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Gender Gaps And Gender Inequality: Invisibility, Marginalization, And Exclusion of Women

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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.

Understanding Gender Equality

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.

The Gender Gap

“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.

What Limits Women’s Empowerment?

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.

Rape sexual assault violence against women

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

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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