Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. However, gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. Inequalities faced by girls can begin right at birth and follow them all their lives. As girls move into adolescence, gender disparities widen. Marrying young also affects girls’ education. Disadvantages in education translate into a lack of access to skills and limited opportunities in the labor market. Women’s and girls’ empowerment is essential to expand economic growth and promote social development.
Advancing gender equality is critical to all areas of a healthy society, from reducing poverty to promoting the health, education, protection, and well-being of society. Equality is a human right and ensures that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents which will lead to social and economic progress. It is believed that no one deserves discriminatory life on the basis of beliefs, gender, birthplace, and disability.
Gender equality historically recognizes certain groups of people with protected characteristics such as race, disability, sex, and sexual orientation have experienced discrimination. Gender sensitization can be viewed as an instrument for social change and to concretize men and women towards a better understanding of the multidimensional roles played by women.
It is viewed as a critical instrument to improve our knowledge about a society which at present remains partial, biased, projecting only a view of social reality derived from a male perspective. Understanding the causes of gender disparities will help us in highlighting women’s contribution to the social process and facilitates social action. An understanding of the roots of inequality that lead to invisibility, marginalization, and exclusion of women will go a long way in the creation of a gender-just society.
“According to Gender Gap Report 2020, India ranks 112th on the overall Global Gender Gap Index among the 153 countries studied.” quoted Prof Pande in a webinar jointly organized by Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi along with Delhi Post News and Gendev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram on Gender Gaps and Gender Equality: Why it Matters?
The economic gender gap runs particularly deep in India. Since 2006, the gap has gotten significantly wider. Only one-quarter of women, compared with 82% of men, engage actively in the labor market (i.e. working or looking for work)—one of the lowest participation rates in the world (145th). Furthermore, female estimated earned income is a mere one-fifth of male income, which is also among the world’s lowest (144th).
Prof Pande highlighted the declining sex ratio, the preference for a male child in our society, violence against women, sexual harassment at the workplace, trafficking off women and women in polity, health, education, and economy. She opined that in the Asian context, masculinity is defined at the women’s expense. A man’s honor rests in women, thus they are worst hit in caste wars and communal clashes.
Sometimes sexual violence is also due to inebriation. In many societies, women do not possess any property right. The whole socialization process of how a girl child is reared teaches inequality. Both upper-caste dominance and capitalism are aggravating violence against woman. Women have a genetic biological advantage that resists infection and malnutrition. In developed countries, women have an average of seven more years of life expectancy. In South Asia, it is only one year more than men, which is the lowest in any region of the world.
She believes women’s empowerment is limited by gender violence and inequality. Violence models a way to solve problems teaches inequality between men and women and perpetuates costly gender discrimination. It exacerbates poverty, impedes the equitable distribution of resources and control over them. Food production processing, nutrition, health, child development, protection of the environment, income generation, and the growth of the economy all suffer when support to women is not in line with their key roles and specialized knowledge in these areas.
Violence against women results in high direct costs for both the health and legal system since it also affects health, nutrition, education, psychological wellbeing, and enjoyment of the rights of their children. It limits women’s decision-making about reproduction, health outcomes with many negative effects. The development assistance often features strengthening the democratic process and institutions as the goal but supporting hierarchal and exploitative processes not addressing gender violence undermines democratic participation and outcome.
Men have been both supportive and antagonistic to the feminist movement. However, feminists too have at times taken a hardline, separatist stance, seeing the challenge of achieving gender equality as resting exclusively with women, ignoring the issue of men and their socialization within the patriarchal system.
However, one must realize that solidarity and an understanding of intersectionality are essential to achieving our shared objectives. Men must begin by acknowledging the privileges they have been born into as a result of the patriarchy. Men often play a crucial role as “gatekeepers” of the current gender order through their responsibilities as decision-makers and leaders within their families and communities. It is necessary for men to stand with women and girls in their daily struggles for the eradication of patriarchal, sexist, and misogynist constructs so they may have access to equal freedom, equal respect, and equal power. Intersectionality has become fundamental within the social justice movement to work towards a shared vision of progress.
Prof Pande further discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and how this has increased the domestic workload of women, increased their care work, and also created a “Shadow Pandemic” across the world where many countries reported cases of increased domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
The lockdown provides the perfect opportunity for the abuser to practice dictate and control all actions and movements of women. The increased violence is not just a result of the frustration due to physical confinement but also a global slowdown, massive economic dislocation, closed businesses, the specter of looming unemployment, often accompanied by the threat of hunger and poverty for what seems to be an indefinite future. While both men and women are affected by the economic downturn, there is evidence from the past that violence against women increases during episodes of high unemployment.
The talk concluded by stating that what society needs today is resocialization to the changing context. There needs to be an understanding with empathy of the gender roles division and sharing perceptions and attitudes. The definition of expected behavior from male and female need to be changed. All institutions – family, society, educational institutions, state, market, media, religion, caste, culture, literature, and other socialization institutions should work together to bring change in the social constructions of masculinity and male identity. Gender equality can become a reality if we change the values of our society and we need to begin with the individual.
Each individual must make a pledge about his or her own immediate action in private as well as public life if age-old practices and values are to be changed. We need to learn to measure one’s masculinity in terms of equality. One can start at home by teaching one’s son to fight against inequality and to teach the daughter to break the silence.
By Rekha Pande, Society for Empowerment through Environment Development (SEED)
Originally Published In Impact And Policy Research Institute