Say it with love

Say it with love

The new wave of feminism must focus on boys and men. And for this, media entrepreneur Aekta Kapoor desists from using patriarchy’s tools of suppression, writes Smitha Murthy

Representative image.

It was during a chat with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Scilla Elworthy that Aekta Kapoor, the founder of eShe magazine and the peacebuilding South Asia Union initiative, had what she describes as her ‘eureka’ moment. That moment when she realised that all of her life’s experiences had helped develop a mighty heart with a tremendous capacity to love. But the question Aekta asked herself was what was she doing with it? How would she use all this love to stand up and have courageous conversations about peace in the world? And the answer came: put love in action.

Born in Mumbai, Aekta spent her formative years in the UAE before settling down in Delhi, which she has called home for the last 30 years. As a powerful force in fashion and lifestyle media, Aekta thought she was creating “meaningful journalism” that would impact women. The reality, she realised later, was far from that. “It became increasingly clear to me that my work was not empowering women. On the contrary, the photoshopped images and constant message to be ‘perfect’ created all sorts of body-image issues in female readers, especially those of an impressionable age.” That’s when Aekta perceived a skewed social dynamic with the female body at the centre of all definition and debate. She quit her job and launched eShe, a new-age magazine that amplifies women’s voices and stories.

For a gender-equal world

The magazine is ranked in the top 20 women’s magazines worldwide, according to the content aggregator Feedspot. “With eShe, I set out to create my own version of a gender-equal world by gently nudging Indian women to realise and unleash their fullest potential, and help Indian men see women as regular, equal human beings with all their flaws and magnificence.” In a world weary of the stressors of this prolonged pandemic, eShe’s particular focus has been on how women have coped during this period. The magazine last year conducted a national Lockdown Relationship Survey to see how long-term relationships fared during the lockdown. In between, Aekta also edited Everything Changed After That: 25 Women, 25 Stories, a short story collection curated from a contest run on eShe.

Today, eShe’s vision has expanded to employ feminine intelligence and spiritual energy to create lasting change globally, beginning with peace in South Asia. Aekta conceptualised and organised the first-ever Indo-Pak Peace Summit by women in January this year. More than 40 eminent women speakers from all around the world participated in the Summit, including Dr Scilla Elworthy herself, WISCOMP founder Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, award-winning filmmakers Sabiha Sumar, Mehreen Jabbar, Alankrita Srivastava, authors like Moni Mohsin, Alice Albinia and Sheela Reddy, and peacebuilders like Yemeni human rights activist Radhya Almutawakel.

That led to the first-ever South Asia Union Summit, and Aekta intends to make peace summits led by women an annual ritual. Doing this, Aekta believes, channelises “women’s power and collaborative energy to unite this conflicted region.” New perspectives emerge on feminism, democracy, social justice, and help create a platform for women’s leadership. “The focus is on giving a space to the new generation of feminists and leaders across South Asia and the diaspora.” 

A long fight ahead

Aekta is aware that despite the authentic and safe space that eShe offers, feminism in India and many parts of the world has a long fight ahead. Women still don’t have equal representation in positions of power. Women still shoulder the burden and blame for the violence and bestiality of men, Aekta says. While an older generation of feminists made progress in pushing for laws and checks on gender violence, inequality, and sexism in the public domain, the newer generation, Aekta believes, must now go into the private domains and “lay the groundwork for feminism at home, on the dinner table, in the kitchen, and in the crib.”

It leads to the powerful argument that feminism cannot exclude men. “The new wave of feminism must focus on the boys and men.” And for this, Aekta desists from using patriarchy’s tools of suppression, disrespect, violence, and hate. “We must employ the greatest tool in the arsenal of feminine energy: love.” And that brings Aekta back to her eureka moment: of putting love in action. For Aekta, changing the world begins with a simple step: changing ourselves. Because ultimately: “If your goal is world peace, learn what it takes to find peace in your heart. If your goal is an equal society, consider how equal you treat yourself and others. If your goal is saving the environment, look at your lifestyle and relationship with nature, to begin with. If your goal is justice, see how injustice breeds when people stay silent and speak out against all injustices, not just the ones done to you. When each of us takes responsibility for changing ourselves, the world changes automatically.”

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