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Gender issues



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There is no specific mention to gender issues in IPI manifesto.
Perhaps the International Women's Day could be an occasion to
start focusing  on these issues. I am trying to present some of
my thoughts as questions and answers here to stimulate debate:
Q: Any woman is a member of some household. Why should any focus
be given to a woman as an individual, rather than treating
family as a unit and attempting to increase family income? In
other words, if all office-going women (except lady doctors,
nurses and the like) are asked to stay at home and if their jobs
are given to unemployed men, wouldn't that be better for the
whole economy as it would reduce unemployment problem?
A: This sounds like a typical 'Taliban' type of an argument.
This presupposes a number of questionable beliefs: 1. that
certain stereotyped roles are reserved for women and certain
others reserved for men, without any botheration to analyse
whether the person has aptitude, ability and perseverance to
take up the job and without examining whether such division of
roles, of confining 50 % of humanity to the kitchen,  is just
and fair. 2. that there is justice and fairly within the family
in the sense that once the family gets the income, everybody in
the household automatically gets a fair share of their desires
fulfilled . 3. that a woman going to office is only 'bringing'
salary but is not seen to be 'doing productive work'. 4. that
only such work is considered valuable, which results in earning
money from the market, completely ignoring the value of services
rendered which are taken for granted. Works like caring for the
children, cooking, bringing water, taking care of the household
are all considered 'free' while only going out for getting some
money is considered a 'job'. Even without entering into the
basis for such beliefs, the question can be answered simply like
this: "No, it wouldn't be making better sense economically, as
most women have got into jobs because of their merit, despite
strong bias against them and to reserve jobs for only men would
mean putting less competent men in places where a more competent
woman is working right now.   Such measure may redistribute some
small percentage of jobs across different families and give an
apparent impression of reducing unemployment  but it will not
lead to overall efficiency in the economy. In addition to this,
such step would be at great social cost and will take the
country many centuries backwards, by its repercussions on
important social indicators including education "
Q: What is this bias one is talking about? In these days when
women have entered all fields including the ones which were
traditionally male bastions, where is the scope for bias?
A: Gender bias exists and prevails in almost all walks of life.
For example, one can see how many active participants in IPI
debates are women or how many bytes are being devoted for gender
issues. The bias starts even before the child is born, as the
basis for the recent decision to ban pre birth sex determination
tests shows. Then bias operates when the child is born. In a
typical traditional family, the birth of a boy is celebrated
while the birth of a girl is accepted with the hope that 'the
next one would be a boy'. Then bias operates with sending the
child to school. If a brother and sister are going to school and
even if the sister happens to be more intelligent or more
hardworking, chances of her higher education are curtailed. Bias
operates with the kind of toys and kind of games the children
are encouraged to play, "e.g. boys can climb walls and trees,
but girls are not supposed to" , the kind of dress children are
supposed to wear, with girls being encouraged to wear bangles,
ear-rings and so on, which would announce their arrival for
eventual development of women as sex symbols, while boys have no
restrictions and are permitted to do anything that pleases them.
Bias operates in choice of career. Bias operates in marriage, in
addition to the  obvious concepts like dowry,  as can be seen
from demands on part of the bride to forget her parental home
and merge with the marital household, with no such restrictions
being expected on part of the groom. Bias operates in obvious
crimes against women like sexual harassment, rape and reducing a
woman to a commercial object for consumer advertisements.  But
even outside such overt incidents, there are issues like
domestic violence, inability of the woman to have a say in
running her own household and so on. Then there is bias in
inheritance laws and control over property.
Q: After all, God has made man and woman as different. Why
should there be equality?
A: One is not arguing here against biological differences,
though research in biotechnology may bring some revolutionary
changes there too. But, one is questioning need to perpetuate
many differences which are created by the society. Everybody
should have the basic liberty to do what he or she wants to do,
without any conditioning by society. That is the only point
being made here.
Q: Is it worth fighting for women's rights and creating  more
divisions in the society rather than men and women working
together for development of India?
A: Nobody is asking women to fight men. What we are discussing
is how the whole society can be more sensitive and  provide
conditions for people to work in a humane manner, so that men
and women get equal chances to pursue whatever fields  each
person wants to, without any undue social conditioning about
stereotype roles.
Q: Isn't this talk about gender bias basically that of an urban,
upper middle class, office-going, high caste woman? What about
the rights of rural, low income women?
A: It may be true that urban middle class women may have given
greater expression to their voices in terms of newspaper
articles or magazine coverage. But, the issue is equally
relevant to women in poor households. In fact, lot of social
mobilization in India in recent years has taken place among
rural women, be it the role of women in self-help-groups, or
anti-liquor campaigns or literacy movements.
Q: All this talk sounds reflecting western values. Can we not
focus on our indian culture and values of motherhood so that
women take care of their children properly and produce better
citizens for tomorrow? Of what good is this  trend of rising
rates of divorces and broken homes?
A: Whatever does not stand to scrutiny on basis of  basic
universal principles like human rights should be rejected. If
people of every culture start thinking of going back to what
they perceive as ideal, we will  have the Taliban groups of
different religions  indulging in bizarre  vandalism. But nobody
is asking here that women need not take care of their families.
All that one is talking about it is that there is a need for men
also to help taking care of their children, and take part in
producing better citizens, rather than leaving such
'uninteresting' work to women. Nobody is arguing that happy
couples should divorce. Nobody is advocating to ape the west in
every aspect. All that is being  said is that woman has an equal
right in determining her future, both domestic as outside. There
should be support systems for single women and women-headed
families so that a woman is not condemned to stayon  in an
unhappy marriage only for the sake of values imposed by society,
sacrificing her own interests, aptitude and desires.



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