The remarkable performances by women athletes in the recent Tokyo Olympics brings hope, of women connecting globally and building safe spaces for themselves- succeeding and thriving in their glory. However the cause for concern here lies in the trend of associating (sports) performances with the existing hyper-nationalistic tendencies. The danger that comes with such practices is that of a break in transnational solidarities. A chance for women to assert their equality in terms of sports avenues gets coalesced into masculine trends of collating any achievement by women into the larger discourse of nation-building and development. Nations that have been imagined on masculine ideas of control and ownership, of homogeneity and dominance are once again eating up the rare opportunities women are creating for themselves. At this juncture it becomes critical to look at achievements of women; in sports and all other fields, as moments of triumph of feminist consciousness and activism. These victories mark the success of these individual women’s rebellion against patriarchal societies and in many cases households. Fighting all odds and working hard, these women have shown the world that they are equal and visible. It is a gross injustice to hijack and appropriate their success and term it as a national achievement- exuding the essence that the whole nation has supported these women in their journeys, which is untrue to say the least.
We need to look at various movements by women in different countries, especially in South Asia, to understand how women share similar experiences of repression and restriction. This will highlight the fact that women performing well in Tokyo Olympics need to be applauded not just for their visible success in the Olympic Games, but also for the invisible battles they have fought to reach there, to even cross the thresholds of their often conservative households.
The news around women participating more and more in protests around issues concerning nationhood and patriarchal setups show a worldwide emergence of liminal spaces that give different kinds of identities an opportunity to thrive and come out of their closeted lives. The protests in India by women around the NRC laws, Pinjra Tod, etc. are small but significant parts of a greater movement that connects the identities of all marginalized groups of the rest of the world.
The space that Shaheen Bagh has turned into with music and laughter and conversations posit the possibility of a matrix of feminist ideology spreading and bleeding out, creating a strong solidarity between all the women of the world. A very similar movement in India as the “Girls at Dhabas” of Pakistan is the “Why Loiter” Group, which rebels against the physical restrictions on mobility that women face in public spaces.
Thinking of Audre Lord’s book Zami, we can see how, like the protagonist there, slowly but gradually women of the world are rising up, through their own agency and thought process against the very sexist structure of our society, without just being instrumental to the lives of men around them. They are very beautifully connecting with each other, lifting each other up and providing the solace and understanding that privileged, powerful men have never done. This very intersectional unpacking of so many identities among women themselves blurs the boundaries between multiple castes, communities and even nations, even if only at the surface, for now.
Such burgeoning rebellions in different places might, in the coming generations, succeed in creating a much more equal and just world. Tokyo Olympics with its female achievers is one such rebellion. Although the road is long, yet the journey shall go on; one step at a time.
Sania advocates for equal gender and human rights, and calls for a free world for all. She has a postgraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi and is currently studying and researching Gender perceptions and manifestations. She is currently interning at kractivist.org