External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj suggests that to combat gender bias in Indian society, men should take on household work, and women should have martial arts training.
A government source revealed that on April 27, Swaraj had addressed a Group of Ministers meeting, saying that “encouraging men to study home science will help break the traditional mindset about women.” The meeting had been called to review the national policy for women. The draft policy was opened for public review in June last year and now lies before the Group of Ministers (GoM) of which Swaraj is a part, along with Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and seven others.
Swaraj’s suggestions appear to flip the script on gender in the Indian context, where it is men who are encouraged to take an interest in physical education and women in domestic care work. She had said men should learn home sciences in college to be able to participate equally in managing the household and relieving Indian women of a burden they have shouldered for centuries. Her other comment, about women learning martial arts, is a little more complicated.
One one hand, wanting women to develop their physical strength is a sharp departure from how they are socialised – women are traditionally expected to engage is less physically demanding activities. But on the other hand, Swaraj’s suggestion does come close to saying women must be physically strong in order to protect themselves when the onus of this should lie on public and private institutions.
Apart from Swaraj’, others in the GoM also offered their inputs. That women should be given reservation in educational institutions was one suggestion made by Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu, while Prasad suggested that women under-trials who were convicted for non-heinous crimes, should have their sentences reduced to one-third of the given period.
After the review has been completed, the policy will go to the WCD ministry. Citizens are still welcome to send in suggestions and innovative ideas to be considered by the ministry before the final policy is presented. It remains to be seen whether Swaraj’s suggestions will be incorporated and what measures will be put in place then.