Friday, December 25, 2009

What am I doing here?

Hello everyone in this blog,
I am honoured that this blog has invited me to be an author, especially since I am not associated with the WAVE wave:)
But the premise of this blog interests me: I cant do the video blogging part because I wasn't part of the training. I don't know the technicalities of making videos: I just love the visual medium and belive that it has immense potential to tell compelling stories. We see there is a space for video citizen journalism: CNN-IBN's Citizen Journalist being a case in point in India.
But to come back to what I am doing here:
well, I am based in Imphal, the capital of a state called Manipur located in the North Eastern part of India. Not many would have heard of us for we are a vague part of history and conciousness. The few who have heard of us would know us either through a lens of: culture, sports, HIV/AIDS and of course, the naked protest staged by 12 women in front of the Kangla Fort protesting against the brutal rape of a woman by the Assam Riffles. But as with every other place, there is more to Mnaipur than this. Apart from the conflict and the chaos, there are also women who are doggedly fighting the odds in their lives. There are also other women forced to various situations because of their vulnerabilities: taking up sex work, drug peddling, being arms couriers. There are the women in the famed Ima Keithel (litearaly meaning Mothers' market) run by women and though most outsiders, if not all look upon it as a symbol of "women's empowerment" the real story of course is that the market is made of two diverse classes: women belonging to the well heeled section, the upper classes; women who have retired after being Government employees on one hand and those at the lower end of the poverty ladder. The ones at the top come to the market for business, the ones at the lowest rung for their stomachs. It's got noting to do with empowerment. For a reading of just how women running the market are left much to the situation around them, please follow this link:
And that brings us to a pressing need to look at what is women empowerment.
Is it the fact that there are now women getting jobs and earning? Is it the fact that there are more women in political positions? There can be and there are more questions on this track but for now, let's just concentrate on the two above.
Can we say that a woman is empowered if she has a job and earns? Would we still say it is, when the money she earns cannot be spent according to her wants and needs and intent but taken away by her husband at the end of the day? Would we say a woman is empowered when she earns about a 100 rupees at the end of a day, carrying bricks on her head at a construction site? There is also the other side: the various self help groups sprouted by NGOs: the ones that teaches embroidery, sewing, making snacks etc etc. Is this really about empowerment when all that such groups are doing really is going into gender stereotypes of "training women to be empowered" by merely changing some conditions of their lives but NOT changing the POSITIONING of women in society?
I would so love a discussion on these thoughts. And yes, the women in political positions. Yes, 33% reservation in Panchayats etc have brought out the women from the homes and the hearth. Yes, there are a few women who have done well for themselves and for other women but the majority occupy positions because of the reservation policy BUT still insist that you talk to thisr husbands about what they are supposed to be doing!!!
As young women doing documentation, it is also important that one is clear about what is it that you are trying to say: would your images and the sound bytes and the choice of your story, person in the story follow the oft mistaken "women empowerment" track or would you question? How does one balance the way you question?
These are questions that one has to think through.
My best wishes to all of you.
Chitra Ahanthem

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Chitra for pointing out that our WAVE videobloggers need to be aware of stereotypes and whether they are supporting or subverting them. I hope you will continue to watch what this program does as far as empowerment goes, and keep blogging your thoughts about our failures and successes!