Monday, March 08, 2010

Int'l Women's Day 2010 - Does it really make any sense?

Last year my article was stark - talking about how women's liberation was miles away in India. And it's International Women's Day again - 10 years into the new millenium. Yet again, people are going ga-ga over the whole phenomenon of 'Women's day'. Facebook is full of status updates with people wishing their female friends a happy Women's day. Women themselves saying - 3 cheers to women empowerment and so on. Yes, we've come a long way. From being disenfranchised and restricted to the house, to running Fortune 500 companies, the woman has indeed come a long way. Texts and references nowadays, always refer to a pronoun as 'she' and never 'he'. I am not a ideologue. But I just feel that having one day to rejig our memories that women were once upon a time supressed and so need emancipation and liberation, according to me, speaks volumes about where we stand as regards gender equality. I am not a feminist. The very fact that I need to keep declaring that I am not a feminist, shows the disdain associated with espousing the cause of the woman! And all these factors really don't make me think that women are looked upon with equal respect as men, in today's world.

So, the topic of today in the news is the Women's 33% reservation bill in parliament. The timing honestly seems too coincidental. And as paranoid as I may sound, coincidence is one thing I don't really give too much credence to (Thank you Jason Bourne). So... now, move over minority religious communities, the target is the woman. As if what they have had to endure for so long has not been enough, the reservation in legislature bill is also dragged into the open. When I first heard about the bill, I was stumped, for in school I'd learned that 33% of seats are reserved for women. What I learned now, was that this bill sought to enforce the same across all levels of government. And I guess it is a step in the right direction.

In one of our visits to some parts of rural India for a project, we found that those local self government bodies that had ample representation of women, actually prospered. And there was an anthropological reason to this fact. Simple, the rural men were used to alcoholism, and the women were used to being exploited. Savings would be squandered on alcohol and the woman had to endure. The minute they found a presence in the Panchayat, law enforcement became possible. If the Sarpanch's wife was on the Panchayat as well, the women had a powerful ear to listen to them. Education was being supported, development was coming through. The model has been tested and it works. Then why the disapproval of a formal law?

Why is 'equal opportunity for all genders' still so difficult to enforce? Why is talent not appreciated regardless of gender? If we can look at talent beyond economic status,why is gender still a bias? Why is the 'upper hand' of the man so insecure as to not want to allow the woman to shine through? These Whys have somehow never found an answer. Any woman who sets out to find an answer to these questions is branded a feminist. And a feminist tag carries with it the notion of an inherent bias and inherently biased voices are seldom if every heard!

The situation is poor. The woman has to be subservient even now. Granted family has requirements that are met only by the woman. But I personally feel that that is for the woman to decide. Whether she wants to work and manage a family, whether she wants to be a maid servant or an aaya at a school is for her to decide. Whether she wants to be a corporate honcho or a scientific researcher or a school teacher who can work at her kids' school is for her to decide.

Now this incident is truly ironic. Maid servants are tough to come by in Mumbai city. Especially the good ones. I happened to have a good maid servant who surprisingly showed some ethics towards work. AWOL was not in her vocabulary and that was great news for us! So, one day I got to talking to her, and she said that she had studied till grade 12. I asked her why she didn't go work in an office as a minor clerk or typist or any other role that would justify her literacy. She said in a plaid tone, that her husband did not want her to have a secure job. It's anybody's guess why her husband, a daily wage laborer did not want his comparatively more qualified wife to have a better 'social standing'. But she was happy that she was at least able to come to work and earn a living outside of the house. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, she stopped coming. When she finally came to collect her settlement money, her explanation was - 'My husband did not want me to go and work. He got a job as a contract laborer at a construction site for a whole year. He said that he was competent enough to support me and and that his house did not need a woman's income. So, I stopped coming.'

As long as this is the attitude towards women of all social strata, I guess all we'd do is put up messages on FB and wish each other a shallow happy Women's day. I still look forward to the March 8th, where the post on this blog would be cheerful and optimistic. Amen!

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