Where is the empowerment of women headed? | Deccan Herald

We live in an unjust world where gender equality is as distant as the stars in the sky. However, a few recent developments seem to bode well in an otherwise dead end scenario.

The National Conference of Women Legislators was held recently in Thiruvananthapuram in conjunction with Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. It is rather surprising that such a conclave of women legislators has been held in the country for the first time in 75 years. Isn’t this indicative of the utter neglect of our oft-repeated goal of women’s participation in governance issues?

President Sri Ram Nath Kovind hailed the role of women in our freedom movement, in the drafting of the Constitution and the remarkable contribution of women in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. He highlighted how health care workers in Kerala have set an example of selfless service to the entire nation. He recalled that the Constituent Assembly had 15 women among them, three of them from Kerala. India’s first female Supreme Court Justice, Ms. Fatima Beevi, was also from Kerala. He made these references to the high achievers of Kerala, obviously because this very first conference was held in Kerala.

Fewer than 200 women attended the Conference. This is not surprising as there are only 418 women legislators in the whole country. Out of 4,896 legislators, only 418 are women, a meager 9% (source: ECI data). What does this show?

The 33 percent reservation for women in parliament and the assembly is still being talked about ad nauseam, with no serious intention of putting it into action. Indeed, a sad state of affairs!

Good news has also arrived lately. Geetanjali Shree has won the International Booker Prize for his Hindi novel ‘Tomb of Sand’, a first for an Indian language book. The top three ranks of the UPSC civil service exam went to women. Indian-American economist Gita Gopinath has become the first female chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Of course, we have had women in positions of Prime Minister, President, Chief Ministers and even Supreme Court justices. Despite all this evidence of women’s capabilities, we are still hesitant to offer them a fair chance at leadership and governance.

Social change is only possible when women massively enter the political arena. Political power is necessary to change the world and women must be represented fairly and adequately.

Hillary Clinton said it unequivocally: “Women are the greatest untapped pool of talent in the world. So true! There is a disparity even in the wages of men and women for the same type of work, globally. For every dollar earned by a man, a woman earns an average of 54 cents. At the current rate of progress, it will take 202 years to close this gap, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). A significant part of domestic work is distributed disproportionately. Overall, women spend three times as much time as men on unpaid work associated with household chores (WEF).

Even admitting that women have some inherent disadvantages compared to certain jobs requiring muscle strength, they make up for it considerably in professions like nursing and teaching with their high emotional quotient.

Our patriarchal mindset simply refuses to accept women’s equality. Tradition has created stereotypes for both genders, and religion has further deepened the same. Those who adhere to tradition and religious orthodoxy blindly believe and profess that women are the weaker sex. They will never allow women to become gurus, swamis, priests or mulvis as they are today.

What is needed is a change of heart. Men must understand that women have the same mental strength, the same intellectual faculties, the same manual skills, etc. than them. Nature has endowed both men and women with several complementary faculties to live together. One is incomplete without the other. They are interdependent and inseparable.

Women are indeed the crown of creation. They are the beauty of the world. Without them, this world would be dark and barren. There have been 58 female Nobel laureates so far. No small feat! There would have been many more if the world had been fairer.

We live in a world where novelist George Eliot has had to publish under a male pseudonym to camouflage his identity as Mary Anne Evans. She was afraid of being rejected otherwise. She is the author of several novels including Adam Bede, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss. Who knows how many gifted women have hidden behind the damaging cover of machismo!

Women’s empowerment must not remain an empty slogan, but become a viable reality. Men need to get rid of their ego and accept the fact that women have the same abilities as them, but have long been subjugated by male dominance and an unjust hegemonic social order.

It’s time for them to break free and assert their true worth and genius. When this happens, the world will change dramatically for the better, ushering in a truly progressive, egalitarian and modern society.

(The author is director, Little Rock, Brahmavar, Udupi)

Mara R. Wilmoth