Deepa Kumar Speaks Out

Deepa Kumar speaks out at SlutWalk Philadelphia

Deepa Kumar Speech at SlutWalk Philadelphia

Thanks to the organizers for inviting me.

It’s about time we had a women’s movement in this country!

Over the last three decades we have seen assault upon assault on women’s rights.

Roe v Wade was one of the key triumphs of the women’s movement—yet shortly after this victory we have seen increasing restrictions being applied to a woman’s right to choose. I start with the question of abortion rights because even though the slutwalk movement isn’t primarily about reproductive rights the underlying impetus is the same—the ability to control your body and your life.

The young women who are being drawn into this movement and, in many instances first time activists, are sending a strong message that

  • they demand to have control and autonomy over their bodies and their sexuality
  • they demand to be treated with respect and not be blamed for sexual harassment and rape
  • and they demand to be treated as equals and as consenting adults

These are fundamental demands for dignity, for respect, for freedom and for equality. Tragically, some feminists and people on the left have missed this deeper message and have instead dismissed this movement as so many women who want to “dress or undress their way to freedom.”

This is a big mistake. Because this nascent movement is slowly becoming a global movement and one that has tapped into decades of anger that women around the world feel about being treated like sexual objects, of being second class citizens, of not being taken seriously as equals.

In a sense this fundamental demand for respect and dignity share much in common with the revolutions and uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. There too young women and men have stood up to brutal US-backed dictators and demanded that their voices be taken seriously.

It has been truly inspiring to see the number of women who have not just been participants in the uprising but have been leaders in Tunisia, in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. And I think what this has done is shattered the myth once and for all that Muslim women are victims who need to be rescued by the US military.

We are entering an era of revolution—around the world from the Middle East and N. Africa or Greece and Spain, women and men are standing up and taking matters into their own hands.

We have an historic opportunity to build connections with struggles around the world and to forge a politics of international solidarity against neoliberalism, against imperialism and for equality for all.

Women’s oppression looks different in different countries. If the women’s movement has been largely silent and dead in the US for the last few decades, women and their male allies in other parts of the world have made headway—Iran, India, various North African countries like Morocco and Tunisia and so forth. We have a lot to learn from the successes of the women’s movements in these countries.

If we are going to forge a truly global movement we have to initiate a process of dialogue and mutual education. One recent lesson from India is that the slutwalk demonstration held in New Delhi was renamed ‘Arthaat Besharmi Morcha’ from the original ’Slutwalk’ after activists protested the use of the term ’slut’ because the term doesn’t speak to them or help them organize. In other words even while the experience of sexual violence is universal the ways in which women have been protesting it and the language they use is different.

For this movement to become truly international it needs to be open to such adaptations and needs to be inclusive of all voices including women right here in the US, or all races who seem hesitant to join a movement that uses the word slut.

I want to come to a close by saying that this movement is truly a breath of fresh air, for too long the strategy in the women’s movement has been to passively back the democratic party as it presides over more and more attacks on women’s rights. The women who are part of this movement in this country are part of the legacy of the previous waves of women’s movements where women stood up, organized and fought back and didn’t rely on politicians to do the right thing.

I am proud to be a part of this movement, lets internationalize it, lets make it inclusive and truly democratic.

Professor Deepa Kumar, August 6, 2011

Slutwalk Philadelphia March and Rally

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania US