An occasion to exchange the ritual of text greetings and social site postings and a ritual that has a life less than 24 hours is how the International Women’s Day is seen widely today. Diffusing IWD to a single day’s purple ribbon event that glorifies women and her infinite potential is deplorable.
Undeniably there are gains for the many struggles and efforts around “gender justice”, but they are modest. It indeed is a shame that the world is still struggling to treat this gender evenly despite it constituting half the population. While there are positive figures of achievement for many “drivers” of gender justice, geographical concentration of positive gains are primarily in the developed countries. Gender justice in developing countries is still a dream far-fetched.
As we stand on the 21st century expressway, it is important to discuss the need for higher order achievements for women such as having more women in leadership roles, financial independence of women, having more women involved in science, arts and politics and enhancing the number of business owned by women. However, the fundamental issues of injustice still need essential focus.
Safety figures next to physiological need in popular social science theories. For women, the unsafeness begins and she becomes the object of incursion the moment the gender of the foetus inside the womb is identified. Female foeticide and infanticide is still an active peril in India. If we could trust the phenomenon of balance of Nature and Fisher’s sex ratio principle of 1:1 which exist for all species, the ratio of men and women should be somewhere similar. The global ratio, if we examine, is more women-inclined and there are established reasons for this observation such as losing male members in wars. In India, Kerala shows a women favoured gender ratio, which according to some empirical research done in early 1990s is 1,036 females for every 1,000 males. This further got enhanced to 1,084 females for every 1,000 males in Census 2011. Most of the other states showed upsetting reverse gender ratio, the lowest being Punjab (793 females for every 1,000 males according to the 1991 studies). This was bettered in the 2011 Census, pushing the ratio up with 895 females for every 1,000 males. Though there is strict law against gender disclosure of foetus, tens of thousands of abortions based on the gender of foetuses are done illegally in this country that results in the skewed finding. Stricter implementation of law and review (such as considering “right to live” applying for foetus) from time to time and also penetration of awareness (larger and quicker) among people and focus on women’s education beyond literacy would make considerable progress.
Woman’s safety is challenged even under her own roof. Child molestation (where female children are mostly the victims) is regularly occurring where the prime accusers’ are kith and kin in many cases. The statistics on dowry deaths, irrespective of stringent laws, shows steep upturn. According to some reports released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,233 dowry deaths took place in India in 2012 while this was 7,618 in 2006 and 6,851 in 2001. A similarly heinous act of violence observed is vitriolage, which is about attacking women by throwing acids or other harmful chemicals with an intention to tarnish her, physically and emotionally.
Recently, India has witnessed a series of incidents of violence against women. The barbaric “Nirbhaya” incident in the capital city, violence against a couple of BPO employees working in the night shift in Bangalore and Noida and the incident involving a Mumbai journalist narrates in detail the nasty aggression against women and the fact that women’s safety is challenged everywhere. We also have heard recently about a couple of high-profile “while in work” molestation cases that invited national-level debates. All the women were well or moderately educated and it reiterates that social, family and financial background has no bearing to such attacks.
The situations worldwide aren’t very different except that the nature of such aggressions may vary such as the marriages of young girls in Yemen. It’s a complete shame that in countries such as Yemen child marriages are still prevalent. The world first understood the depth of the issue when the story of Nujood, a 10-year-old girl who wanted a divorce, came out in public. Through her, the world listened to the terror stories many little girls undergo in the name of marriage. In this partnership where body and mind are involved, consent of both parties is inevitable and that is what would ensure gender justice in this context. In the playful age of nine or 10, it is a voiceless body that is led to marriage which is supposed to be a lifetime contract! The fact that the bodies of these little girls are used with zero consent for sexual enjoyment and for reproductive purposes make show where we stand in terms of gender justice and how an act of rape is justified in the name of marriage.
The prevalence of kidnapping women to get married in a few countries such as Kyrgyzstan might appear strange to the modern world. The woman is forcefully grabbed by a group of people to facilitate marriage of their comrade who single-handedly decides on it. In the process, women undergo an unfathomable measure of emotional torment along with physical hurt. It’s a shocker for any woman when she is grabbed unawares by a few and then taken completely by force to their destination of choice to perform a marriage. While the boy’s family and friends conspire, the woman’s choice, opinion or consent has no space for consideration. The conclusion is that “she will eventually accept it” and the act is justified in the name of culture. There is no legal sanctity for this kind of marriage since the early 1990s in this country. However, statistics says that as much as 40% ethnic women of this country still get kidnapped for marriages.
Many incidents cited above, where justice is completely challenged and denied, come in the backdrop of patriarchy, which is about overpowering the physically weaker female gender and their treatment as a commodity or possession. A society progresses when people learn to treat one another equally, irrespective of caste, colour, gender. Making and enforcing law is important, but law primarily does a controlling act superficially. For deeper results that involve change in our value system we need larger efforts. A healthy society is the one that identifies “equality” as a value and thus celebrates true humanity and democracy. Here, “equality for women means progress for all”, the UN theme for International Women’s Day 2014, is very relevant.
Bindu S Nair is a People Strategy & Gender Diversity Consultant and Post-Doctoral Research
Fellow at ICSSR.