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India’s Great Wall of Equality

While gender inequality is nothing new for India, the unabashed and vehement misogyny displayed in response to a Supreme Court decision to allow women into a temple in Kerala state is notable. In this context, displays of unity and commitment to equality are not just uplifting, but also vitally important to India's future.

NEW DELHI – Last year was a watershed for gender relations. The #MeToo movement rocked establishments around the world, forcing even powerful men to face public scrutiny for their behavior toward women. But, despite a patriarchal backlash, the movement shows no signs of abating: on January 1, in the Indian state of Kerala, an estimated five million women formed a human chain – or “women’s wall” – stretching nearly 400 miles across the length of the state, to demonstrate their commitment to the fight for gender equality.

One cannot overstate the symbolic power of the women’s wall, which included more than one-third of Kerala state’s entire female population over the age of six – about two million more people that even its organizers had anticipated. The event had the backing of the state government, but it owes its success to the engagement of a variety of groups and organizations, not to mention the individual women who participated.

Those women came from all strata of society. There were doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, nuns, domestic workers, agricultural laborers, wage workers, and homemakers. There were Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. There were mothers holding babies, young girls, and elderly women who could barely stand, resting on others for support. In many areas, there were also chains of the women’s male allies, standing across the road from them in solidarity.

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