I enter the Tech Center with a lot of inhibitions. About twenty girls who have never seen me before eyeing me from top to bottom. I adjust my dupatta. Maybe they are judging if it matches with the rest of my attire. My colleague, Shivani, who is about to take a session on “Feminism” with these young girls has repeatedly assured me how beautiful and wonderful these girls are. But I have my set of inhibitions. This is my first entry into a world of young girls coming from urban poor slums wanting to know about feminism and curious enough to come together and listen about it. I take out my notepad to make notes, if any.
Shivani introduces me to the class explaining my entry into the FAT team. All thirty pair of eyes on me. I am about to break into some more sweat when they all yell “Hi!” with the biggest smile on their faces. It’s amazing how a smile can break any ice. I smile back at them and get the confidence to reciprocate their friendliness. Things are not as half as bad as I thought. I sit with them to listen to the class keenly.
The session begins with a simple question—what do you think is the difference between a boy and a girl? Girls enthusiastically raise their hands to answer. Some say there is really no difference except their reproductive organs. Some point out the difference in their respective behaviours. Some vaguely mention the word ‘power’ and how its distribution varies among boys and girls. I am amazed at this response and wonder if I even knew what ‘power’ meant at that age except if used in the context of electricity.
Shivani explains the difference between sex and gender to the girls and there is a sneaky giggle at the s-word. I can’t hold back my smile and join them in their curious snickering. The word आज़ादी (freedom) comes up for discussion. Girls react differently. Some look at each other as if it sounds like something one should have but for some reason, one hasn’t got it yet. Some claim they have complete azaadi to do anything they want. When asked if they can go late at night alone on a street, they are shocked at such a demand. But why would we want to do that?, they ask. But what if you want to? You don’t want to today because you do not even have the option to consider it. There’s silence and a lot of musings.
Shivani throws in another situation. What if your brother comes late at night? That’s okay. He is a boy. That’s allowed, girls agree in unison. Why do you think that is? Girls realize that it’s a question always at the back of their head but they have never explored it further. Where does such a thought process come from? How does the presence or absence of a vagina and/or a penis decide things for people that affect their everyday lives? Girls whisper around and wait patiently for one magical word to answer this inequality. पितृसत्ता. Patriarchy. There’s silence. Girls are still absorbing the enormity of the answer and the weight of this heavy word.
So, how do we deal with this?, asks one curious girl. By fighting patriarchy. Girls voice their everyday patriarchal experiences in the session and these are linked to the idea and concept of feminism—not merely as a term to be understood but as an everyday need and a daily lived experience. Raising our voices against discrimination. Being stubborn about wanting to claim our rights. Constantly asking why and questioning authority. Changing people’s mindset. By dialogues, discussions and comparisons. By perseverance, persistence and patience. By understanding differences, respecting it and negotiating with it. And isn’t that what feminism is all about?
Girls gasp at the F-word. Some have vaguely heard of it before. Some are neutral to it. Some know it because it is the first word in the abbreviation FAT. As the term is unfolded in front of them, the girls notice how their association with the F-word is almost an everyday affair, without them realizing it. Some of them have fought or are still fighting for their right to study further. Some have raised their voices against parental pressure to get married the moment they turned 18. Some have supported their mothers and become their shields when their fathers have raised hands on them. Some have garnered the confidence to travel on their own in Delhi and wear what they want to and what they feel comfortable in. I have been told that girls from the Tech Center in the past have even screened movies on menstruation using community screening as a tool to keep the feminist struggle alive.
Shivani explains how the Tech Center, today, is a feminist space that provides young girls from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, with the much-needed freedom to come, learn not just about technology and new age communication tools but also foster a spirit of awareness and activism about women’s rights and girls’ issues. It’s a space where girls share stories about lived experiences and do some loud thinking on it, while they simultaneously learn how to lose inhibitions (if any) on using and working with technology. This is what we call a ‘Feminist Approach to Technology’. We are FAT and we love it! The girls laugh and spread cheer. At the end of the session, two of them give me goodbye hugs. My day feels worthwhile.
This post was originally published here.