Gender Equality will only be reached if we are able to empower women.Michelle Bachelet
The above quote by the Former President of Chile aptly describes how crucial and essential it is to empower and enable the women of our society to achieve the much-debated topic of gender equality.
Gender is not confined to some natural or biological division of the organs but it is a social classification based on one’s identity, presentation of self, behaviour and interaction with others. Sociologists are of the view that Gender can be described as learned behaviour and culturally produced identity.
Gender is a social construct and Gender stereotypes are the reason why there has always been discrimination amongst male and female and they are being subjected to perform certain obligations and behave in a certain way as per the societal structure.
Whenever there is a debate about Gender Justice or Gender Equality, the feminists who have been advocates of women’s rights since time immemorial are of the view that Gender Equality is not about the superiority of female over their male counterparts but it is about equality of sexes. Priyanka Chopra who has been Miss World 2000, received a Padamshree award in 2016, who has hugely contributed to the Indian Cinema and is also making a mark in Hollywood had rightly expressed her opinions about equality of gender in a recent interview. She was of the view that physiologically Men and Women are different and when we talk about equality it’s about Cerebral Opportunity i.e. to say when a man at the age of 50 years, is a CEO of a company, is having 3 children and is considered “driven” and is not asked how do you manage to do all of that, then you shall not in any way question a woman too. She can be a CEO and a Mother.
Implementation of Gender Equality is about the equal representation and participation of female and male in the category of decision making, economy, job opportunities and civil life.
Aeons Ago, Sati Movement was initiated by Raja Ram Mohan Roy who raised his voice against Sati wherein the wife was mercilessly thrown in the funeral pyre of the deceased husband if she didn’t enter it voluntarily. Raja Ram Mohan Roy also supported widow remarriage and was in favour of Women Education. The History of Feminism comprises the narratives of the movements and various ideologies which aimed at providing equal rights to women[i].
A classic example of the ever-evolving feminist movement can be traced from the Indian Cinema which has been as one of the important characteristics of expressing one’s opinions about society and different cultures we live in.
Agnisakshi, a movie which was released in 1996, depicted the unhappiness and despair of a woman in her marital relationship where she is continuously abused by her violent husband be it physical, mental or verbal abuse due to his over-possessive and manic behaviour. The woman was struck in the marital union due to fear for a very long time.
Whereas, if we compare and contrast it with the new age Indian cinema which has off late started advocating woman’s rights and making woman-centric movies recently released the Movie – “Thappad” which is centred around women’s rights. This movie illustrated how a woman has become aware of her rights and how without a certain degree of mutual respect and dignity, a relationship cannot survive. When the Husband slaps his wife in front of 100-200 people, the wife becomes indifferent towards her husband and after much deliberations, the wife decides to give divorce to her husband. When she moves to the lawyer, the lawyer even after being a lady asks her, “So is it just a slap then?” and Tapsee Pannu who is the main protagonist replies, “Haan, Par Nahi Maar Sakta”. The question of the lawyer tells us how normal physical abuse towards a particular gender is and how deep-rooted is the patriarchy that even after it is wrong, no one feels so.
This portrays a simple fact that it is important for people to realise that both men and women have to be on an equal footing in any relationship. Even if the man is earning the bread, the role of the house maker is as important as him. Fear cannot be the foundation of a healthy relationship as shown in the movie “Agnisakshi” and without having regard for each other and mutual dignity, a relationship cannot survive as shown in the Movie “Thappad”.
An example of the rise of equality among sexes can be traced back from a popular TV Show which used to feature on V Channel: ‘Sadda Haq- My life, my rules’ wherein the main protagonist i.e. Sanyukta Agarwal wishes to pursue Mechanical Engineering but is refrained by father to go to the topmost University as he is of the view that girls are not made to pursue their careers. Sanyukta still manages to flee away from her house and takes admission in the topmost engineering college. Even though she is bashed by her male counterparts in choosing the wrong field but she outshines everyone and is able to smash the patriarchy with her exceptional performance.
