Well-known American feminist Gloria Steinem launches her book in New Delhi

Devaki Jain, feminist economist and writer, while speaking of her friend of 65 years, described the essential Gloria Steinem as a “truthful and courageous woman”. The Gloria Stienem she has known since 1959 is “pure and transparent, brave and daring. She says, here is what I am, take me for what I am.”

This is also the Gloria Steinem the world has known for decades now. It’s seen her become an icon for women across the world, changing lives and thought processes. Earlier this week, Steinem released a compilation of her readings, titled “The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader: As if Women Matter”. Published by Rupa in English and Rajkamal publications in Hindi, the reader contains an introduction by Ruchira Gupta, Founder President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO that works against sex trafficking. Gupta has also edited the compilation. The book contains a new essay by Steinem on sex trafficking, titled “The Third Way — An End of Trafficking and Prostitution: A Beginning of Mutual Sexuality”, along with other pieces written by the feminist and activist over decades of work with gender and violence. The essays address issues like gender inequality, marginalisation and violence, and approach each question from viewpoint that can be at once universal and context-specific.

During its early stages, Steinem spent two years in India, and speaking to a packed auditorium at the Indian International Centre in New Delhi, she acknowledged the role India and Indian women had played in her understanding of gender roles and their relation with caste, race and religion.

Introducing Steinem to the audience, Jain added that Steinem has been at the frontline of the struggle against racism and gender inequality. “She has always been travelling and speaking, especially to students and workers unions. While feminism was trying to address problems of women in Third World countries, Gloria’s feminism was more inward looking, and she created a knowledge that all of us could access. She’s been at the centre of ground changing efforts in the USA.”

The evening included a talk with Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association. Bhatt expressed the importance of her own longstanding association with Steinem, and added that the idea of SEWA has been understood and supplemented by the iconic feminist. Bhatt went on to discuss the idea of self-sustainability in women today and SEWA’s work in the country.

The introductions by her life-long associates and friends gave way to an address by Steinem herself. Steinem, expounding on her understanding of violence, said, “The single greatest determinant of whether a country is violent within itself or with other countries is not religion, politics, or military practices, it’s violence against females.” She elaborated on this idea, underlining the progress of gender domination all the way up to violence. It is this violence that needs to be named, identified and addressed, and if this transformation takes place, it will have an enormous, reverberating difference across the world.

“I have faith in each of you in this room,” added Steinem, addressing the audience. “As women, we tend to have more faith in other people than ourselves. And men, perhaps because of being the dominant sex, have more faith in themselves than other people. If we balance that, and women are able to say to themselves that they are not more important but not less important either; if they can find strength in themselves, things will change.” Steinem added that children, unless it’s shamed out of them, are often found saying two things — ‘its not fair’ and ‘you are not the boss of me’. “I think this feeling is in there. It’s somehow born into us. If we can bear it and maintain it, we can create an environment of mutual respect and democracy that will reverberate outwards and normalise, and make the world a little better, a little more fair, a little less hierarchical, a little more just and a bit more like this room.”

The launch and talk ended with a round of questions and answers.