The animal rights movement is intrinsically linked to the struggle for human rights as they both attempt to dismantle hegemony and objectification
March is the month the world celebrates International Women's Day, with communications abuzz recognising women's equality with men while also noting the contributions of women leaders across various fields. In the animal protection movement, women are certainly more visible than in other fields – roughly seven out of 10 people in the field are women. The full impact and the gender politics of a movement where women are in the majority needs to be examined in greater detail.
Unfortunately, women's predominance doesn't necessarily apply to animal protection leadership. Worldwide, women in leadership positions in NGOs continue to be a minority according to some studies. So, it's clear that while there is collective recognition of women's rights, its complete absorption into the social fabric still has a long way to go.
In the long walk towards gender equality, it is short-sighted to assume that only a particular group or section of society is deserving of our attention. It is not hard to identify similarities between women's rights issues and animal rights issues. Most significantly, objectification of bodies plays a huge role in both. Women are treated as mere figures to be used in fashion, advertising, and other media, and animals are used for their bodies in food, clothing, and much more.
Even language is weighted against equality. Statements such as 'Even animals are treated better than women', or 'Even a dog has more respect than that person' are no different from words like, 'Don't say that, it makes you sound like a girl', or 'This behaviour isn't ladylike'. Common references to animals as things, and women as the 'weaker sex' reinforce the objectification and oppression of both.
The cultural roots of patriarchy are deeply ingrained in our life, and even the most liberated women can fall prey to patriarchal thinking. We've all been socialised that way.
FIAPO believes that the end of sexist objectification, and recognition of equality and the intrinsic value of women, logically extends to animals too. The intersectionality between these two movements demands that we find opportunities to synergise, so we build non-violent solutions that include all. In that context, with the recent celebration of International Women's Day, we hope that next year, anyone who stands up against gender inequality will also stand for animal rights. And today, we proudly stand for women's rights too.
Human freedom, animal rights. One struggle, one fight.
(The author is Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO). The views expressed are strictly personal.)