Kavita Ramdas: Radical Women, Embracing Tradition

Investing in women can unlock infinite potential around the globe. But how can women walk the line between Western-style empowerment and traditional culture? Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women talks about three encounters with powerful women who fight to make the world better — while preserving the traditions that sustain them.

“I was born and raised here in India, and I learned from an early age to be deeply suspicious of the aunties and uncles who would bend down, pat us on the head and then say to my parents with no problem at all, “Poor things. You only have three daughters. But you’re young, you could still try again”.

“And perhaps this is the ultimate gift of feminism, that the personal is in fact the political. So that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said once of human rights, the same is true of gender equality: that it starts in small places, close to home. On the streets, yes, but also in negotiations at the kitchen table and in the marital bed and in relationships between lovers and parents and sisters and friends. By integrating aspects of tradition and community into their struggles, [these women] are challenging the very notion of Western models of development.

They are saying, we don’t have to be like you to make change. We can wear a sari or a hijab or pants or a boubou, and we can be party leaders and presidents and human rights lawyers. We can use our tradition to navigate change. We can demilitarize societies and pour resources, instead, into reservoirs of genuine security”.

“In these little fragments, every now and again, you catch a glimpse of a whole new world”

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