By Mehak Talwar
It is unfortunate that gender inequality remains a pertinent problem in the twenty-first century. For all the claims of modernization and development, there exist wage gaps and inheritance issues, under the stifling umbrella of patriarchy. It is true that combating gender inequality is on the to-do list of many countries, however, I would like to throw light upon gender inequality in India. As an Indian, I feel it is a stark and pressing issue where I live.
Although I am privileged enough to write about the prevalence of gender inequality and crimes against people, not considered ‘male’ enough on my laptop, many do not even have the liberty to express themselves. I do not know whether I am eligible enough to encapsulate the problem and the distress felt by these fellow humans. To look from a vantage point is scary. You have not lived the lives such people have experienced.
Firstly, the prevalence of gender inequality needs to be established statistically. Of course, the prevalence of gender inequality may have decreased, but that does not mean a concurrent decrease in the severity. Girls are still seen as unwelcome in many parts of India. For this reason, ultrasound scans are banned in India. They were used to identify the sex of the child and when it was found, the foetus was aborted. Now, girl children are killed at birth. Sadly, it is in the more prosperous states of India like Maharashtra or Delhi where this problem is serious. For a girl child in India, especially in the rural areas, primary and higher secondary education is a gift. “Based on the recent 2011 census in India, a large portion of the population is illiterate, just under 100 million males and up to 85 million females have finished primary school. More than 42 million males and 26 million females graduated college and studied further” (Statista).
Patriarchy establishes a strict divide in the household, where men are the earners and women the homemakers. Such problems have still persisted in rural and even urban India. In villages, more often than not, girls are not given the opportunity to complete primary education. It is apparently a waste of time. They would be better off in looking after their house and the siblings when their parents are working in the tea-gardens or fields. As they grow up, they are, mostly forcibly married. In 2013-14, “Illegal marriages in India among women below 18 years of age belonging to the lowest wealth index amounted to about 45 percent, while for men below 21 years old within the same wealth index, it was close to 30 percent” (Statista).
India is still a country, where the majority of the workforce is employed in the primary sector (42. 39% in 2019 according to a Statista report). Ironically, it is the women who comprise 74% of this workforce. My house helps are a testament to this fact. While the men drink themselves to a stupor, the women after finishing the household chores, go to the gardens to pluck tea leaves. They receive a meagre salary, which gets snatched away from them due to domestic abuse. The stigma of being ‘husband-less’ is rife.
Although, there has been a significant spike in women employment and education in urban areas, a wife earning more than her husband is frowned upon. It is seen almost as a form of emasculation. Male homemakers are even rare. Even while working, women are rarely freed from the demands of the household. There is, as they say, a ‘double burden’ on the females. They are flitting between the private and the public sphere.
Therefore, the statistics on the amount of energy expended in work by the genders is unreliable. It does not take into account the domestic labour put in by females or males, which makes it pertinent to redefine what ‘work’ constitutes. Patriarchy remains the norm; with authority accorded to the males. This also brings to the fore crimes against women, such as domestic violence and abuse. Moreover, employed and empowered women are constantly seen as a threat to the male ego. The ‘modern Indian woman’ is objectified. Rapes and other heinous acts against women are sometimes justified as ‘manly urges’ or ‘pleasures.’ “Domestic abuse or cruelty by husband and/or relatives was the highest reported crime against women across India in 2018. Assault ranked second that year, with cases filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Violence Act ranking third. Rape, which makes headlines regularly in the country recorded over 33 thousand. This was from a total of over 378 thousand cases of crime reported against women that year” (Statista).
Male and sometimes even female politicians make statements that reek of misogyny and ignorance. Moreover, there is an inadequate representation of females in the parliament. Politics is seen as a man’s domain. Matrimonial advertisements do not help. One can often find prospective brides being described as fair, homely or beautiful. For men, the pay package remains the sole deciding criterion. When such problems entangle with other historically entrenched inequalities like caste, the situation of women is rendered weak.
Wage gaps in the workspace, sexual harassment at work and inheritance problems persist. Many believe that matriarchy exists in Southern and North-Eastern states of India, Sociologically, matriarchy is a theoretical concept. What exists is matriliny, or passing of property in the line of females. However, the control of the property is vested among the men and has resulted in major complications, especially in the Khasi tribes of North-East India. This situation shows the existence of extremes, rather than arriving at a fine balance between male and female authority. Such a compromise is the need of the hour, especially when females are aspiring higher than ever before. As the established compartmentalization between genders breaks down, the roles accordingly need to be remolded according to the demand of the times.
Of course, the violence and inequality among genders need not only be restricted to women. As various sexual and gender identities come to be celebrated, there is an urgent need to recognize their rights. Interestingly, cis-male, homosexuals dominate this scene, while transgenders and other identities are relegated to the background. Patriarchy has its roots everywhere, it seems.
The government of India has tried hard to negotiate the gulf that exists between the genders. The most famous of these schemes is Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. It targets the low child-sex ratio, eliminate female infanticide and foeticide and look after the welfare of the girl child. Apart from such programmes, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana and Balika Samriddhi Yojana provide fiscal support to the girl child and their mothers. Incentives are also provided in education and fast redressal of grievances. In other arenas, there has been a move to reform the welfare of the identities and effect a change in their lives. However, these laws have proved insufficient, with regard to guaranteeing marriage, adoption or opening bank accounts.
