Friday, 01 May 2015 08:06

The Unequal Woman

The role of women across the world is without a doubt unequal when compared with the opposite sex. In some parts of India, the tilt against women is probably far greater than many parts of the world. What follows in this write-up is a long note I made soon after the Nirbhaya rape in December 2013. This ghastly incident continues to live in our minds particularly since the Courts have reportedly not even heard the case in a year and now a film - India’s Daughter - related to this case has been banned.

When I started writing this note, I was staring at the matrimonial advertisement pages of a leading English newspaper. If you would read them, you would wonder why such advertisements were ever printed. You would see in stark written words what a woman is to marriage for many Indian families. A large number of classified advertisements describe women almost as products that are available off the shelf at some retail outlet. They are beautiful, pure, fair and devoted, many ads would say. Such descriptions are not uncommon for women that make this gender less a woman and a human being and more a commodity or a product that was to be consumed by a man, his family and a marriage.

It is rare to find such 'qualifications' or descriptive attributed to the man as a reason for marriage or what makes him sellable! After all, the woman has sold herself to the idea of the man's family and the man and his family does the buying. The man as the consumer, therefore, dictates the terms clearly indicating where the power is.

The feudal and patriarchal society large parts of Indian is driven by and men thrive of, ensures that even mothers let their daughters slip into an oblivion where many are left either producing kids for a legacy of a surname and looking after every whim of 'her' man and 'his' family with little space for herself. What many such women get is a paltry sum of money to do 'their job' which effectively means, running the home!

And think of it, these women rarely get a chance to leave that workplace until the man allows it!

This leaves the woman being neither a mother nor a wife in the true sense. And the man, who can be ugly as hell, only has to deliver money (something that women can do) and usually has limited accountability.

The argument here is not against classified advertisements or the roles that two people wish to play in a marriage, it is about the 'form' and role expected of a women that has little or nothing to do with her soulfulness or her attributes that go beyond form. The problem with such descriptions for a woman is that it is encouraged by families. And families represent communities and influences how society behaves!

It is not that rape is unique to India. A United Nations' report a few years ago showed that more than 250,000 cases of rape or attempted rape were recorded by police annually over 65 countries. In 2007, according to web sources, 40% of some 90,000 'forcible rapes' reported were cleared due to lack of evidence that is often referred to as 'exceptional means.' This is usually when the victim was unable to or refused to provide sufficient assistance in the investigation. According to more recent data, one in three women reportedly are sexually abused in the UK.

Given that most rape cases involve people known to victims, as per global research, it is always a huge task to provide a strong enough case.
 
Additionally, like in some countries and certainly in India, recording sexual assaults is not the norm given the social stigma attached to sexual crimes and that women are expected to be virgins before marriage. Even in the US, the medical association claims that rape is the most under-reported violent crime.

Since, history shows us that no law in the world can guarantee sufficient protection to a woman given the process of evidence the focus has to be on society and how it plays a role to reduce such crimes. In India, this matter gets more amplified since the cause for rape is not merely about power but also about society. A Trust Law study in 2012, reportedly, suggested that amongst the group of 20 of the biggest economies, India is the worst country to be a woman. In short, as John Lennon once said (in the mid 70s), ‘Woman is the nigger of the world', it is true today in India.

What goes missing is that the first instance of abuse against women starts with the number of girl child deaths. Some of the states in the north, reportedly are most guilty of such deaths.

Still, if a girl survives, she has an uphill task and experiences deprivation of many kinds - limited education, no space to play, marriage at the will of others, and now in modern day homes, an unrealistic work-life balance that forces her to run home and yet perform at her workplace.

If the girl makes it to the bus stop or her school and college, she is eveteased - an act that is not seen as sexual harassment. The women is then  continuously reduced to mere 'things' that make products look glamourous, adds beauty to your home, makes an 'item' out of a song and mostly get 'low skilled' jobs.

Do they often get credit for what they do? Rarely! As many men would say, bringing up children is natural to a woman and a mother. Keeping a home clean and running the kitchen are natural to them and is not such a significant job as domestic help can replace them. In so far as producing kids is concerned, it is nature's bounty, not a unique factor.

Yet, after all she does to take care of more than half a life of a man and the family she marries into, she maybe abused at that home, acid thrown at her, beaten and bruised, left with almost no shelter to herself.

And the moment, women step out of these clichés or spaces they are normally restricted to, they are seen challenging the system if not accused of giving up their duties as a woman even if they are performing them with amazing balance between the commercial world and the one at home. The man, obviously, rarely faces this question.

So where does the change begin?

At home is the simple answer. And with it, at every stage and path that a woman walks through - retail stores and other public places, workplace, government, political spectrum, and so on.

This change needs to be reflected within other strong influences on society such as media, advertising and cinema where women are often teased or turned into objects of attraction and desire, lust and not always artistic, beauty and intelligence.

(The author is associated with the human rights Facebook community - I Am Who I Am - and central to the concept band, Friends of Linger)

Read 1 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 September 2018 08:56

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