This article won the All Kerala Women’s Day Essay Writing Contest in March 2013 conducted by Cradle Hospital, Calicut. The topic was “Gender agenda: Gaining momentum”.
Among one of the most talked about issues globally in the recent times is the gender gap and its consequences. In the light of third wave feminism, many gender equations are being re-read and discussed. The gender agenda, therefore, is gaining momentum- slowly but surely.
While the protests of the 70’s were for essential needs like education and equal wages, the protests in the 90’s are for giving adequate and comfortable ‘space’ for women in every sector of the society. The third wave movement in the 90’s also addresses the issues of homosexuality, religion, ethnicity etc. and embraces diversity and change.
The gender crisis is going into a crucial phase worldwide. Women became the heads of the nations for the first time in Mauritius, Serbia, South Korea and Malawi in 2012-13. Malala, the Pakistani girl who advocated for women’s education became a global icon, and her story inspired many global organizations to work for the upliftment of the oppressed women of Asia. One Billion Rising, the event for expressing solidarity to the one billion women who suffer gender violence was taken up by women all over the world to spread the message of gender equality. India is also heading towards the global trend. With the Justice Verma commission proposing new laws to ensure the safety of Indian women and many Indian women making it to news for their glittering achievements, there exists scope for hope.
The Arab spring and the Jasmine revolution was a milestone in the history of struggle for equality. The protests saw many Arab women, who are generally denied personal freedom and imposed strict regulations, taking part in revolution against authoritarian dictators of their respective countries for want of a democratic and peaceful government. Though the protestors, including the Nobel laureate Tavakkul Karman, were later silenced, the incident served as a starting point for the struggle against oppression of women in the Arab world.
The US Presidential elections saw the peak of misogyny in the political agenda of the Republican party. The party’s agenda included enforcing stricter rules for abortion and birth control. Todd Akin, a Republican representative was known to comment that pregnancy rarely occurs as a result of legitimate rape. His explicitly misogynistic and highly objectionable comment was criticized widely by feminist scholars worldwide.
The homicidal rape of a Delhi woman has caused the issue of women’s freedom and security to limelight again in India. In India, where rape is inextricably linked to shame, this incident being reported and given wide coverage on the media and social networks served as an impetus to the women to be vocal about the sexual harassments they face. The Delhi issue saw the delegation of women friendly laws which promise stricter punishments for crimes against women. However, the law is not often implemented in its strictest sense and the criminals evade conviction by creating loopholes in the evidence. The focus should, therefore, be on ensuring speedy justice and creating corrupt-less executive bodies.
Misogyny is so deeply rooted in India’s collective psychology that it has permeated our textbooks, our pedagogy and our parenting. The textbook of the pre-school child shows the picture of a man comfortably resting on an armchair, reading the newspaper labeled as ‘father’, while labeling a woman washing utensils in the kitchen as ‘mother’ and unconsciously injects the traditionally assigned, patriarchal gender roles into the child’s brain. While India has unwritten norms about how its womenfolk should behave, it does not impose any restrictions to men, creating generations of people who think of women as a second-class citizen, an inferior being and a sex object. In a society which has determined that men make good leaders, women are underrepresented in administrative and political fronts. Domestic violence, female foeticide, honour killings and dowry system are the other problems faced by a large section of the population in India.
There’s little point to holding up placards asking for change and justice if changes don’t begin from our families. The male and female child should not be discriminated at homes, and all children should be given equal consideration regardless of their gender. Any custom or tradition which threaten the well-being or curtail the freedom of women should not be supported. Women should be empowered to protest against the injustice they are subjected to at homes, colleges and workplace.
While it is satisfying that many of the problems which are primarily of concern to women are being discussed and debated, it is also to be realized that discussions are initiated only when a tragedy happens or when a misogynistic remark slips from the mouth of a notable personality. It required the death of a Delhi woman to get rape be accepted as a mainstream issue, and the comments of ex-Justice Basanth to have the Suryanelli case re-examined. Ireland thought of providing the right to abortion only after the death of Savitha Halappanavar due to an obstetric cause, and Julia Gillard had to be on her vocal best to have the gender discrimination against women political leaders in Australia capture the attention of the menfolk. We should strive for a just world were women’s issues are not discarded as a gender issue, but recognized as a mainstream problem that requires the collective involvement of both men and women to arrive upon a solution. We should strive for an enlightened world where women are not considered as a machine for pregnancy, but a living being with the capability to take decisions on her own. We should strive for a liberal world where women’s sexual issues and concerns about reproductive health are no longer hushed and silenced.
The observation by Virgnia Woolf that “anonymous was always a woman” throws light into the fact that, women’s achievements are neglected since pre-historic times and that their existence was always in the shadow of their husbands or fathers. Even today, there exist countries which prohibit women from driving and voting. Clerics of certain religions imposing bans selectively on women also point towards misogyny and assert on the patriarchal notion that women are objects who do not have an existence inseparable of their guardians (men), and that they are objects which need guarding.
The growth of technology has largely helped in bridging the gender gap. We have moved from the times when vehicles had to be ignited manually to auto-ignition engines and broken the sexist belief that driving could only be possible for men as it required physical strength to be able to ignite the engine manually. As more and more jobs are getting automated, physical strength is no longer the desired quality of an employee, which has helped women to be a sizeable population at workplace. The stereotyping that women are less intelligent has been challenged by the many women who hold key positions at international companies.
Women, after millennia of repression, are finally on the verge of finding their rightful status in the society. In these modern times where men and women strive equally in all fields of activity, demonstrate identical skills and talents, share equal responsibility, decide the future of institutions and the fate of nations, woman need to be given the respect and freedom she rightfully deserves. The patriarchal notion that women are freely accessible objects which can be possessed and controlled still exist in various communities, which have to be freed of by education.
Quoting Emilie Buchwald, “the most important gift anyone can give a girl is a belief in her own power as an individual, her value without reference to gender, her respect as a person with potential.” Let us hope that in the coming of time, women all over the globe be recognized for their potential and not biased based on their gender.