What Happens When Women Don’t Stand Up For Other Women In A Patriarchal Society

Posted on July 9, 2014 in Gender-Based Violence, Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Taboos

 By Urvashi Prasad:

When questioned about the comments made by a Member of Parliament from her political party, West Bengal’s Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee is reported to have snapped at the media saying What else do you want me to do, kill him? My response would be of course not. When we hesitate to mete out the severest punishment to people who commit rape and constantly debate about whether a particular incident of rape fulfills the criterion of “rarest of the rare”, then I suppose a few downright ludicrous remarks here and there hardly matter. But this is not an isolated incident of a woman (in this case no less than the Chief Minister of a state) not standing up for other women.

women against other women

In the political arena, making misogynistic comments and getting off the hook by simply apologizing thereafter is a routine occurrence. But what is most shocking is that women politicians (across party lines) do not take strong positions against men in their own parties. I was astonished when Ms. Jayanthi Nathrajan of the Congress Party argued vociferously on a television debate that a “private” reprimanding of her colleague Botsa Satyanarayana who had said that women should watch when they go out in response to the horrific gang rape in Delhi, was adequate. A public statement made by a political leader who has the potential to influence the masses should surely not be dealt with behind the closed doors of a party office, should it? Besides being a completely illogical argument, the fact that it was coming from a woman made it even more inexcusable. I am sure Ms. Nathrajan would not have reacted in a similar manner if a woman from her family had been involved in the incident.

For years on end, we heard seemingly helpless statements from Ms. Sheila Dixit, the former Chief Minister of Delhi, while girls and women in her city continued to be raped and murdered. In fact she participated in what appeared to be a clear case of political conspiracy to fly out the girl who bravely fought her assailants on the night of December 16, 2012 to Singapore at a stage when it was medically almost impossible to save her. If Ms. Dixit and her Government truly had noble intentions, they should have flown her out at an earlier stage during the course of her treatment when she was conscious and able to give statements to officials twice over. Instead, it appeared to be an action taken to ensure that the brave heart did not breathe her last on Indian soil or as a last ditch attempt to earn some brownie points with the public. Ms. Dixit made endless statements about how she also has daughters and can empathise with the plight of women but if her own daughter had met a similar fate on that night, would she have waited for several days for her condition to deteriorate before flying her out for life-saving treatment?

It is quite rare in our country for women to make it to influential positions. Our parliament has a poor 11% representation for women resulting in a ranking of 108 out of 188 countries in an analysis carried out by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. According to the World Economic Forum’s Corporate Gender Gap Report, 2010, India has the lowest percentage (23%) of women employees and even fewer who become senior executives or leaders of organizations. It is therefore imperative for women who do reach these positions to not only speak up for other women but also take appropriate action when required. It is important that they don’t act merely in self-interest but also lend a voice to millions of women who are not as fortunate as they are. This is especially the case because most women who reach these positions have themselves struggled with the regressive mind set at some stage in their lives. For instance, the Union Human Resource Development minister Ms. Smriti Irani recently made a statement that she was considered a burden when she was born. Despite this, if they cannot empathize with other women then can we really blame men for misogyny? Do women leaders who go around defending shameful statements made by their male counterparts have the right to subsequently comment on rape in a self-righteous manner?

This phenomenon is certainly not limited to the political or corporate world. In marriages, the most dreaded character is the mother-in-law. In fact, women have a pivotal role to play in the majority of dowry death and female foeticide cases. Of course some women simply have no option but to be complicit in these crimes because they themselves have been abused or have had patriarchy deeply inculcated in them but others do have the opportunity to resist and yet it appears they choose not to. A number of cases of daughters-in-law being burnt to death have happened in households where women are highly educated and affluent. A number of crimes against women are committed directly or indirectly by leaders of political parties, and yet women in the same parties choose to look the other way simply to preserve their own political ambitions. In the so called professional organizations, women leaders often prefer not to speak up for their competent female colleagues so that their personal career prospects are unharmed in a male dominated setting.

The reality is that women are as much a part of the patriarchal mind set as men. And it has little correlation with the level of education or socio-economic status. Of course men have no excuse to be disrespectful towards women but change is unlikely to happen until women themselves stop committing and ignoring injustice towards other women. Lip service has gone on for far too long. Women need to prove by their actions, be it in their domestic lives, in the political arena or in a corporate set-up, that they can treat other women with respect, dignity and fairness. If women cannot do so then they have little right to point fingers at men or complain when they themselves fall prey to the same mind set.