In My Hands Today…

The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman’s Amazing Journey from Peasant to International Legend – Phoolan Devi, Paul Rambali and Marie-Thérèse Cuny

She was born in India to the lowest caste, a group with few rights and even fewer prospects. Enduring cruel poverty, Phoolan Devi survived the humiliation of an abusive marriage, the savage killing of her bandit-lover, and horrifying gang rape to claim retribution for herself and all low-caste women of the Indian plains. In a three-year campaign that rocked the government, she delivered justice to rape victims and stole from the rich to give to the poor, before negotiating surrender on her own terms. Throughout her years of imprisonment without trial, Phoolan Devi remained a beacon of hope for the poor and the downtrodden. In 1996, amidst both popular support and media controversy, she was elected to the Parliament.

On July 25, 2001, Phoolan Devi was shot dead in Delhi. The identity of her killers is unknown, but it is thought that they may include relatives of villagers killed by her gang nearly twenty years ago. For over a decade millions have found the power and scope of Phoolan Devi’s myth irresistible. Here is the story of her life through her eyes and in her own voice.

International Women’s Day 2023

Today is International Women’s Day, a day which brings to the fore the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.

Spurred on by the universal female suffrage movement that had begun in New Zealand, IWD originated from labour movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th century. The earliest version was purportedly a Women’s Day organised by the Socialist Party of America in New York City on February 28, 1909. This inspired German delegates at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference to propose a special Women’s Day be organised annually, albeit with no set date; the following year saw the first demonstrations and commemorations of International Women’s Day across Europe. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917 which was the beginning of the February Revolution, International Women’s Day was made a national holiday on March 8; it was subsequently celebrated on that date by the socialist movement and communist countries. The holiday was associated with far-left movements and governments until its adoption by the global feminist movement in the late 1960s. International Women’s Day became a mainstream global holiday following its adoption by the United Nations in 1977. The UN observes the holiday in connection with a particular issue, campaign, or theme in women’s rights.

International Women’s Day is a day when women can imagine a gender-equal world, a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive an a world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together and collectively, women’s equality can be forged and equity embraced.

And Embrace Equity is the theme for this year’s IWD. Equity isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA and it is critical to understand the difference between equity and equality. The words equity and equality are often used interchangeably. Etymologically, the root word they share is aequus, meaning even, fair or equal – which led to equity being from the Latin aequitas, and equality from aequalitas. Yet, despite these similarities, equity and equality are inherently different concepts, and the IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme seeks to help forge worldwide conversations about this important issue and its impact. 

So, what’s the difference between equity and equality – and why is it important to understand and acknowledge this? Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Equity can be defined as giving everyone what they need to be successful. In other words, it’s not giving everyone the same thing. If we give everyone the same thing, expecting that will make people equal, it assumes that everyone started in the same place – and this can be vastly inaccurate because everyone isn’t the same.

We can all truly embrace equity. It should not be just something we say or write about. It’s something we need to think about, know, and embrace. It’s what we believe in, unconditionally. Equity means creating an inclusive world. All of us, irrespective of gender can play a part in creating an inclusive world by actively supporting and embracing equity within our sphere of influence. We can and should challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion. Collective activism is what drives change. From grassroots action to wide-scale momentum, we can all embrace equity. Forging gender equity isn’t limited to women solely fighting the good fight. Allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women.

Over at the United Nations, the theme for International Women’s Day is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. This theme highlights the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education.

The United Nations recognises and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. This IWD will explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities and will also spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence. Bringing women and other marginalised groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. Their lack of inclusion, by contrast, comes with massive costs. As per the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, women’s exclusion from the digital world has shaved $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low-and middle-income countries in the last decade—a loss that will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025 without action. Reversing this trend will require tackling the problem of online violence, which a study of 51 countries revealed 38 percent of women had personally experienced.

A gender-responsive approach to innovation, technology, and digital education can increase the awareness of women and girls regarding their rights and civic engagement. Advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges and to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, the opportunities of the digital revolution also present a risk of perpetuating existing patterns of gender inequality. Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of this digital gender divide. The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is therefore crucial for a sustainable future.

Lets us all celebrate women’s achievements today and raise awareness about the discriminations we face. Let’s take action to drive gender parity and embrace equity.

In My Hands Today…

My Beloved World – Sonia Sotomayor

The first Latinx (Puerto Rican) and third woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

Here is the story of a precarious childhood, with an alcoholic father (who would die when she was 9) and a devoted but overburdened mother, and of the refuge a little girl took from the turmoil at home with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. But it was when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes that the precocious Sonia recognized she must ultimately depend on herself. She would learn to give herself the insulin shots she needed to survive and soon imagined a path to a different life.

With only television characters for her professional role models, and little understanding of what was involved, she determined to become a lawyer, a dream that would sustain her on an unlikely course, from valedictorian of her high school class to the highest honors at Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York County District Attorney’s office, private practice, and appointment to the Federal District Court before the age of 40.

She speaks with warmth and candor about her invaluable mentors, a failed marriage, and the modern version of extended family she has created from cherished friends and their children. Through her still-astonished eyes, America’s infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-invention and self-discovery.

In My Hands Today…

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

This groundbreaking book explains why women experience burnout differently than men—and provides a simple, science-based plan to help women minimize stress, manage emotions, and live a more joyful life.

Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish?

Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn

• what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
• how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
• how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
• why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout

With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach.

World Menstrual Hygiene Day

Tomorrow is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. Initiated by the German non-profit WASH United in 2014, the day is a global day of action with more than 830 partner organisations working together to create awareness and action toward a world without period poverty and stigma. The date of 28 May represents the menstrual cycle which has an average duration of 28 days, with an average of five days of bleeding.

For some, menstruation may be an inconvenience they don’t give much thought to. But for millions of others, this most natural of reproductive cycle functions can equate to abuse because the onset of menstruation may lead to child marriage and sexual violence as well as violations of bodily autonomy; stigma which includes banishment to menstruation huts; missed opportunities where many girls skip school because of pain, discomfort and/or the lack of personal hygiene products; and loss of dignity due to the lack of supplies in humanitarian and refugee settings where even the basics like soap and water are in short supply or unavailable. Poor menstrual hygiene caused by a lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure undermines the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls around the world. As a result, millions of women and girls are kept from reaching their full potential.

World Menstrual Hygiene Day promotes good menstrual health and hygiene for all women and girls. More specifically, the day breaks the silence, raises awareness and changes negative social norms around menstrual health and hygiene and engages decision-makers to increase the political priority and catalyse action for menstrual health and hygiene at global, national and local levels.

Recently, countries have made sanitary supplies free or tax-free to help fight period poverty. New Zealand, France and Namibia are the latest countries to announce such initiatives after Scotland became the first country to provide period products free to anyone who needed them last year. 

The theme of this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day is Action and Investment in Menstrual Hygiene and Health. The Menstruation Bracelet is a global symbol for menstruation which stands for the commitment to create a world, by 2030, where no woman or girl is kept from realising her full potential because she menstruates. A world where menstruation is just a normal fact of life.

Today, millions of women and girls around the world are stigmatised, excluded and discriminated against simply because they menstruate. In 2022, it’s no longer acceptable that a natural bodily function prevents women and girls from getting an education, earning an income and fully and equally participating in everyday life. On this day, we should break the taboos and end the stigma surrounding menstruation and raise awareness about the challenges regarding access to menstrual products, education about menstruation and period-friendly sanitation facilities.