Four years ago, I never thought I would end up conducting research in India. Especially not on sexual violence and women’s rights. Growing up in a Scandinavian welfare bubble I did not know what oppression, misrecognition and injustice felt like.
My first travel to India became a turning point for me and lead to the decision to specialise in South Asia in my studies and learn Hindi. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on sexual violence and victim blaming in contemporary Bollywood cinema, after being struck by the way the Indian movie industry has had its part in normalizing sexual harassment.
Now, I am pursuing my research to learn about young women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the public spaces of India. While embarking on this journey to bring awareness on the gendered oppression, violence and lack of justice and recognition that Indian women face in the patriarchal society of India, I have for sure had doubts about my own position as a European woman and “outsider” doing research in South Asia. Who am I to have a say in these things? How does my voice matter? In the end, I cannot feel what the women who participate in my research feel, but as a woman I can relate to their feelings of insecurity, humiliation and disrespect. When it comes to sexual harassment and gendered oppression Europe has its own shortcomings. I am still dreaming of a world where a woman would not have to cover up her femininity or feel shame of being “too much” or framed as “provocative” just for the fact that her body shape or choice of clothing is somehow different.
We can be grateful for the opportunities we have to become more and more exposed to transnational forms of injustice through globalisation and our education system. As students in Sweden, we are encouraged to raise our voices and fight for change, not just remain passive bodies. I encourage every student to take the opportunity of going abroad for exchange studies or research. The more we expose ourselves to different lifestyles and realities the more we are able build our awareness and change our biases. Best of all, we may realise that the lived human experience across the globe in its essence is not so different after all.