Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. It is the belief that all individuals should have equal rights and opportunities. A society can only develop when there is a balance of equity between male and female. Just like a bird cannot fly depending on a single wing, a society cannot bloom by continuously neglecting one segment of its population.
Literally it is almost folly to think that a nation can fully develop when half of its population remains deprived. This is especially true for the women of the developing countries like India, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc.
Gender disparity exists in the world. Being born as women or a person of third gender in our society, one has to face gender discrimination at all levels. Men hardly allow women the equal position and power in the society. She is being killed, harassed, molested, assaulted and disgraced in the name of dowry, honor, rejection, fertility etc.
What is Gender?
In every day usage gender denotes the biological sex of individuals. However feminists define gender differently – as a set of socially and culturally constructed characteristics that vary across time and place. When we think and talk about the characteristics such as power, autonomy, public and rationality, we associate then with masculinity or men. Opposite characteristics such as weakness, dependence, connection, emotionality and private are associated with female or women.
Gender is a structure of meaning that signifies power relationships. If gender characteristics denote inequality, it becomes a mechanism for the unequal distribution of social benefits and costs. Although men and women depend on each other equally but the hard reality is that the men are valued more hence more power, position and prestige is associated with men.
Therefore gender is crucial for analyzing not only the local and national politics but the global political and economic scenario particularly with respect to the issues of inequality, insecurity and social justice.
The current era or we call it the 21st century world is a male dominated world. To explain this we must put on our gender sensitive lenses and think about women’s places within gendered global structures and processes that constrain their security and the economic opportunities. Today we find women as secretaries, clerical workers, receptionists, air hostesses and domestic help. We find the women as wives of diplomats, judges, military generals and sports persons. Hence women are disproportionately situated in low-paid or non-remunerated occupations and far from the halls of power and position.
- World % of women in international economic organizations is 9%.
- World % of women in the legislatures/ law making institutions is 16%.
- In the upper house of Indian Parliament (Rajya Sabha) there are only 25 women MP’s i.e. 10%.
- In the Lower house of Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha) there are only 78 women MP’s i.e. 14%
Discrimination against women is a pervasive and long running phenomenon that characterizes Indian society at every level. One National Family and Health Survey says that 37% of married are the victims of physical or sexual violence perpetuated by their spouse. As per the NCRB data (2019) 10 Dalit women mostly young girls are raped everyday across India. In India 47.9% boys go to private schools against 39% girls.
The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, their history has been eventful. In modern India women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Governors.
The constitution of India provides equal rights and privileges for both men and women. Women’s rights under the constitution of India mainly include equality, dignity and freedom from the discrimination. Main provisions in the Indian constitution for the protection and promotion of women right are:
- Equality before law and equal protection of law (Art. 14).
- Prohibition from discrimination on the ground of sex ( Art. 15).
- Equal opportunities for men and women for adequate means of livelihood( Art. 16).
- Human conditions at work place (Art. 42).
- Renunciation of the practice which is derogatory to the dignity of woman( Art. 51).
- Reservation of 33% in the local self-governments. .
- Equal voting rights .
Despite the above mentioned constitutional provisions, women in India continue to face numerous problems such as sexual assault and gender inequality. India’s progress towards gender equality measured by its position on ranking such as Gender Development Index has been disappointing. It has slipped 28 places down i.e. 140 among 156 (Gender Gap Report 2021). Crime against women shows an upward trend such as rape, acid attack, and dowry death and honor killings.
The place of women in Indian politics reflects the opportunities and constraints that are associated with its democracy. The political parties have only used women to flourish their ideological overturns. Some have used them around the themes like caste, language, tribe, religion others around the poverty, re-distribution and to mobilize the vote bank. There is hardly any political party which has talked seriously about the gender equality. This is the reason that the women reservation bill is still pending.
How women are being discriminated:
- Poverty: This is the root cause of gender discrimination. India’s 30% population lives below the poverty line and out of this 70% are women. It leads to the male dependence.
- Illiteracy: As per the 2011 census only 65% Indian women are literate against 83% of men. The illiteracy leads to their disempowerment.
- Patriarchal Mindset: Men dominate societal and family life in India. This has been the social custom, belief and practice in India. Male heirs/ sons especially in the business communities are considered economic, political and ritual assets whereas daughters are considered the liabilities.
- Dowry system: You hate me in the womb as I will cost you dowry and then you will sell your son the more the merry ……Dowry system too disempowers the women. It has led to the decline in the female sex ratio (919 girls) .
- Cultural ethos: A culturally ingrained parental preference for male hairs (sons). It is emanating from their importance as caregivers for parents in their old age. This too is linked to the poorer consequences for female child.
- The fake dishonor: Dishonor is more associated with girls than boys. If a boy and a girl are found in an immoral activity, the girl is punished more than the boy. The girls gets a tag once is never let off fro that
How to end discrimination:
The menace of discrimination can be eradicated through the following means:
- Education: Education is the single greatest tool to achieve the social justice and equality. It leads the empowerment in each and every aspect of life
- Access to decision making: Equal participation leads to equal access to the corridors of power and to design and draw the policies not only at the local level but at the national and international level.
- Economic prosperity: Equal economic opportunities i.e. equal pay for equal work. Nothing changes the gender equation more significantly than women’s economic freedom.
- More access to media and law enforcing agencies.
- Tough laws for gender exploitation.
- To challenge the stereotype.
The NEP-220 and Gender Empowerment:
The Kasturirangan Committee has recognized the importance of the gender equality and has incorporated many provisions in the National Education Policy 2020 like:
- Approach gender as a cross- cutting priority to achieve gender equality in education with the partnership of states and local committee organizations.
- Emphasized for the increasing number of women on leading positions of the institutions like Principals, wardens, physical instructors i e. Decision making circles.
- Stresses to decrease the gender imbalance among teachers. Alternate pathways for female teacher recruitment have been introduced.
- Focuses on the safety and security of the school going girls both inside and outside the campus. The schools have to ensure the harassment, discrimination and dominance free campus before enlisting for yearly accreditation.
- Educational institutions are mandated to conduct awareness sessions on gender issues to break the stereotyped gender roles, legal protections and entitlements for girls including the prohibition of child marriage act, protection of children from sexual offences Act etc.
- Gender neutral curriculum i.e. technology – oriented and more adjacent to sustainable employment.
- Establishment of a gender inclusive fund to provide quality and equitable education to all girls. The fund will focus on ensuring 100% enrollment of girls in schools and a high participation in higher education.
Conclusion: in the 19th century the central moral challenge was slavery, in the 20th century it was the battle against the totalitarianism and in the 21st century the paramount moral challenge is the gender inequality or we can say gender discrimination. If we are not going to take this challenge seriously then we have to accept the following lines of the poem written by Meena Kandaswamy:
This has happened before, this will happen again.
What does that fire remembers?
The screams of Satis dragged to their husband’s pyres and brides burnt alive.
The wails of caste-crossed lovers put to death.
The tongue chopped shrinking raped women.
Masood Ali Mir is working as Senior Academic Officer SCERT-JK and can be mailed at [email protected]