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July 25 2011

India's First "Slut Walk" Renamed "PrideStride for Women"

Hadley Heath

When I was 19, I spent the summer in India, mostly in Kolkata (Calcutta).  I've known for a while now that a couple of Indian cities (New Delhi and Mumbai) were planning marches in support of women's rights and women's safety, but the first march took place in a smaller city, Bhopal, Sunday.  The Wall Street Journal blog reports:

Delhi's walk is slated for July 31. The march - dubbed "Slut Walk" by Toronto activists, where the first such protest took place - is likely to also take place in Mumbai, though a date is yet to be set.

The Slut Walk, a term some may find offensive, in Bhopal was renamed "Besharmi Morcha, Bhopal -The PrideStride for Women."  To avoid hurting the sensibilities of the city's residents, Ms. Shingwekar [the event's organizer] said she asked those who were planning to attend the march "not to dress in a way that would grab unnecessary attention." In other Slut Walks, such as Toronto's, women typically turn up scantily-clad as an act of provocation. This was not the case in Bhopal. "It was a normal and peaceful walk. No one wore provocative clothes," said Ms. Shingwekar.

While I certainly support the right of women to dress how they choose, I am among those who thought the name "Slut Walk" was a poor choice - off-putting, if not offensive. 

The differences in Toronto's "Slut Walk" and Bhopal's "PrideStride" highlight some of the cultural differences in gender relations in the Western world and elsewhere.  Men and women do no sit together on Indian buses (at least not in Calcutta), and wearing revealing clothing (even in 114 degrees) is not acceptable.  I remember running in circles in an enclosed backyard for exercise; I dared not wear my running shorts on the street.  (And with Calcutta's extremely high rates of poverty and homelessness, jogging for sport seemed a mockery to those desperate for basic nourishment.)

Men stared at me, catcalled, and touched me as I walked by (such behavior is not just common in India, but also in parts of Europe, South America, and Mexico too)(from my experience). 

The march in Bhopal was not very well attended, and the majority of participants were men.  Seems odd, right? Organizers say more women would have come if they'd had more time to plan.  Only 150 people came in spite of 450 Facebook RSVPs. 

But in fact, one memory I have from my time in India is a constant nagging question: "Where are all the women?"  On the street, on public transportation, just about anywhere I went - I saw more men than women.  The women were in the homes, mostly.  This may in part be because of their increased workload.  If American homemakers lacked vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and laundry machines, house work would occupy more of our time too!  But the invisibility of women in other parts of the world is about more than a lack of labor-saving devices. 

Women in India simply aren't considered equal to men.  And this is the case for much of the world.  Movements in other parts of the world to raise the status (both legally and culturally) of women should be supported and celebrated by American women.  The few women who braved monsoon season to march in Bhopal's "PrideStride" really deserve our applause. 

I hope the self-declared "sluts" of Toronto (and other Western cities) will take note, and follow the example of these Indian women.  One reason many American women shy away from the Feminist movement is that they believe being a woman isn't about being proud to be slut.  It also isn't about seeking special advantages or giveaways from government.  Instead, women everywhere in the world should work together toward physical safety, equality under law, and economic freedom.  We should also see men (like the men who attended Bhopal's march) as allies and friends, rather than lump them all together as oppressors and enemies.

I've traveled extensively, and every time I come back to being an American woman on American soil, I'm very grateful for the rights and privileges I enjoy at home that aren't afforded to women in some other parts of the world.  I know women (and men) in other countries envy and respect our wealth and our liberty.  Let's continue to be a good example by supporting truly egalitarian public policies, and striving to be men and women of integrity in our daily lives.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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