Hope… We use this word so often in our everyday language. It is a feeling of trust, security, and a reason to keep going. It’s only hope that has got us through 2017, and now makes us look forward to 2018. Most of my writings last year have been centred on gender issues and gender-based discrimination. The root cause of gender inequality in our society lies in its patriarchal system – a system of social structure and practices, in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women. Gender inequality is therefore a form of inequality which is distinct from other forms of economic and social inequalities. It dwells not only outside the household, but also centrally within it. It stems also from pre-existing gendered social norms and social perceptions.
Political participation is often perceived as a key factor to rectify this situation. However, gender bias extends to electoral politics and representative governance as well. Gender inequality, in simple words, may be defined as discrimination against women based on their sex. This peculiar type of discrimination against women is prevalent everywhere in the world, and more so in Indian society.
It starts at birth
Gender is seen closely related to the roles and behaviours assigned to women and men based on their sexual differences. As soon as a child is born, families and the society begin the process of gendering. The birth of the son is celebrated, the birth of a daughter filled with pain; sons are showered with love, respect, better food and health care. Boys are encouraged to be tough and outgoing; girls are encouraged to be homebound and shy.
Not just in India, but since time immemorial, women have been looked down upon as inanimate objects all over the world. To fight for the equal rights for women, there have been feminist movements around the globe. Indian feminists had to fight against culture-specific issues within India’s patriarchal society. The patriarchal attributes include demanding dowry, siring sons, among others. The adverse sex ratio, poor educational and nutritional status, inequality in wages, and violence against women are prevalent in our society, even today.
There is a change now; the voices against gender inequality and violence have never been louder. The horrific rise in crimes against women, especially post the December-2012 gang-rape in New Delhi, has led to widespread protests and demands for change across the nation. The incident, which is often considered a landmark in the fight for women’s rights in India, has also led to a few reformative changes in the criminal justice system with provisions for stricter laws and speedier convictions.
However, legislative changes alone cannot reverse the current epidemic of violence and injustice against women. The conversation today, therefore, is no longer just about law and order; it also highlights a woman’s right to dignity, respect, and equality across all spheres of public and personal life. While increasing representation of women in the public spheres is important and can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their homes and in broader society.
Of course, for this to succeed, parents and teachers have to take on a hands-on approach even outside such workshops, by encouraging questions and highlighting positive examples and role models for both girls and boys. Parents should focus less on protecting girls, and more on empowering them to be able to communicate their ‘no’ and ‘yes’, clearly and frankly.
As societies progress, the conversation around gender stereotypes will also evolve with the needs and demands of the day. India’s current spate of crimes against women along with the age-old grip of patriarchal laws and customs dictate an urgent need for gender-sensitive education and upbringing. The fight must continue for security and equality of women…for their safety…for their rights to live and do as they please. A new year… A new beginning… New hopes and new dreams… May we find it within us to continue hoping!