There are so many women, so many voices since the dawn of time that are invaluable.
It was the summer of 2001. I was in class IX. Our history teacher had just told us that she wanted each of us to write a report of 1,000 words on one important leader in history. She had a list ready — having chosen one leader for each student. I waited patiently for my turn — in alphabetic order, I was number 16. Until my turn, everyone was given a male leader: Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Pandit Nehru, President Tito, Nelson Mandela… you name it.
It was my turn, and my teacher announced the leader I would write on. Dag Hammarskjold, a former Secretary General of the United Nations. I wrote it down, feeling mildly dejected for a reason I couldn’t put a finger on. I paid rapt attention to the names allotted after my turn. Of the 39 people on the list, there were only three women.
I was astounded by the invisibility of women in the books I came across; it scared me. I wasn’t willing to give up on my dream of writing about a woman, and I had to fight this silence. I went to my teacher the next morning and demanded to have a topic change – so I could write about Margaret Thatcher. She smiled at me, and told me to go ahead. When I submitted my report, she told me that I had made her think. Well, I had made me think, too.
There are so many women, so many voices since the dawn of time that are invaluable. It is important to restore the balance in the information we offer.
I am a doodler: I doodle using a simple black ink pen, often without any thought going into my doodles. When I read of how Nangeli’s story was dropped last year, I wanted to do something. At some point in the journey, there was a flash: what if I could doodle back these women into history? In January this year, I started Femcyclopaedia — an Instagram page, where I curate doodled portraits of women from history, with a short note about their work.
With Femcyclopaedia, I have been able to facilitate conversations for the curious. I’ve seen a good level of interest rising in the world around me — although only about 300 people have begun to follow the page on Instagram. For each day that exists between today and the day women’s voices are valued, here’s a truth: We will not be silenced.
The author is a Women’s rights activist, a peace activist, artist, lawyer and writer