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The BoF Podcast: Sonam Kapoor and Karla Bookman: ‘Feminism Has Been Alive and Well in India for a Long Time’

OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Bollywood star Sonam Kapoor is no stranger to feminism. Despite pushback from PRs who claimed it would make her sound “unfeminine,” she has used her platform to speak out against pressing social issues, from women’s and LGBTQ rights to breast cancer awareness. In her latest movie, which lands in the United States today, she stars alongside her father in the role of a closeted lesbian who has to contend with family pressures to get married while being secretly in love with another woman.

As founder and editor-in-chief of The Swaddle, India’s only feminist health and culture website, Karla Bookman has created a new kind of crowdsourcing for information on women’s health and sex education. Advice for young women typically comes in hushed tones from mothers-in-law and matriarchs, part of what she calls the patriarchy’s “lack of transparency.”

“The taboo’s coming from all sides” in Indian communities, she argues, where teachers and parents feel uncomfortable discussing such topics, gynaecologists use marital status as a benchmark for contraceptive prescriptions, and mental health professionals are in scarce supply (there is one for every 16,000 people in India).

For both women, their work is part of a wider legacy of challenging India’s patriarchal society. “What has changed,” Bookman notes, “is where they are pushing back against the status quo and they now have more of a platform with social media.”

Kapoor also acknowledges her relative privilege as a woman born to successful parents who encourage her outspoken feminist views, particularly in light of #MeToo. “There’s a lot of shaming, a lot of victim-blaming,” she says. “I have a safety net. A lot of these girls and boys don’t have that.”

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