Feminists in India Built a “Women’s Wall” to Fight Patriarchy

Women in India kicked off the new year with a call for equality, coming together to stand arm-in-arm as part of a historic protest against patriarchy.

On January 1, hundreds of women formed a human barrier in the southern state of Kerala spanning 385 miles. The “women’s wall,” organized by a coalition of over 176 social justice organizations and campaigns, was one of the largest feminist protests in world history. Declarations of solidarity with the women participating in the historic action poured in from across the globe on social media during the protest.

The women gathered in Kerala were responding to multiple attacks on female worshippers at a well-known Hindu temple. Despite a ruling by India’s highest court which declared that women have a constitutional right to enter any place of worship, over a dozen women were violently assaulted by male worshippers in the month of November alone as they attempted to enter the Sabarmila temple, which recently opened its doors to all women of all ages, including those of menstruating age.

A general poll showed that 75 percent of people in Kerala disapproved of the ruling to allow women into all religious spaces; on January 3, counter-protesters stages a hartal, a strike which usually only goes into effect during mourning, and violence broke out as right-wing mobs took to the streets, throwing bombs and stones. Ultimately, 745 people were arrested and 14 were injured during the hartal.

Despite the backlash, the protest sparked hope for women across India that a real movement for gender equality is possible in their communities.

“I wanted to be a part of this because I believe it’s time for awareness and for change,” said Rakhee Madhavan, a 39-year-old teacher. 46-year-old lawyer Vigi Ninan echoed the sentiment in an interview with The Guardian: “It’s significant that many men supported the protest as well,” she said. “We weren’t alone in this.”

Citizens and politician of Kerala continue to debate whether it is the court’s place to instate religious rules which some say the public is widely not ready to receive, but advocates have made it clear that while public opinion shifts, they will not rest in the struggle for women’s equality.

“Social change doesn’t happen in a day,” Madhavan told NPR. “It needs time. But with these small steps, we’ve made it easier for the next generation to embrace it. In this way, the wall of women marks a new dawn for feminism in India.”

Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women’s liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor to Ms.

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Comments

  1. I am from India and am so happy to come across this article.
    Yes, finally we spoke and stood for our rights.
    There was a ban on women from 10-50 years of age to enter this Sabrimala temple in Kerala since many centuries. Only men and old women could enter it coz we women were considered impure because of menstruation. Periods is a natural biological occurence, yet it’s considered a taboo here.
    Recently Supreme court lifted ban, women of all ages can enter temple. But many people started protesting regarding same as they were not happy with court’s decision but some educated women supported the court decision and stood for women rights.

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