A woman is neither a goddess, nor a slave. It is important to understand the gravity of this statement, especially in light of the #MeToo movement that took Twitter by a storm. Cases of inappropriate advances are seeping up through the layers of the hush-hush. Women are speaking up about the injustices they have suffered, and are exercising their freedom of speech; a right that the constitution granted them a long time ago, but remained largely under-utilised, because the society was not ready to grant the dignity of an equal being to a woman.
While the featuring of women scientists in this year’s Physics and Chemistry Nobel Prizes give a cause for celebration, it also calls for a time for introspection. Why is it only the third and the fifth time that a woman has been able to achieve these monumental successes? Has there been an unequal distribution of resources available to scientists on the basis of their gender? Has there been an unequal treatment of the two by the society? If so, why? And does the nationality of these awardees have anything to do with it? If yes, what do countries of the developing world need to do to encourage more women to take up the sciences?
These questions require answers to be able to understand the factors which do not allow women to realise their full potential. In the glam and glitz of the Nobel Prizes, another award which may have missed the headlines, is the Anna Politkovskaya Award.
Awarded to a Manipuri activist, Ms. Binalakshmi Nepram, along with her Belarusian counterpart, Ms. Svetlana Alexievich. The award recognised “women’s bravery in speaking out and defying injustice, violence and extremism in forgotten armed conflict on their regions.”
While it is a matter of pride that one of the awardees was an Indian, it is quite a tragedy that the circumstances forced her to leave the country to be able to pursue her interests. Ms. Nepram once worked for Oxfam, and later co-founded the Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI), a civil society organisation working for demilitarisation and disarmament.
Refusing to be a ‘statistic in a body bag’, she launched the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, which has helped more than 20,000 women deal with decades of armed conflict and ethnic violence in the state. It is important to note here that Manipur shares its border with Myanmar, a country afflicted with severe military crisis, which in the recent years has given rise to severe humanitarian crisis. Every year, many people lose their lives, leaving behind families with grief stricken members who don’t know how to start again.
Recognising that women are the worst hit during the times of war, and are most vulnerable to violence, Ms. Binalakshmi Nepram advocates for women’s human rights, and those of war victims. She started her initiative by helping Ms. Rebika Akham, who lost her 27-year-old husband to war. She helped Ms. Akham buy a sewing machine so that she could secure a living.
Now recognised internationally for her contribution to rebuilding the lives of many women who lost their fathers, husbands and sons in the war, she faced threats to her security, and had to move to the United States. Her Belarusian counterpart, Ms. Svetlana, a Nobel-laureate in Literature for her representation of women in the second world war, her study of the impact of Chernobyl nuclear disaster and Soviet military adventure in Afghanistan on women of these regions, received a similar fate. An investigative journalist and an oral historian, she had to live in exile for many years. It was only until 2011 that she was accepted back by the Belarusian government. Also, it is interesting to note that she was the first writer from Belarus to receive the Nobel Prize.
Even though the awards recognise the efforts of these women, they bring to light a more important crisis of humanity against women of the world. Be it Anna Politkovskaya herself, after whom the award was named, or the winners of today, the society doesn’t seem ready to hear the music. Ms. Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian investigative reporter who uncovered state corruption and rights abuses in Chechnya, and was shot dead in Moscow on October 7, 2006. To honour her contribution and recognise the brave efforts of women worldwide, every year Reach All Women (RAW) in WAR, a UK based organisation, awards the Politkovskaya Award to women human rights defenders from all over the world. Last year, the prestigious award was shared by Gauri Lankesh and Gulalai Ismail.
The fate of all these women, shockingly, doesn’t come as a surprise. That they have to pay the price of their efforts with their right to live certainly under threat, is indeed, saddening. Even though this year’s Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murad recognizes that sexual violence is indeed being used as a weapon of war, and calls for an end to the same, a lot more remains to be done. One needs to rethink why women with a voice often find themselves subdued, or worse; killed.