When you learn what happened when these women got together you'll never underestimate yourself again
Ever felt like you haven’t been listened to just because you’re a woman? You’re not alone. All over the world, women in every society are fighting to get their voices heard. And what’s the single most important thing helping them achieve this? Unity. Unity is at the centre of every movement bridging the gender gap. And the women in this article are setting an example for us all, showing how we can fight for our rights in the subtlest ways.
An equal playing field
Let's start with the ladies of the Beijing Roller Derby carving out their own feminist movement in China. You might be wondering what does the Roller Derby, a sport originating from the US, exactly have to do with feminism in China? Well, after being introduced by female expats the sport took on a life of its own and the DIY costumes that play a massive part in it have given women a space for self-expression.
But you know what else? The roller-derby has massively increased the visibility of strong female athletes. And this means that outdated ideas of femininity are being challenged, proving that strength and beauty do come hand in hand. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a country that historically restricted the movement of women and their involvement in physical exercise through foot binding.
What’s more, the Beijing Roller derby has made such a difference to so many women that it teamed up with the UN who supported their first exhibition match to promote China’s first domestic violence laws. And you know what? All of this was made possible because the Roller Derby has given Chinese women the chance to unite in social spaces they can take ownership of. In essence, this new found freedom is giving women their own sense of agency in an otherwise patriarchal society.
Beating racial discrimination in your own country
Can you imagine being the target of racial discrimination in your own country? Sadly, this is a feeling the indigenous Armaya women of Bolivia know all too well. Also known as 'Cholitas' by those ridiculing them, these women have reclaimed the term in the Bolivian wrestling ring.
To begin with, Cholita wrestling was set up by Juan Mamani as a gimmick to attract tourists. The result? The Cholitas became so popular that they’ve managed to branch out alone, setting up their own wrestling organisation and taking control of their own economic affairs.
In wrestling matches, Cholitas wear bright colourful skirts traditional to their culture and prove the strength of a woman is more than that of any man. These displays of pure physical strength have massively changed public perceptions of the Cholitas who have gone on to be employed in powerful positions. In El Alto, they’ve even been hired as police officers and newscasters. It’s an astounding feat that would have been inconceivable before the Cholitas entered the ring, and this is just the beginning.
Sick and tired of rap being dominated by men?
Sick and tired of rap being dominated by men? So are the new generation of female rappers in Brazil, the Funkeiras. The Funkeiras belong to Brazil’s hip-hop inspired music genre, Funk Carioca.
The Funk Carioca music scene started with working-class men from the Favelas who were often part of the drug trafficking industry. The result? Overtly sexual or violent lyrics, which to most women, are unrelatable.
So what did the Funkeiras do? They put their own stamp on things and used Funk Carioca to outright reject gender inequality. On the face of it, it might seem to some that the hyper-sexualised language used by Funkeiras today is not different to their male counterparts. But in fact, under the surface, the Funkeiras are actually challenging male expectations on how women should behave.
The simple truth is that the Funkeiras have spoken to a massive audience of working-class women in Brazil. And by taking control of their own reputations and advocating gender equality the Funkeiras have put a middle finger up to the status quo.
Tumbling away from victimisation
In Nepal, many children are tragically taken captive in travelling circuses. Kidnapped and sold to the circus in India, these children are not only forced to become circus performers, but subject to violence and sexual abuse. Occasionally, victims are rescued and returned to their homelands, often after living their entire adolescent lives in the circus.
To make matters worse, victims of trafficking are met with huge stigma when they return home. Nepalese society brands them as whores after being kept as slaves. And as a result, circus survivors are often isolated from society and find it incredibly difficult to regain some sort of normal life.
But believe it or not, there is a group of survivors who are drawing some good from their experiences in captivity. Using the circus skills they were forced to learn, they have set up Nepal’s first ethical circus, Circus Kathmandu* in an attempt to overcome the stigma attached to them. Most importantly, Circus Kathmandu is helping to raise international awareness of trafficking in order to help other victims as it tours across the world.
Circus Kathmandu is a truly inspiring case where women have found a light in the dark and used it to inspire and help others like them.
* This years documentary Even When I Fall details the accounts of two women involved in setting up Circus Kathmandu detailing their journey over six years from capture to freedom.
