According to UN Women (United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality), women do two-thirds of the world's work, earn one-tenth of the wages and own one-hundredth of world property. Two-thirds of the world's poor are women, so are around 80% refugees.
The number of women in politico-economic decision-making areas, like parliament, is estimated to be a paltry 10%. So much for empowerment! Now to violence- one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner according to UN Women (some national studies show that figure is 70%). In 2012, a study conducted in New Delhi found that 92% of women reported having experienced sexual violence in public space in their life time. This is just the tip of the gender discrimination iceberg considering the appalling sex ratios. What is peculiar is the economic angle to the sex ratios. Regions with better per capita income(and low fertility rate), have worse sex ratios (Punjab & Haryana have worst sex ratios among Indian states despite better economic avenues).
A thinking mind cannot help but try to analyse the basic reason for this deplorable condition. It is perceived that the condition can be traced to the importance of the physical might in ancient times which was symbolic of power and even revered. Cut to present: the attitude of society towards women is dichotomous and even bizarre with objectification that includes two approaches – be it calling a woman "a piece of hotness"or being in "possession" of a polygamous husband from whom you have to seek permission to do anything/everything. The basic idea that a woman is no good or at least inferior than men, that she cannot take good decisions or be successful or even be good at anything she does, summarises the attitude of our society towards half of its population. This patriarchal bent of mind even extends to viewing a woman as a bad future investment. A saying which means, "Rearing a girl child is like watering a plant in someone else's backyard" says it all. Even our attitude towards violence (domestic, workplace or as brutal as rape) boils down to victim bashing. There seems to be an intrinsic distrust of women and what is tragic is how patriarchy brainwashes even women themselves to think that they are less of humans; that their dignity is tied to being someone's daughter, wife, mother etc; that they cannot claim their right to be treated with respect by virtue of being a human with an intrinsic value.
Women have to suffer from discrimination at various levels. Working women have to juggle between home and job while the disdain met to a regular homemaker who does not take an outside job is reflected in the neglect of her health in some cases and the presumption that she does no "productive" work in many cases. The toll taken on the mental and physical health of some women on account of psychological and emotional abuse by her in-laws and even husband is heart wrenching to say the least. For women there is no glass ceiling, there is a labyrinthine way up. She has to work twice as hard and constantly prove herself. The challenges faced are myriad and there is no easy way out.
A well educated friend replied to my query of whether she had ever been molested as: "Yes…(pause) Have you ever been?… Was it recent?". This is chilling when you come to reflect on it because of why she said what she did. The sheer frequency and almost helplessness of women molested especially in public transport is an open secret. The taboo and the cynicism is such that of all women I have ever talked to about this, everyone reveals to have been molested but none ever filed a complaint!
Harassment takes other forms too. Recently I and my (female) friend were driving when suddenly a bunch of people stopped us on Fore-shore road, shouted at us for not "driving properly". When I tried to reason with these men in their 50s and 60s, they shouted some more even asking us to get off the car, one speaking in muddled English. Literacy, often confused with education, doesn't always correlate with emancipation, I thought. It is difficult, to pin-point why a man, whom we did no wrong to, would yell at us. May be it gave him a sense of sadistic pleasure to yell at a woman who "obviously didn't know how to drive, because she is a woman (silly!)". That is the kind of mindset I am talking about.
The constitutional framework (Article 14,15,16,23,42,46, 243) and legal framework including the post Nirbaya legislations highlight that there are some mechanisms in place. On the international front, World Women Conferences have focussed from issues of violence and discrimination (Mexico) to participation and empowerment (Copenhagen) to control over poverty (Nairobi) to almost all issues being encompassed in the Beijing conference. Despite these top-down approaches, not much is seen on the ground. The need of the hour is to sensitize society and uphold a sense of dignity of women, to see them beyond a wife, a daughter, a sister etc. Women need to perceive their self worth and stand up for themselves and fellow women. In this regard, the role of men needs to be encouraged and appreciated. Role of religion can never be over emphasized. Islam teaches to be kind to women. This kindness needs to be reflected in practice by proper treatment of this half of humanity. Similarly, many Hindu deities are women. Lessons can be drawn by actually respecting there sacrificing women on earth and then revering them. Involvement of statesmen, teachers, policy makers, and opinion makers in change of societal outlook is necessary. Mainstreaming of gender perspective; involvement of civil society; equal access to health care, education, vocational training is imperative (as it gives a sense of self worth to women); de jure and de facto enjoyment of fundamental rights by women; positive socio-economic policies; and elimination of all forms of discrimination against women by legal and other measures are some steps to be taken in this direction.
Women deserve better from our society. "Gender equality does not lie in walking shoulder to shoulder, but in walking hand in hand.", says my friend. We don't want a situation of "no country for women", because to move the chariots of our society forward, both men and women have to be strong and move ahead jointly.