If legal aid was the driving factor in bringing change in the society, all these problems would have ceased to exist. Government can initiate change at only so many levels, but the onus lies on the society to accept and effect the changes. Initiative has to be taken by the individuals to take the first step in bringing about a transformation. Non-governmental organizations and welfare drives have helped in some regard. College and school students are coming together to mobilise people and bring awareness about gender inequality.
It is sad, how women are punished for bearing children of a particular sex for no fault of their own. Menstruation and discussing womanly desires and problems remains a taboo. Agender revolution is required, it seems. Awareness needs to be generated, not only at the grassroots but also in the more ‘urbane’ or ‘elite’ levels.
What better instrument for creating this awareness, than mobilising the youth? They are the leaders and changemakers of tomorrow. Now, many of the initiatives to address these problems have been taken by the youth themselves. They have created societies, organizations, start-ups and created a niche in the literary and research domains to contribute their bit to the society. The problem with India, however, is that the plans created are beneficial, but the implementation is poor. A blueprint or a network has to be created, harnessing power at all the levels. A machinery has to be established for the same. It is a humongous task, but it is not impossible.
For that, fresh minds have to roped in together and brainstorming is essential. Individuals have to try to reform themselves at their own level. Awareness starts from home. Societies and panchayats can actually rope in people, who have broken the convention and reached new heights to inspire others. Stigmas against sexual desire and taboos have to be broken. At the same time, the idea of consent and respect for everyone needs to be inculcated.
Sensitisation of the general population regarding the redressal of grievances as well as swift response to violence against the genders has to be initiated. Special effort has to be taken to make the workspace a safe environment for women. At the same time, crimes and obstacles faced by men need to be addressed to; specially areas such as mental illness, where it is seen as non-existent for males, if not stereotyped as hysteria for females.
The achievements of females and other non-binary genders need to be highlighted – be it in the army, workforce or entrepreneurship. This is essential, so that others have the ability to dream and look up to various sources of inspiration. Further, the needs of the mothers need to addressed, especially in the arena of child marriage, fertility and domestic chores. The practice of taking dowry has to stop. For all this, it is not only women and other minority genders who have to step up and voice their opinions. Even the male members of the society have to made aware of the problems and obstacles faced by their counterpart genders.
Male favouritism has to end. Women have to be given access to technology, good quality education and nourishment. The concept of ‘emasculation’ needs to be done away with. Men and women can certainly be co-equal. A mutual respect has to be established. The stigma of divorce or widowhood has to be done away with. Women are not commodities of a use and throw value. They are human beings and are entitled to some basic rights.
All is not bleak, even if achieving harmony between gender identities have a long way to go. According to National Family Health Survey (2015-16), wherein data was collected from 14 states and two union territories of India, there is a decrease in the incidence of spousal violence faced by women who own land. “The highest percentage of women who own land, individually or with another person, is in Manipur, at 69.9%, followed by Bihar at 58.8%” (Shreya Shah).
However, this also takes into account joint ownership of land. The number of women holding bank accounts has also increased. “As many as 358 million Indian women now have a bank account, IndiaSpend reported in August 2016, with more than 75 million added to banking system in 2014 alone.” Menstruation still remains an issue requiring greater awareness. “The lowest percentage of women between the ages of 15 and 24 use safe methods in Bihar (31%), followed by Madhya Pradesh (37.6%) and Tripura (43.5%)” (Shah).
With regard to participation in decision making, “All states except Assam, Haryana and Tamil Nadu saw an increase in the percentage of women who usually participated in household decisions – from an average of 83.1% in 12 states to 87%, over the decade ending 2015-'16” (Shah).
Such statistics are a proof of the fact that dark clouds do have a silver lining. But, a lot of work still remains to be done, in order to establish a harmony between the genders, in general and the sexes in particular. Now, some of my house helps have started to send their daughters to school. They have learned to sign their names, instead of putting fingerprints. Change is in the air. Sadly, such progress is offset by rapes and violence. It is not sufficient to say that all this needs to stop. Instilling empathy and respect for personal boundaries is the need of the hour.
No one is born the same, but everyone is born equal. I believe, the society will certainly be a better place, if this fact is duly recognized. Let the rainbow of human rights and the shade of universal amity envelop us in all their fullness. There is much to be hoped and much to be attained, to achieve not only equity but also justice for all.
Shah, Shreya. “Women’s Status Has Improved in India – but There’s Still a Long Way to Go.” Scroll.In, 16 Sept. 2016, scroll.in/article/816496/womens-status-has-improved-in-india-but-theres-still-a-long-way-to-go#:~:text=More%20women%20have%20bank%20accounts. Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.
Statista. “Topic: Women in India.” Statista.Com, www.statista.com/topics/5220/women-in-india/. Accessed 9 Oct. 2020.
The Better India. “Education to Health: 14 Govt Schemes for Daughters You Need to Know.” The Better India, 10 Oct. 2019, www.thebetterindia.com/199634/india-government-schemes-girl-child-women-eligibility-format-rules/. Accessed 9 Oct. 2020.