The art of change
How can theatre bring about social change? Ifeoma Fafunwa’s critically acclaimed screenplay Hear Word! is showing us how. The play, which features an all Nigerian cast, deals with social and political obstacles preventing women taking leadership roles in Nigeria.
It doesn’t stop here. Fafunwa’s decision to exclude a set from Hear Word! has proved vital in encouraging audience participation. What this means is that the play can be performed anywhere and allow women a space to share their own stories as well as listen to those in the play.
Does the work stop here? Definitely not. Fafunwa’s continuous effort to drive social change in Nigeria has also resulted in the founding of iOpenEye, an organisation advocating political reform through theatre, where she sits as Creative Director.
So what does Fafunwa’s work mean for Nigerian Women? As well as raising their international profile particularly for the UN, they have been inspired to take control of their own destiny challenging inequality in society.
Inspiring one generation to the next
You might think Balinese dance is one of those age old traditions serves purely as a tourist attraction today. You’d be wrong. It’s true, traditional Arja dance performances have been heavily influenced by tourism in recent years. But the result of this has allowed Balinese women to establish their traditions as a transnational art form. The result? Maintaining a place on the world’s stage for ancient Balinese culture.
The impact of tourism on traditional performances isn’t all good, of course. But new characters and routines have allowed Arja dancers to respond to modern society and gender norms. Using their mentors and the characters in their performances, a new generation of Arja dancers are exploring feminine characteristics unknown to them within the confines of Balinese culture.
Modesty and weakness have always been considered as ‘female traits’. But today, dancers are displaying more confident characteristics not necessarily expressed in everyday society. Ketut, a highly regarded Arja dancer described it perfectly as 'losing all shyness on stage'. Dancer’s confidence grows even more through strong student/teacher relationships producing stronger generations of performers each time women pass on their wisdom.
Will history repeat itself?
Did you know the first collection of female literature dates as far back as the 6th century BC? The Therigatha, a collection of poems from the first Buddhist nuns, were way ahead of their time.
Discussing all things womanhood, from sexuality, motherhood and even gender inequality, the poems have served as a teaching tool for women in and outside of Buddhism since their publication.
Discussing all things womanhood, from sexuality, motherhood and even gender inequality
Sadly, the truth is, that despite the progressive thinking in the Therigatha, gender inequality has prevailed within Buddhism. The good news is that the Therigatha are still inspiring nuns today who are fighting for the same rights as monks.
The problem for Tibetan nuns today is that monks are still awarded higher clerical status than them. The solution to this lies in the united efforts of these women, which began in 2016 when they began their campaign for gender equality. Taking a leaf from their ancestor's poems, Tibetan nuns today have been busy publishing their own literature to celebrate influential Buddhist women to raise awareness of their cause.
There is still a way to go, but by taking control of their situation the nuns have brought themselves one step closer to solving their problem. It’s amazing to see how a collection of poems from thousands of years ago has been so influential for women in the 21st century.
Cementing the female voice in history
We’ve seen how women’s voices have appeared in the history books already. But by now we’re all well aware that this, unfortunately, is a rarity. It’s no secret the female voice has been largely erased in most historical records. But what if we could look past books and literature to oral history, where the female voice is very much still alive?
It’s in tales passed down over time where the stories of women in history have lived on. This is particularly prevalent in Kirtan, Sikh religious music. Women have made their voices heard in Kirtan song by recounting and building on each others stories.
What does this all mean for equality you ask? Well now, Sikh women are using Kirtan to elevate their status in Indian society and bridge the gap between men and women. Because despite their contributions to Kirtan, women are still prohibited from performing in Golden Temple ceremonies.
Believe it or not, this is all founded on the belief that women are unclean because of menstruation.
Quite rightly, Sikh women are rejecting this and arguing for their right to perform in the Golden Temple. Drawing on the very foundations of Sikhism, which positions all beings as equal, women are fighting for equality. After all, Guru Nanak Sahib himself said that men and women were neither higher or lower than one another.
Since the founding of the religion, Sikh gurus have prioritised the “social, spiritual and economic advancement of women”. By allowing women to perform in temple ceremonies Sikh’s today would become more aligned with the values of their own religion. What makes this so important? Well, with the advent of recording technologies, the ability to record female Kirtan performances in official ceremonies would cement their voices in history without being retold and, inevitably, forgotten.
Staying stable in a turbulent society