Women Leaders Applaud IOS Programme on Problems of Expression of Women’s Identity

Calicut, September 5, 2020: Women leaders, activists and intellectuals who attended the recent webinar ‘Who Am I?’ narrated the challenges and opportunities they face as women in a society still controlled by patriarchal notions of gender. This was first in a four-part series on the Problems of Expression of Identity of Women organised by the IOS Centre for Gender Studies, Calicut.

Ms. S Bushra, the joint convener of the programme detailed in her welcome speech the purpose of the series. She said women in Kerala, though literate and enlightened, had to overcome many socio-cultural obstacles when they tried to be more independent and assertive. Women were not merely mother, daughter, sister or wife. There were hundreds of women writers, artists and thinkers but they were still denied freedom of choice. It was of great symbolic importance that the Centre had established a research library honouring Hazrat Ayesha.

Ms. Shahida Kamal, a member of State Women’s Commission, inaugurated the webinar. She said that only a society that gave equal importance to men and women could build a system based on equity and justice. As a member of the Commission she received hundreds of complaints about men who look at women as merely sexual objects or manual labour. It was time that men valued the intellectual abilities of women.

Dr. J Devika, professor at Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvanathapuram, and author of books on gender issues, in her keynote speech, underlined the historical factors which substantially helped Kerala women to come up. One was the importance given to women’s education. Still women are treated as feeble, intellectually second-rate and unable to take up intellectual initiatives. They are often forced to lead a domestic life. Men arrogate to themselves the role of guardians of women only to suppress women’s efforts to express their identity. 

Ms. Leela Santhosh, the producer of much-acclaimed documentary Cheeru on un-wed tribal mothers, said that as a woman coming from a tribe she was in double jeopardy when trying to portray the problems of gender injustice. Tribal culture gave equal importance to men and women, but modernisation might be adversely affecting the older notions about gender. As a documentary producer she also faced marginalisation. Women should develop courage to assert and put across their views.

Ms. Mridula Devi, a Dalit writer associated with Patabhedam magazine said the first thing she had learnt in life was to become fearless and ready to say ‘no’. As a Dalit, she faced prejudice on two counts, one as a Dalit and the other as a woman. Being black also plays a role in being discriminated against.

Ms. K K Raihanath, President of Women India Movement, remarked that the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’  was very simple: I am a human being. Women like men are equal in the eyes of God and both are equally answerable to Him for their activities in this world. As a woman she had not faced any discrimination from her parents or husband and a time would come when questions about gender identity would become irrelevant.

Intellectuals and activists like Ms. P Ambika, (editor of radical monthly ‘Maruvakku’), Ms. G Ambika (playwright and theatre artist), Ms. M A Najeema Hassan (folk singer), Ms. Hafza (member, editorial board, Kutumbashree project), Ms. K C Rema Babu (singer and writer) energised the discussion and shared experiences along with many women drawn from all walks of life.

Ms. Sheena Sadique, the joint convener, managed the technical aspects of the webinar.

Ms. P Jumaila proposed a vote of thanks.


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