The misogynistic view that women are unworthy of occupying positions of higher authority has been prevalent since times immemorial. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has proved the falsity of this belief as the occupant of the Oval Office proved pathetically inadequate to meet the challenge of the pandemic, while the countries led by Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Jair Bolsonarohad a much lower death rate than similar nations led by men. During the pandemic, female leaders generally ordered lockdown earlier, flattened the curve of the disease and adopted a more empathetic and participatory style of leadership.
In the corporate sector, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally rose to 29% in 2019 and remains the same in 2020. However, India has the third-lowest global representation of women managers, ahead of only South Korea and Japan. The patriarchal society in these three countries fears strong and independent women and inhibits their autonomous growth. Women have to work twice as hard to overcome salary inequality and discrimination in promotions and often forfeit their career at the altar of motherhood. Exceptions to this generality are few and far-between.
The perception of women as being emotional and sensitive largely hinders their absorption into some fields of work that are segregated into ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’. The decision to initiate women into combat roles in the navy, the army and the air force has provided a welcome opportunity for women to break through the glass ceiling.
Many women are now emerging from different regions of India to prove their competence in the armed forces and prove the falsity of gender stereotypes.
Apart from overcoming gender barriers in the workplace, Indian women also have to combat social and cultural barriers. In several Indian families, an unmarried girl is considered a financial liability, and a father is grateful to a man who deigns to marry her and take her off his hands.
In lower-income families, the education of girls is considered an unworthy investment due to the belief that she will soon be part of another family. Girls are made to drop out of schools in their teens and start doing domestic chores to earn a pittance and contribute to household expenses.
The targeting of women is apparent in long-lasting traditions such as sati and dowry and during a rape trial. Instead of the perpetrator of the crime, the victim is asked questions such as, “Why were you there in the first place? What were you wearing? What did you say at that time? When did you realize something was wrong?” The victim is considered to have provoked the crime in some way by her words or behaviour and shamed for the trauma she has undergone.
However, we should not allow women culprits to take advantage of the prevailing patriarchy to absolve them of their crimes. Currently, the mysterious death of a Bollywood actor has provoked a heated debate about his girlfriend’s culpability. When his live-in partner is blamed by the actor’s family and a section of society of being part of a conspiracy to drug and murder him, supporters of the accused are calling it a motivated move by a patriarchal society to malign and destroy the lady.
However, any accusation, conviction or punishment meted out to a culprit should be based on evidence of guilt, regardless of gender. In this case, the condemnation of the accused cannot be called a witch hunt because it is based on incriminating evidence of the lady’s involvement in a drug cartel and her admission of it.
On the other hand, we have the current case of a famous film actor who spoke out against the current dispensation in Maharashtra due to the prevalence of widespread drug culture and the connivance of the Maharashtra Police force in its existence. When the State government demolished her newly built office under the pretext of illegal changes being implemented in the building, it was a clearly motivated political vendetta against a solitary woman who had the courage to speak out against corruption.
There has been widespread condemnation of this selective targeting since only one of about 90,000 cases of illegal construction if it was so, was demolished at 24-hours’ notice.
Until we create a level playing field for men and women and overcome gender prejudices, we will disempower one section of the population and handicap their ability to contribute to the progress of our civilization. However, we must view each case with an unprejudiced eye and not allow women to take advantage of the prevailing patriarchy to absolve them of their sins. Also, we must support courageous women who stand against the tide and speak up for the right.