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Very few Indian men will give up their privileges, or stand by women demanding their rights. Her Right to Equality edited by Nisha Agrawal from the Rethinking India Series addresses these issues.
Her right to equality given by our Constitution – MY right to Equality – will it ever become a reality?
Household, workplace, politics – inequality exists in every sphere for the women of this country. Even when the Constitution has provisioned gender equality as our right, the irony is that generations of women have fought and are still fighting for it.
It isn’t that seeing the advantages of an equal society is difficult, but then this imbalance feeds social norms and patriarchy, so why would the men let go of their privileges so easily?
While reading the book Her Right to Equality – From Promise to Power, I was reminded of a recent incident.
I was talking to an old colleague, also a batchmate who had joined the corporate space many years back with me. He was cribbing about the provisions SEBI had made to boost senior women’s leadership at organizations. It seemed the guy’s promotion couldn’t happen and he attributed the guidelines for this.
I tried to enlighten him, “We need more of us out there – at workplaces, at board rooms and in politics. See, the women’s reservation bill and the 25 years it has been waiting to see the light of the day.”
“Well, that would never pass, I can tell you”, he casually remarked.
I was shocked and furious.
He continued, “See, for example, am an educated upper-class Hindu male, someone who enjoys maximum privileges in this country today, why would I leave my privilege so easily?”
“Do you induct women into your team?” I asked.
“I have one as of now; we aren’t averse to recruiting women if we get the right candidate. But you know, feminists like you unnecessarily make hue and cry these days.” There was a sense of ridicule in his voice.
“One thing which Indian constitution has provisioned for all citizens of the country is equality, then why this argument? Don’t you see every woman and girl needs this? We owe this to our daughters”
I think this was enough for this father to two boys to hang up the phone, “Then keep fighting for it” He smirked.
Did this resonate? Does it remind you of something you too may have experienced? It isn’t uncommon, right? As women, we have faced and experienced it since our childhood in some form or the other. While the fight for gender equality has been a common one across countries, yet even today post 72 years we are at 140th rank as a country out of 158 countries When we should be strengthening rainbow rights, we are stuck in the fight for equal rights between men and women? Sadly, years of deep-rooted and regressive patriarchy and social norms have ensured that the constitution’s vision of gender equality doesn’t actualize.
Edited by Nisha Agarwal, the book brings out the various facets of this discrimination and inequality as an insightful and essential read of 10 essays. It seamlessly braids the power of data and research with the compelling and thought-provoking perspectives of the writers. The piercing essays compellingly detail how women have been excluded in social, political and economic arenas.
Even though certain progress has been made in Education and Health, the wheel is stuck in the pothole of sticky issues. These issues, as Nisha writes in the overview of the book, include areas like gender gaps in earnings, male-female differences in responsibility for house and care work, and more importantly the constraints to women’s agency in both private and public spheres.
While setting the context deftly, Nisha identifies that it is the lack of voice and agency (both individual and collective) which unfortunately even education and economic independence haven’t been able to guarantee for the women of this country.
Usha, my part-timer, fails to utter a word in front of her husband and in-laws when it comes to taking a call that she doesn’t want more children (she is a mother to two daughters and a son). The husband won’t use any contraceptive and wouldn’t allow her to use one. In which case, poor Usha has to depend upon abortion as a proxy to contraception. It’s her body but alas, she has no reproductive right.
Mrinalini, an MNC professional has to answer every absurd question her husband has about the hisaab kitaab of each penny that she gets as her salary. If she fails to share a convincing answer, she is abused physically and emotionally.
The situation of women in rural setup even in the richest states of the country is dismal. Which makes me question, what purpose does marriage as an institution serve in our country? It feels like it is the biggest dampener of dreams for a majority of women and girls in our country.
“As per NFHS-4 data, 52 per cent women and 42 per cent men justified husbands beating wives. They felt that wife-beating was justified when the wife disrespected her in-laws or neglected the house or children or if the wife went out without telling her husband or refused sexual intercourse.” Do these numbers shock you? They did initially to me but then look around- you will see ample women support the data.
The biases and conditioning which start with aborting not sure how many daughters to have raja beta, to upholding all the non-sense of this prince of the family to choosing his life partner for him and then controlling his life through the invisible strings – everything feeds to a male’s false sense of supremacy here.
Let’s say it loud and clear. Very few men in this country are raised with a spine to stand against patriarchy and thus advocate equal rights for the women around them. The majority spend their lives basking in the glory of their privileges and exploiting women in whichever way is possible in their context.
As the essay Quality Childcare Provision – a solution to reduce the unpaid care burden on women” by Sumitra Mishra and Shubhika Sachdeva shares, “The labour force participation of women in India fell from 34.1 per cent in 1999-2000 to 23.3 per cent in 20217-18, amongst the lowest in the world. And the pandemic has exploded this”
Women spend 10 times more time on average in unpaid care work in our country impacting their right to participation in economic activities. Remember the movie The Great Indian Kitchen which though was a story about a Malayali setup but essentially spoke for the majority urban and rural households. And this happens because gender has been socially constructed in our society. Our society has assigned roles and tasks to given sex and cultural and social norms keep validating that behaviour. But where does one seek the light?
The Gender Gap report 2021 identified that the gap was the widest in the political space. Something which I truly believe has a huge potential for turning around the situation. The three essays on the political representation of women by Kanimozhi, Sushmita Dev and Tara Krishnaswamy make a strong case for increased political representation for women in the country. We need more of us out there disrupting the male bastion with a lens of ensuring gender equality by formulating policies based on our lived experiences.
The book is a must-read for anyone and everyone who feels strongly for the cause of gender equality and wants to understand the history and the present context. It offers hope which comes through the breakthrough plan and ideas shared by the writers, which hold the potential of disrupting this injustice of years.
We have fought and waited for years, there is no time for slow measures. Hard times call for drastic measures because only that can shatter the patriarchal norms which have chained us for long.
An equal world is our right, we deserve it. Let’s change this utopia into a reality!
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Image source: A still from the film Gulaab Gang, and book cover Amazon
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