Protecting Women? We Are Doing More Harm Than Good!

Posted by Mili Mishra in Sexism And Patriarchy, Society
March 7, 2017
Editor’s note: This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #WomensDay to start conversations on how we can achieve a gender equal society. If you have faced gender-based violence, sexism or misogyny, would like to propose policy reforms or write about what families, friends, workspaces and partners can do to ensure gender parity around them, write to us here.

An outspoken and bold woman draws many and mostly negative reactions in our country.

The definition of ‘bold’ is variable. An Indian woman is restricted by many expectations. Whenever she overcomes these restrictions, she is considered as a ‘bold’ woman. Going to the regional transport office to apply for a driving license or venturing out to deal with suppliers for a business – activities such as these may be mundane and even necessary for a man, but remain out of the reach of many women.

Due to a high rate of crime against Indian women, men often undermine the freedom and mobility that a woman should have. The same ‘guardians’ who prevent women from going outside to prevent rapes also state that women do not face any problems in their day-to-day lives. There is also the tendency to underestimate the problems faced by women when they step outside their houses.

In India, it is often not easy to approach government offices, make voices heard, file complaints or make business deals. Moreover, the females often have minimal interaction with the society and world outside their homes. The lives of these women often remain unexposed to the realities of the world outside their homes.

While this might be desirable given the deplorable condition of women safety in this country, the lives of these women are often negatively affected. As they live within a cocoon, many women can’t complete basic tasks such as the filing of taxes, which leads to their excessive dependency on fathers, brothers and husbands.

These ‘handicaps’ start from a young age, when girls are prevented from buying things on their own, handling money or talking to strangers to even ask for directions. She is also instructed to avoid talking to shopkeepers or availing public transportation or going to government offices.

While the intention may be a good one, we also handicap girls by denying them opportunities to grow. This has an adverse effect on the confidence of a girl. She is often scared to go out alone, tries to avoid eye contact with people on the street and ignores the reality surrounding her. Women becoming scared, shy and ignorant of their rights is a highly dangerous precedent. When a woman is ignorant of her rights, she is also powerless to defend herself.

According to the National Judicial Data Grid, women file merely 10.3% of the total number of court cases in India. This is a disturbing trend, especially when crimes against women have been on the rise in the past five years, according to National Crime Records Bureau.

While the crimes keep on happening, women are choosing to stay silent and not take legal action. This often happens because they are not comfortable dealing with the police and government officials, besides being scared of the consequences. Due to a lower number of complaints on such issues, an exploitative culture is established. The fear which we have created in the name of women safety is the same fear that keeps women silent even when they become victims to criminal activities.

The Right to Information (RTI) grants citizens the right to ask the government for information. Ideally, it should empower citizens to speak up when things are not right. Every year, lakhs of Indians use this right to get information and raise their voices.

However, a website, which helps citizens file RTI applications online, filed an RTI application which revealed that only 10% of RTI applications are filed by Indian women. This indicates a lack of awareness of basic constitutional rights among women. This reluctance to know these rights is also associated with women’s fear of asserting themselves. They wish to remain in the background and avoid being one of the few who raise their voice.

An RTI application can also help to extract important documents and certificates from related government departments. However, since women are not exposed to such interactions, they find it difficult to use these, even though they may be beneficial. This highlights the importance of spreading awareness and removing the stigma associated with raising our voices.

Cowering behind male family members also cuts off opportunities for women. If a women cannot move freely and experience the world and society outside, she also loses out on ‘business opportunities’. Women contributing to Indian society’s ‘economic value’ still remains a distant dream.

The stigma associated with being a businesswoman ensures that most women don’t ever try their hand at businesses. The only women who make efforts in these fields are those who are driven by economic needs, or are blessed by a truly supportive environment. According to the economic census in 2013-14, only 13.7% of the total number of businesses in India were owned by women entrepreneurs.

The low number of women entrepreneurs is largely due to the lack of exposure in India. With no exposure to the outside world, the identification of business opportunities is tremendously difficult for women. The lack of self-confidence in women, which is borne out of society’s overcompensation due to its failure to protect them, is also a cause. Sadly enough, women are discouraged from indulging in business enterprises, even when they are impoverished.

Such a sorry state of affairs is the result of years of ‘discouragement’ cloaked under the mask of ‘protection’. We do not realise that women cannot grow while living under a constant sense of fear. While the male members of the families try to shield the females by completing duties on their behalf, they also create an atmosphere of fear and dependency.

This Women’s Day, I would request all women to go out, talk with people and not be scared. Don’t be afraid to speak up when needed. Fight for the causes you believe in. Don’t hide and don’t be scared of fighting your own battles. Know your rights and exercise them. Your voice is as important as anybody else’s.

India also needs you all!