Women heralding change: the feminine way of journalism

Women heralding change: the feminine way of journalism

Gandhian Elaben Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association, delivered the inaugural speech at NWMI’s 11th national meeting in Ahmedabad in 2014.

Welcome! Welcome to Gujarat Vidyapith!

Thank you for giving me this opportunity (rare) to meet you and share my feelings and thoughts with you! You are journalists, media persons. I have faced you, sometimes as a victim and often as a beneficiary! Thank you. I have known you as women who are well qualified to question, counter, critique, analyse and broadcast people’s thoughts and deeds.

You have chosen to gather here in Ahmedabad and at Gujarat Vidyapith, today.

Prof Narayan Desai, Mr Achyut Yagnik and NWMI members watch as Elaben Bhatt lights a lamp to inaugurate the meet.

The fact that you are in Ahmedabad, the place that Gandhji chose a hundred years ago to look for alternatives is very apt. For, in Vidyapith he found the alternative of Nayee Talim as a challenging replacement to the British method of education. In Ahmedabad, there is Majoor Mahajan Sangh (TLA), an alternative trade union of textile workers who successfully struggled for justice, on the principle of Trusteeship. Sabarmati Ashram too is an alternative. In Sabarmati Ashram, he set up a community that lived life according to his chosen principle of Satyagrah.

As another Gandhian tradition, Gujarat has created its own style of creativeness and dissent. It is home to thousands of NGOs. Gandhi himself established 18 of them.

I imagine buildings have a fascination of their own. When one stands at Gujarat Vidyapith within the Navjivan publishing house next door, one thinks of Gandhiji as a journalist and publisher. Gandhiji was the man who was committed to print. He saw print and journalism as ways of initiating change. Writing to him was like an activity of weaving to a weaver.

Between the charkha and the printing press, between the ashram and the university, he sought to create a university of truth built on non-violence. I wonder what he would have thought of this conference of women journalists deliberating on change. I believe, here you will find your own truth in journalism.

Why is truth important to a journalist? Because it is truth that begets trust. I remember when we were young, the printed word in a newspaper was truth. If someone asked, “Aa sachhu chhe?” The answer was invariably: “Hasto! chhapa ma aavyu chhe!” Newspapers were thought to publish the truth and the word in the newspaper could be trusted. Now that has changed over the years!

How can we restore faith of the people in what we write for newspapers? How can we as women journalists build a body of trust to ensure that? By always being candid, truthful so that readers trust your byline. They see your name and are assured that if a woman has reported it, it can be trusted. As women journalists, someday soon let us build up that trust, by being truthful and by being a woman.

The other element of Gandhiji’s journalism was building ways of nonviolence, unity, mutual relationship. Although he wrote and published through such trying times, both in South Africa and India, and was jailed for six years (that was in Ahmedabad), there was no instance of his writing triggering violence or hurting the sentiments of any community or instigating any wrongdoing. So building trust and building ways of nonviolence through women’s journalism are the twin goals we pursue.

Sure, you will ask, “But how?” Let us think together. First of all, how are we different as women from men in mainstream journalism? I may ask: Has being a woman influenced the way you write? Does writing reflect the gender of the journalist where there is no byline? Does writing per se have gender? I wonder.

I would think, the way for us is to tread the feminine way.

Let me elaborate what I mean by the feminine way

By feminine way, I do not mean to exclude men from the equation or assert that women have all the answers or women are superior. It is the feminine way of thinking that I trust. We honour the feminine within men too.

My faith in the feminine way has grown from my SEWA experience working with women, the poor and self-employed.

Is the feminine way relevant for the future society? I often ask this question to myself because SEWA represents the feminine. The feminine is closely linked to nature, the feminine task is to hold, to be a catalyst that will allow people and groups to grow. The feminine way has no goals but rather values, the process of unfolding and learns from it. The feminine has a different sense of time: the work will take whatever time is needed. SEWA has taken over 30 years to reach a million women. It took 40 years to reach today’s 1.9 million membership. The feminine way looks at the whole group and tries to include the whole, waiting for those left behind; even if it means delaying the group, or the process or the fruit/result. The goals are collective; the focus of progress is that of the community rather than the individual. I have observed over the years that the feminine way focuses on inclusion instead of domination; it emphasises process more than the end, the goal; it emphasises the group over the individual. It aims at integration over fragmentation. It is possible. It creates, constructs a life of peace and nonviolence.

Let me say, the world today needs more feminine leadership, because we face one of the most challenging tasks of transformation of our times. Feminine leadership is needed to save the planet from our greed in a way that enough natural resources remain for our children. Feminine leadership is needed today to build development solutions by opening spaces so that the poor can find solutions that they own and that have a meaning for them, and respecting the time that it will take to get there. Feminine leadership is needed to balance the very masculine models that abound, which do not always produce the world we want.

For me Gandhiji’s way in many ways is a feminine way which is deeply rooted in simplicity, non-violence, dignity, of labour, human values, which is relevant to our world today more than ever before. Gandhiji had often acknowledged his lessons learnt from women, particularly on simplicity, where simplicity in lifestyle guarantees availability for the other. I feel we have to emulate the philosophy by looking for simple, easily understandable, practical and participative solutions to complex problems. That is the feminine way and, that is the women journalists’ way. That is what I would urge you as journalists.

Whichever journalistic field you are in, be it entertainment, business financial reporting, it is possible to go the feminine way, I do believe,

Lastly, one more point I would like to make or share with you.

Yet as women, we have not done enough for a woman’s peace within I mean in her mind. It needs to begin with a deeper sense of the fate of the woman’s body. Her body today has exploded into multiple bodies. Think of her tortured body, the raped body, the body of incest, old age, of sexual trafficking, the surrogate body, the destroyed body of the foetus, the displaced body, the hungry body. Unless we create a new mapping of bodies, it might miss many forms of suffering in the world today. To focus merely on desire and consumerism might perpetuate new and deeper forms of violence. I am reminded of the women of the Bhopal Gas disaster. They did not speak merely of compensation. They wanted their suffering to be understood. They wanted this suffering to create community, not division. They asked that the people of the US Carbide plant spend time with them. To understand. To empathise. To heal. To ethically repair. Because a feminist theory of suffering cannot begin only with a theory of contract and compensation or legal protection or police action. It is not money, it is fraternity with men that I am talking about. We have not done yet enough to convince men that woman is not a mere body. We have not inspired men to extend their hands to women and say, “Do not fear me. I am not a wolf. Hold my hand and let us walk together joyfully.” All of you will agree that in the past few decades women have evolved at an amazing pace. But we have not paused to explain that evolution to men. They are bewildered and a bit afraid of the new independent thinking women. Men also fear women but they do not tell us. That mutual fear has to be removed. Only women journalists can do that as good public communicators.