It is a harsh reality which persists in our society that women have been ill-treated in every society for ages and India is not an exception. The biggest irony lies in the fact that in a country likes India where women are worshipped; she is being looked down as a slave and as an object. She is not only ill-treated and robbed of her dignity, pride and liberty but is also facing atrocities in the four walls of her house[ii]. Draupadi was treated as an object even during the ancient time of Mahabharata and was put on stake in the game of dice.
The recent incident of the “Bois Locker Room” in which the boys were involved in having an inappropriate conversation with other boys, objectifying women and exploiting the privacy of young girls indicates a very disturbing trend and a sick mentality. The latest news is very much shocking and beyond comprehension where a 12-year-old kid asked for sexual favours from a 21-year-old woman. This clearly gives us the idea that there is a long way to go for incorporating Gender Equality amongst the society and it will take a lot of time for the society to develop themselves in a way where the dignity of women is not questioned and she is not treated as a mere object.
The legislature has taken various steps to make women welfare laws with an aim to protect women and give her the much-needed dignity and heft in society and Indian polity. The important legislation in this context is:
- Maternity Benefit Act,1961
- Pensions Act, 1987
- Payment of Wages Act, 1936
- Minimum Wages Act, 1948 etc.
However, legislative initiative is not sufficient and a paradigm shift is needed in the society. So that the societal structure, especially the opposite gender looks towards women as an equal partner and not as weaker section. The women are required to be given a place of their own in society and think as the society of their own and not as a secondary or incidental personality.
The incidence of female foeticide and infanticide and poor education of women also lead the government to initiate a campaign: BetiBachao, BetiPadhao which intended to ensure protection, survival, education and participation of the girl child in the society. The institution of Khaap Panchayat comprises members that are male and females are not even allowed to attend the various discussions that take place. The members often make decisions with regard to issues affecting female. This delineates that the patriarchal attitude is so deeply rooted in the society that women cannot even take decisions which involves them.
On the contrary, because of the rise of the feminist movement and awareness about equal rights, gender equality has been achieved in contemporary society as compared to the past. Accelerating efforts has been made on advancing gender equality and promoting women’s achievement by ensuring all the strategies and programmes so that the gender gaps will be reduced. Government has also started promoting gender equality in many aspects as in education, employment and emphasizing the fair treatment to both genders that is male and female.
Even though we are still a long way in achieving ‘ Gender Equality’ in its true sense but the Constitution of India provides a Foundational basis to the idea of Gender Justice in India[iii].
Article14– Equality before Law i.e. every citizen is equal in the eyes of law and equal protection of laws enables the State to undertake Positive discrimination in order to bring every person on equal footing.
Article15 (1) – Prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. But this does not prevent the state from taking affirmative action.
Article39 – Equal means of Livelihood for Men and Women and equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
The Indian Judicial System has also independently and efficiently intervened on the issue of Women Empowerment.
Air India v. Nargesh Mirza[iv], the Supreme Court has struck down the provision of rules which stipulated termination of service of an Air hostess on her first pregnancy as it is arbitrary to the notions of a civilized society.
Another landmark judgement was given by the apex court in case of Gita Hariharan v. Reserve Bank of India[v], in this case, the court interpreted, Section 6 of Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, and held that mother could act as the Natural Guardian of the minor during the Father’s lifetime if the Father was not in charge of the affairs of Minor.
Conclusion and Suggestions:
In spite of so many enactments dealing with women and various Judgements by the Supreme Court, it can only be considered as a drop in the ocean. Because even after various movies, shows and interviews by feminists where they are advocating about equal rights for both men and women, a lot of people are still ignorant to this because of the strong patriarchal mentality and unfavourable social environment.
A fog cannot be dispelled by a fan and similarly one must start working on themselves and bring a change which they wish to see in others. It is that time that we all start realising how important Gender Equality and Justice is and how this is the need of the Hour.
Following is the Research Postulate and research question forming part of my Research.:
Q1. Whether the Indian laws and legislative initiatives ensure Gender Justice and Gender Equality in Indian Polity or not?
[iv] 1981 AIR 1829
[v]AIR 1999 2 SCC 228