Happy International Women’s Day from Sakhi for South Asian Women!
On this day every year, people all over the world celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This March 8th, Sakhi brings you 8 South Asian women whose work and stories give us inspiration, joy, and hope for a world one day free of gender-based violence and oppression.
They hail from many backgrounds, persuasions, passions, from various parts of South Asia and throughout the diaspora. They are artists, scholars, storytellers, poets, and activists whose work spans various disciplines. They are engaged fearlessly in fighting for their communities, their rights as women, in expressing themselves, in reclaiming their bodies, in empowering others to make change. We hope that sharing their stories and work today will inspire you to be all that you can be. Don’t forget to thank the women in your life today for all they do for you and others, and of course, to remember to care for, love, and celebrate yourself!
1. The Fearless Collective
Formed in response to the infamous Delhi rape case of 2012, The Fearless Collective is a group of artists, activists, photographers and filmmakers (including a former Sakhi staffer!) who use art to speak out against gender-based violence. The India-based group, founded by artist Shilo Shiv Suleman and managed by her and a core group of volunteers, attempts to (re)define fear, femininity and what it means to be fearless through public art. The Fearless Collective’s murals and street art have appeared in Bombay, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Chennai, and address topics from police brutality to consent to education and stereotypes. In each location they display their artwork, they work closely with the community there to conduct workshops and discussions on that community’s pressing social issues. You can learn more about them in this video and on their Facebook page.
2. Poet Rupi Kaur
Punjabi-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur has been making waves with her recent poetry collection Milk and Honey. Exploring themes of heartbreak, sexuality, assault, family, and gender, Kaur’s poetry is characterized by its unwavering honesty and relatability. Last year the poet also gained huge support on social media for her photo series about menstruation, which was removed from Instagram for violating community guidelines. Kaur spoke out after the incident about period-shaming and misogyny, and the photo was allowed back on the site. In a recent interview with Wildspice Mag, Kaur shared her thoughts on being a woman: We are so graceful. So regal. We have the universe inside of us. The power of our bodies is a miracle. I love my womanly curves. I like the way the stretch marks on my thighs look human and that we’re so soft, yet rough and jungle wild when we need to be. I love that about us, how capable we are of letting ourselves feel so much…that takes strength. Just being a woman, calling myself woman, makes me feel like a queen.” You can follow her on Instagram @rupikaur_
3. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Founder of MuslimGirl.net
As a high school senior in 2009, Armani Al-Khatahtbeh found herself fed up with the constructions of Islam, and particularly of Muslim women, she saw in the media. She thought about how much young Muslim women needed an outlet where they could talk about everything from clothes, beauty, and pop culture to religion and the complexities of life as a brown girl in a post-9/11 America. A place where young Muslim women’s voices would be heard. From there came MuslimGirl.net, the brainchild of Al-Khatahtbeh and her friends. According to their website, “We at MuslimGirl are taking back the narrative. We use our own voices to speak up for ourselves. We are raising the place of Muslim women in mainstream society. We are drawing awareness to the Qur’an’s message of gender equality and Islam’s principle of peace. We are paving the way towards a world in which every woman can raise her head without fear of being attacked for her gender or beliefs.” Check out the site, which covers everything from fashion to international politics, here!
4. Youtube Sensation Lilly Singh AKA ||Superwoman||
Indo-Canadian Youtube personality, comedian, and vlogger Lilly Singh (AKA ||Superwoman||), has inspired a cult following on the Internet. Since beginning her channel in 2010, Singh’s videos, which address everything from her parents to dating to what it feels like to be on your period, have been viewed 1 billion times. Her comedy is outrageous, loud, and honest. She has been open with her many fans about her struggles with depression and her turning to comedy as a way to cope, even talking about it with Jimmy Fallon. In December 2015, Singh launched the #GirlLove challenge, inspiring women to dismantle girl on girl hate and compliment their female friends using the hashtag. All proceeds to the campaign were donated to the Malala Fund. You can follow Lilly on twitter @IISuperwomanII and check out her Youtube channel here.
5. Madhu Bai Kinnar, India’s first transgender mayor
In January 2015, Madhu Bai Kinnar, a member of India’s transgender (or hijra), community, won the municipal election in Raigarh in the central state of Chhattisgarh. Kinnar, 35 years old and a member of the Dalit caste, previously known as untouchables, had been earning a living by singing and dancing on trains just a year prior, but stopped when asked to represent her community. Kinnar’s win came nine months after India’s top court ruled that transgender individuals be legally recognised as gender-neutral. There are millions of people who identify as transgender in India, but due to their lack of legal recognition and the widespread discrimination against them they faced ostracism, discrimination, abuse and forced prostitution. Though Kinnar’s election is an important step forward, India’s transgender community continues to face overwhelming social and economic hurdles.
6. Artist Ayqa Khan
First generation Pakistani-American artist Ayqa Khan takes a stand against the stigmatization of body hair and idealized images of feminine beauty and worth in her artwork. Her digital illustrations explore themes and narratives of the first generation South Asian experience. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Ayqa discussed her relationship to her Pakistani heritage: ““For people who feel distant from their culture yet feel this unfulfilled connection to it, it is possible to figure out a balance. There have been plenty of moments where I have felt like I don’t belong to my culture yet don’t feel part of the American culture, and it left me feeling somewhat empty. We don’t have to conform to any ideologies of identity. We’re not supposed to conform, but to continually progress in a way that best fits our needs.” Check out Ayqa’s art on her website and follow her on Instagram!
6. Harnaam Kaur, Body Positivity Activist & Model
Indo-British activist Harnaam Kaur started to grow thick hair on her chest, arms, and face at the age of 11 as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome. Harnaam proudly identifies with her Sikh religion, which prohibits the trimming of body hair, and results in her rocking a luscious beard many men would kill for. As a teenager, her face and body hair led to her being intensely bullied and feeling depressed. Eventually, Harnaam says, she gained enough confidence to proudly present herself to the world as she is, and wants to encourage other women to do the same. She says that her beard “has 100% become a part of my body. It is the source of my strength and confidence. People just see the beard as hair, but my beard for me is much more than that. I keep my hair to show the world a different, confident, diverse and strong image of a woman… I love my lady beard and I will forever cherish it.” Now 25, Harnaam has become a prominent voice for body positivity on social media, even starring in a beautifully styled bridal photo shoot that highlighted her beard, and recently walking in a London fashion show. Follow her on Instagram @harnaamkaur.
8. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Writer and Activist
Queer disabled Toronto and Oakland-based writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha works to explore the experiences of diasporic South Asians, abuse survivors, QTPOC, and mixed-race people in her writing and art. She is of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma descent. An incest and abuse survivor, Leah frequently touches on the intersections of colonialism, abuse, and violence with heart and honesty. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including the famed Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, and various magazines/blogs. Her second book of poetry, Lovecake, won the Lambda Literary Award in 2012. In 2015, Leah published Bodymap, in which she maps vulnerable terrains of queer desire, survivorhood, transformative love, and disabled queer genius, as well as a memoir entitled Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home. You can catch her on tour all over the US in 2016 and on twitter @brownstargirl.