This year’s UN-designated Women’s Day theme, Choose to Challenge insinuates the need for women to break apart from the long-held confines of subjugation by daring to do what they perceive must be done. By redirecting them to their right to ‘choose’, it encourages them to have faith in their potentialities, the basis of which inform their decision-making prowess. This directs us to a rather pertinent stream of concern, that of consent.
Consent is simplistically understood as the willingness of the person involved in a proposed action. Where conversations on consent usually surround matters of physical intimacy or marriage, consent must also be implied in non-physical matters pertaining to women. It is important to associate consent with the question of female agency since women since childhood are generally discouraged to display their perspective or point of view on any particular notion under discussion.
Hailing from a society that not only glorifies but also romanticizes the silence of women that verges on subservience, the exigent need is in understanding that such silence is not a means of veneration. The often-taught dictums of female tolerance or bardaasht in domestic as well as professional conversations stand void when all they do is mute the female voice.
It all starts from the time you hush down your daughter from speaking out against the teacher she feels uncomfortable interacting with. Or when you rebuke her for being overly expressive in her opinion on whatever she feels strongly about! Or when you pressure her to stay in an abusive marriage only because you fear social judgement and crassness. Such behaviour births apprehensive, anxious and terrified women who possess a low level of self-esteem. Always doubtful of their opinions and stances, they come to the point of questioning their worth and social position.
When women are encouraged to have a say in the matters affecting them, it establishes and reinforces gender equality. The acknowledgement of their perspective generates a safe space for expression that values and celebrates the female voice. Instead of the she vs he categorization, decision making becomes a collaborative enterprise coalescing the binaries in the unanimous us. This breeds a sense of mutual respect, allowing both genders to see the potential of collective decision making. The Journal of Happiness Studies states that gender equality births happier systems, be they domestic or professional. When women are given the opportunity to be heard, their opinions are understood and not judged.
This ensures that women are seen as complete beings in themselves. They possess the potential to think, to ponder and to decide for themselves. To even suggest that their life decisions are to be decided upon by someone else, other than themselves, is a grave injustice to their promised autonomy. When a decision has to have a direct impact on them and the course of their life, how is it possible to not listen to what they truly want? Be it their decision of whether or not they want to work, whom they want to marry or when they want to have children, it is important that they do have a valid say in these matters, which is imparted due respect.
When women’s voices are not heeded, their contentions are not addressed. They are signalled, that they do not really matter. Their opinions are brushed aside as if holding no value. This is why it is important for women to assert their minds and pronounce their opinions by ‘choosing to challenge’ the gendered norms of society. After all, how is it really possible to understand and act without listening to empathetically?