In the wake of numerous bills and schemes being introduced to address women’s safety, inequality and gender disparity, a few cases have come to light recently, namely, the Unnao and UP law student case, that are petrifying. It is here that it becomes imperative to acknowledge the fact that achieving equality for women in its full value still remains a long shot. It is so because the grassroots of such an issue are consistently disregarded. One should not be oblivious to the fact that any ailment needs to be treated at its core; otherwise, it has the tendency to recur. Thus, despite the progress women have made in the last years – I have to question, when will women be convinced that they’re not second-class citizens or the inferior gender?
As a country, we are filled with pride when women win big in the Olympics or when a woman takes over the noblest post in some part of the world. We boast about how women have left no field untouched. But, we fail to recognise the ratio of such women in our country.
We can very well gasconade about how we have been moving ahead in the direction of attaining equality and eradicating this phenomenon of gender disparity, but in reality, it is still a dream for many.
Women are fighting for equal rights, the right to safety, the basic right to control their bodies, and the right to equal opportunities, and wages in the workplace, around the clock. Freedom, liberty, emancipation and independence are the standing pillars of every human’s well-deserved rights, and these are exactly what many women are still deprived of.
In some cases, demanding such rights also stands secondary. The biggest issue faced by women is to dream of a society where they are treated as autonomous beings, and not as mere chattel.
Undoubtedly, the innumerable schemes and initiatives haven’t been too effective, and often go futile because of the continuous dismantling of the facets of the notion of equality. The patriarchal culture that stokes machismo, and violent masculinity, is directly proportionate to exacerbating social conflict and widens the scope of inequality.
According to a report by the International Center for Research on Women(ICRW), “traditional norms about the role of men and women in society have not adapted to keep pace with India’s rapid economic growth and rise in opportunities for women.”
Findings from the ICRW’s International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), in India, “reflect the complex and at times contradictory nature of many Indian men’s attitude about gender equality.”
The report further states, “for instance, researchers found that even though many Indian men support policies that promote equal opportunities for women, they also feel that they lose out if women are afforded more rights.”
Another extremely vital point, which has a role to play here, is the idea of masculinity; it is correlated to socio-cultural ideologies and continuously associated with superior physical and mental strength. For centuries, male violence and acts of aggression were often the way that power was understood, and patriarchy upheld. For women, they had a traditional set of norms to follow and were treated as mere chattels, something which was meant to be conquered. As we’d want to believe, we have moved ahead and have witnessed social change and transformation of perceptions over the course of time. But if it is so, then why does an archaic, conservative order still find its sustainability and support from momentous sections of our society? It seems that as much as the men acknowledge this societal change in gender patterns, and understand the need for equality; they haven’t incorporated it fully, or still face issues in internalising it in their personal lives.
Countering such a mindset has become indispensable. It goes without saying, that equality and empowering women still remain pragmatic ideas, which hold good in textbooks, but implementation is still unaccounted for, in each household. Every time a woman is questioned over her choosing a non-conventional career path, her lifestyle decisions, her political ideologies – that freedom of choice is trampled upon. Every time a woman’s opinion is disregarded because of her gender, the gender wage gap blissfully ignored, or crimes against women show an upward scale (such as rapes, marital rape, dowry deaths and honour killings) – we take a step back from achieving this “equality”.
Introductory lessons to such concepts of masculinity and feminism are imparted from a very tender age. As a society, we have emphasised time and again, on the association of strength and valour with masculinity and how education matters more for the boy child as compared to the girl child, how her marriage bears more significance than her education.
Girls are often taught the kind of feminism that asks them to act tender and submissive. Hence, the decades of trying to address gender inequality through programs and policies aimed at empowering girls and women prove trivial, with insignificant attention to the toxic masculinity that is induced into men.
It’s time to accentuate more upon how we raise boys and men in our society, and how various institutions and cultures actually reinforce inequalities that women are trying to mitigate. Thus, a lopsided redressal tackles the issue partially. The power dynamics that fuel gender inequality are, therefore, left unscathed, and they stand firm in their place, which ultimately results in the devaluation of women.
These gender stereotypes have continuously acted as a deterrent for women in accessing their full value. As a society, we have always perceived inequality as an issue that strictly adheres to women, and subsequently, have only focused on the losing end but we still are not ready to look at the wider picture. Equality in its purest sense can only be rendered; if we tackle both sides, it can only be achieved, if men and women start internalising this concept in their personal lives, and not merely rant about how progressive, liberal, and egalitarian they are.
We are still laggard when it comes to gender equality. It’s time we all do some real introspection here.