empowerment as well. Celebration comes in various forms; it comes in creating safer spaces for women to work in, in the provision of necessary facilities for strengthening their physical health, but also in recreation and entertainment.

Stuti Kulkarni is an intern at the Martha Farrell Foundation, and has been an active contributor since 2018. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s at Ashoka University.
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