Feminism is not a movement against men, but a movement for everyone to have equal rights, according to 21-year-old law student Ishita Uppal. The point of feminism is not to discourage men, but to provide equal opportunities for all sexes; it’s not a movement to promote women superiority, but to provide the same stage to everyone, she feels.
To change misconceptions about feminism, Ishita started an NGO in 2016, Strong Women and Girls (SWAG) that aims for men, women and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community having equal rights and opportunities.
In 2009, when Ishita was only 12, the Chandigarh administration declared her Haryana’s brand ambassador to lead the mission against female foeticide and global warming. She worked for five years with the government and set out on an expedition in seven districts of Haryana and one district of Punjab to deliver lectures on female foeticide.
Ishita said the reason SWAG came into existence was that the government changed and the new government wasn’t very supportive of the way she wanted to work. “So to continue the work that I had been doing, I thought of starting my own NGO. That’s how SWAG came into existence. It is a base for all the students who want to give back to the society,” Uppal said.
“Feminism is the most misunderstood notion in the world today. So we started the NGO with feminism as the ground cause, but we try to support as many causes as we can. We are fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community for education and domestic violence against men. We have conducted self-defence classes for underprivileged girls who otherwise do not have access to such training. We help various orphanages with basic supplies like food and clothing,” Uppal said.
The NGO conducts events and awareness drives almost every month. “These events focus on a wide audience and we try to incorporate as many social issues and messages as we can. Last year we conducted a panel discussion in Panjab University about feminism that focused on the rights of the LGBTQ community, domestic violence against men and the legal bias of gender specific laws. We invited four panelists from different professional backgrounds – an activist, a lawyer, a journalist and a sportsperson – to get varied perspectives on the issues in discussion.
“We conduct a lot of events in the campus. We conducted an event last year for students who are in the final year and are anxious about their future called ‘Hour of Success’. We invited Mr Mishra, director of Chanakya IAS Academy, a motivational speaker who interacted with the students and helped them gain clarity. It was a huge success,” Ishita said. The NGO also conducted a fund raiser to provide supplies to an animal shelter in Dharamshala.
Talking about the response from people, Ishita said, “It is always amazing. Students are very supportive of the cause. But as soon as they leave the seminar hall, it washes away. The positive side is that out of 100 at least five will be motivated and will have a change of heart and that is what matters. When I talk to people, I see that they are motivated and encouraged and I’m pretty sure in time things will change.”
One of the events that the NGO plans for the future is mental health seminars. “Seminars on mental health are the need of the hour as so many people suffer from depression or anxiety issues. And the society fails to acknowledge it. If you don’t accept it, it cannot be cured. The first thing that I want to create awareness about is acceptance,” Uppal said.
“Evening schools for people who work during the day but want to learn are also in line, but let’s see if the education department can support us with that. It’s a big project. We want to use government schools as venues for the project. We’ll need government’s support.
Majority of the government officers are really helpful. But the lower divisions who are supposed to do the ground work are hopeless and lethargic,” she said.
Ishita also plans on starting a bikers’ club solely for women. “I want to inspire and empower as many women and girls as I can. And riding motorcycles has been considered a taboo for the female gender in our society,” she said.
While talking about society’s responsibilities, Ishita said, “A particular mindset is forwarded on to the next generation. And it is our responsibility to raise our kids to be open-minded.
If each of us is aware about social issues from a young age, these issues will vanish in time. All of us should grow up with a sense to give back to society. After all, it’s not just the state that is working for its people, but also the people working for the state.”