Freedom for Women, Freedom for All


The article below commemorates the beginning of the Free to Be campaign. It encourages awareness and acknowledges the struggle of Indian and Southeast Asian women against oppression, violence and control.

Women in India are oppressed to the point that even if raped, the victims are the ones who are blamed. On December 16th of 2012, a horrifying event happened in Delhi, India. A girl was gang-raped by six men for two hours in a moving bus, resulting in her tragic death. This unforgivable act of violence has reached the conscience of people worldwide, women and men, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, friends and partners. The brutal event that took away a life of a young innocent woman focused the attention of the international public opinion on the current epidemic problem of sexual violence in India. This young woman carries a burden of every victim of violence that fell under the social injustice. For these victims, a whole global community must keep asking for the reformation of political and social conditions to prevent such brutal acts from repeating themselves.

Some of the politicians have come out in public to say, “We need to ban skirts in schools”. This is an incredibly shocking statement from world’s political leaders. By suggesting to ban skirts in schools because that is the cause of rapes, what are we really saying? What is the real meaning of these words?

We are implying that women are the ones who entice the violence by men.
We are saying that the victim of a crime is the one who creates it.
We accept that a man cannot control his acts and use reason.
We declare that compulsion, in our society, is stronger and more valuable than human rights.
We say that men have the right to abuse women.

How, in a 21st century, such statements can be made by the biggest democracy in the world? The women are raped all the time in India, and every time, the blame falls on the victim. Shame that comes after the violence, adds pain to the victims, forcing them to remain silent and ashamed. Rape is a horrifying act of violence that a human being must be forbidden to perpetrate on another human being. Rape is an act of a savage beast. A lot of rape victims in India end up killing themselves, committing suicide after they have been raped, because of the stigma that they brought shame on themselves. Often, there is a ripple effect felt by the family, in some cases even the parents of the victim end up killing themselves too.

If we suggest that we should ban skirts in schools because that’s what creates rape situations for women, what are we saying in reality? Are we saying that to see means to own? It is hard to understand how this could possibly end the savage aggression. Why is a woman who was raped blamed more than the man who has done it? How is it different from a situation, where somebody is eating and another person just grabs the food to say that he was starving? When a person gets bitten by a dog, the animal is often put down. When the victim gets raped, the rapist gets away, and the blame falls on a victim. Since when did this become a social norm?

The real message of the statement “we need to ban skirts” is that the victim is the one who creates the crime.

We need to concentrate on aggressive rowdy men who committed such terrifying actions, and not on what the victim wore.
We need to focus on how society accepts such savaged men, how we can stop such horrendous acts of violence, how we can protect women, and how we should break the silence that enshrouded this macabre madness.

Rape is used by men to suppress women especially in India and the Indian subcontinent, where women live in oppressive patriarchal societies. It is a tribal mentality, and if we look into how rape is used in India, it is really shocking and depressing. Women are raped to hurt another family. In villages, it is used to intimidate a woman, even at home. Rape is used as a revenge to insult a guy, where his wife is raped, or his sister is raped, or his mother is raped. Ethnic violence has been translated into a sexual one. Many women were raped during the genocide in 1984 in Delhi, the country’s capital, to shame the Sikhs. It was also used in Gujarat against the Muslim women. Rape was used during the partition of India and Pakistan. How many more women have to fall victims to such cruel and brutal crime, until the Indian society wakes up and says, “We are civilized people, and we do not accept sexual abuses and violence. We are going to break the silence!” The protests that happened after the unbearable act of violence on December 16, 2012, show that there is an awakening in Indian youth, and we should add our support to the rising voices of Indian people for freedom and justice.

In today’s society, the clothes are expressions of ourselves just like our speech, just like our other democratic choices, the way we are, how we live, and where we live. Clothes are part of our development as much as they are part of our lives. A very surprising thing is some of the politicians suggested that Indian women should not be wearing any so-called Western clothes.

Yet, how are clothes any different from the variety of food we eat, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, the languages we speak, the countries we visit, etc. We’re not eating the same food, and we are not cooking the same way as we were cooking a long time ago. We are not using the same utensils to eat or cook as we were using a long time ago. So, why should the clothing be restricted? As society evolves, new technologies give us a chance to have clothes that don’t need to be the same as the ones our forefathers have worn five centuries ago. They’ve become much more refined and unique, giving people a freedom to choose.

If we say that a skirt is a Western woman’s dress, how come only the Western woman has a right to improve her clothing with the inventions in materials and manufacturing. Analogically to politicians’ opinions, the Western woman then should be wearing Victorian clothes as well. India’s original clothes are a piece of cloth worn by indigenous people, which often shows woman’s breast. In most of India, the original dress for women is a sari, which is a form of a skirt. Unmarried girl’s sari shows her legs. In the North, traditional dress used to be a Gagra (Lehenga), a big skirt similar to the Victorian style.

There is also another point to be made: are there more or fewer rape cases in countries, where women don’t cover themselves and have a freedom to choose their clothes? Are more women raped on the beaches of the Mediterranean, where most of them are half-naked? When a woman is wearing a sari, it shows a part of her stomach and back. How can we say that it is very provocative? Are there more rapes in indigenous cultures, where women do not cover themselves? If we say a woman’s skirt invites a rapist to come and rape her, then what will we say next time? Must a woman cover her head? Must she wear a burka even if she is not from a Muslim culture? Does it mean that to protect a woman from sexual abuse, we need to hide her identity, infringing on her freedom? Is this the way we want to protect women? Instead of promoting integrity and cultural education, instead of changing the mind of the people to avoid committing and repeating such savage act of violence. Instead of condemning violence, “banning skirts” leads only to the acceptance of savagery as a social norm.

We need to focus on how the woman is suppressed by aggressive rowdy men who have no integrity, not by what women wear.
We should teach, “DO NOT RAPE”, instead of “DO NOT BE RAPED”.
It is about time fashion industry takes on an issue that is so close to make a difference on women’s freedom.
It is about time that we all go out today carrying a message, “Ban rapist, don’t ban women’s freedom. Ban rapist, don’t ban skirts”.
This is a wake-up call to all the people who are for humanity. All the women should be able to live a free and self-determined life.
It is about standing for humanity.

Let’s all have a skirt, either by wearing a skirt or wearing a “the skirt” T-shirt and let the world know that we are for human freedom and human rights, we are against violence and abuses, we are against suppression and repression, as everyone in this world should be. Let the politicians know that we are serious on achieving a true democracy based on true humanitarian values, here and now. Freedom for women, freedom for all.