Recently I spoke up about abuse that girls face particularly in India on my Instagram and I received very interesting responses. Some people empathized, some disagreed saying my approach to ask for “privileged Indians to take some action” was “too aggressive”. This of course came from a “self-aware privileged” Indian man. His logic was that since no one wants to act on this topic in India anyway and it is a “very sensitive” topic, I should find “other ways” to ask for help. When asked about what other ways existed, he had no answers. When asked for his history with abuse, he used the excuse of his sister and girlfriend having gone through it. Yet, he himself did nothing about it. And he tried to make me feel bad about making others feel bad about not using their privilege. Wow. This got me thinking about “what it feels like to be a girl in Germany”. Is life really different here compared to India as a girl?
It was particularly interesting that many women who come from an Indian background(and lived elsewhere) reached out to me and explained to me what was said to them when they spoke up about abuse. They were called unpatriotic, ungrateful and women who did not know how much India had changed since they had been away for a few years. What was even more surprising was that not all of this backlash came from Indian men, it came from Indian women too. If India has changed so much, why is a woman still raped every 20 minutes? Yes, one can argue that there are many countries in the world where women have it worse. Some of India’s own immediate neighbours for example. But many countries (in-fact the majority of the world) have it better too. Including some of India’s very own neighbours, for example.
More importantly, since when did patriotism become equal to nationalism? And since when did loving your country become about glorifying every ugly thing about it too?
Let me get something straight. This post is not about tainting Indian men, neither is it about tainting Indian women. It is most certainly not about tainting India. This post is about an honest and real experience driven narrative of a woman in her 20’s who has lived in India for over 20 years of her life and now calls Germany home (a.k.a me).
So, what is the answer to what it feels like to be a girl in Germany? The simple answer to this very complicated question is , “It doesn’t feel like I am defined by the virtue of being a girl”. Life is about more than gender. Life is about more than sexism. Life is about more than blaming or taking away from one gender just because it has historically not been the superior one.
It does not mean that gender inequality in Germany is non-existent. But, it’s more about the progressive, awareness and action-driven approach that the people have towards it. For example, there is a persistent gender pay gap of 21% between men and women in Germany which gets steeper as they climb up the ladder in the career. Many board rooms or leadership teams do not consist primarily of women. Even though the country is led by a woman, this is not often reflected in companies both public and private. However, the difference here is that it’s still a question of the women’ choice that this is not so. It is not by the “sole virtue of being a woman” that they are not promoted or not paid well enough.
As of January, 2018, the German government released the Wage Transparency Act which allows everyone to find out what their co-workers are earning to reduce the gap and bring in equality under the premise of “same work, same wage”. It is not a perfect law but it is an actionable step that gets women closer to getting paid what they deserve.
What’s extremely interesting is that women in Germany were allowed to go to work without the permission of their husband, or rather that gender equality was provided in marriage only in 1977. In 1977. Let that sink in.
How is it then, that in a span of around four decades, Germany now has consistently been in the top 15 countries in the world to be a woman. Preceded by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Singapore, Canada, Switzerland and other western European countries. The Global Gender Gap Index ranks Germany at 13th out of 144 countries and India at 108th position out of 144 countries. US is at around 49/50 which is above the world average but still a long way away from the top.
Many people will argue that the state of development, education or human rights is not the same and drastically varies between Germany and India. Agreed. But for people who are well-educated, well-traveled and have the same set of consumption basket as middle class Germans, how is it that even these people fail to acknowledge (let alone take any action) to protect its young girls? What is it that North/Western Europe or Singapore has done that is so drastically different that makes them the best and safest countries in the world to be a woman? The answer to all these questions cannot be found and discovered in one post. I will probably need to write my Master thesis to get some of the answers. For my own sake, I hope I do.
Getting back to the main question, what it feels like to be a girl in Germany? Is it different from life in India as a girl? How has my experience in Germany been so far? Is it the same? Is it different?
I’ll highlight some of these differences by things I can and cannot do in Germany. You can be the judge of what is good and what is bad, since it is not my place to define that for anyone in the world. Equality cannot be forced on those that do not want it in the first place or do not care enough to fight for it.
- I can go out after daylight (in the dark- yipee) without having a second thought about my safety.
- I do not need to carry a pepper spray, a safety-pin or a swiss knife to help myself from unwanted sexual predators.
- I can show my legs without getting significantly more stares or whistles or disgraceful remarks than I would on an otherwise “covered” day.
- I can show my cleavage without people ogling or wanting to take a picture of it.
- I can sit in the park in a bikini or even naked (depending on where I am) and no one will dare come near me to stare, ogle or take a picture. If they do make me uncomfortable, I can ask them to go away and they will without any objection. If they do not, read number 11.
- I can bathe naked without separate shower cubicles in public pools as if being naked next to strangers is the most natural thing in the world. A body is a body. So be it. There are still separate shower rooms for men and women. Don’t worry, Germany is not quite there yet.
- I can pay my own bills and I wouldn’t expect a man to do it for me. Neither would the man expect to pay for me.
- I can open my own doors and I wouldn’t expect a man to do it for me. Neither would the man expect to do that for me.
- I do not need a male guardian at any time, hour, night or occasion in my life except when I want a man around for reasons other than those relating to my safety.
- I can come back home late at night completely drunk and no one will blame any accidents or mishaps or acts of violence towards me on my “character” or the “hour of the night” or my “short dress”.
- I can call the police and ask for help and they will actually come help me. Not slut shame me or give me unwanted moral lectures on what I should and shouldn’t do and how I should and shouldn’t behave because I am a young girl. And even worse, not abuse me themselves on the way to the police station.
- If something terrible were to happen, I would have access to speedy justice, efficient lawyers and the state would support my claim fairly without blaming me for what happened just because I am a girl, even if I am not technically a German citizen.
I can go on and on about what it feels like to be a girl in Germany. But the point of the article is neither to promote one country nor to defame another. It is just what the title says What it feels like to be a girl in Germany. If I can talk about beautiful things by the medium of internet or social media, I should be able to talk about ugly things too.
Even my own website name has the words, “Girl in Germany”. I am surprised and annoyed at myself, why this post did not come out much sooner. Better late, than never though, I tell myself.
I don’t really recall the last time I was cat-called, eve-teased, stared at in such a way that it made me want to crawl out of my skin or molested in any form in Germany. I’ve lived here about 17 months. Not. One. Incident.
This doesn’t mean it will never happen. It’s just an assessment of how little of a thought I need to give to my overall safety by the virtue of belonging to the female gender.
I wouldn’t say I feel “empowered” in Germany as a woman. But I also wouldn’t say I feel “disempowered.” Therein lies the critical difference between being a woman in Germany and a woman in India.
I don’t think any country is 100% gender equal or gender neutral. I wish we lived in world where a question on Google such as “what it feels to be a girl” would not exist. But acknowledging that we do have a problem is one step in the right or rather needed direction. No one is expecting you to protest on the street alone or go completely out of your way to help raise awareness, but awareness on the state of sexual abuse in India or anywhere else in the world will not come from staying quiet, timid and afraid of consequences of speaking up. Ignorance breeds ignorance.
If people who know about gender inequality and have the means to impact the outcomes in a favourable manner also turn a blind eye and a deaf ear towards how one half of the world’s population is treated, then are we really in the 21st century? Is this really an era of progression for women?
As a girl or a woman in Germany, I get treated the same as a boy or a man 99 times out of 100. I hope one day the whole world can say the same. Better yet 100/100.
If this offends you, is too strong for your taste, or you feel like you want to tell me my right place as a girl, the solution is simple. Stop reading. Stop following. Stop commenting.