Gender Equality

Batting for gender equality: Can we normalise it via social dialogue?

In the era of social media, a growing discourse around gender equality is enabling and empowering women and LGBTQ individuals to speak up against discrimination and send out the signal that their rights need to be taken seriously.
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We often hear the question ‘how to make the world a better place?’ While there are many pieces to this puzzle—poverty, education, climate change—establishing gender equality is one key aspect to achieving peace and harmony in the world. Gender equality, which takes the fifth spot in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, ensures that all human beings, irrespective of gender, have equal rights.

Why should one gender receive more privileges while the others have to constantly fight to make their voices heard? This inequality of the sexes is not only unfair but it holds no value in our current social fabric. There is no rationale behind discrimination against human beings on the basis of their gender orientation—be it women or people from the LGBTQ community. While Nordic countries such as Sweden and Iceland have triumphed in their pursuit of establishing gender equality for both women and LGBTQ individuals, we are still far behind attaining similar results on a global scale.

In India, women’s inequality continues to be a thorn in the country’s progress both socially and economically. According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, women’s contribution to India’s GDP is a mere 18 percent, which is one of the lowest in the world. The report further states that India has the potential to achieve $770 billion of added GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.

Earlier this year, India slipped 28 places in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, ranked 140th among 156 countries. According to the report, “India is the third-worst performer in the region, having closed 62.5 percent of its gap,” the report said.

Challenge cultural norms

While attempting to lead a discourse around gender equality in India, Savita Singh, a Delhi-based political theorist and a feminist poet, says that the issue is rooted in the gender division of labour.

“This layered inequality is rooted in the devaluation of gender. When we look into the job market, the data is abysmal. The female participation rate today in India in the last quarter of 2020 has come down to 17 percent. It is the lowest you can think of,” she says.

Beyond labour, we need to examine the fundamental issues at the level of culture and society that continue to restrict women to certain gender-based stereotypes that stifle their voices. Singh believes that it is important to challenge cultural values that silence women in the name of politeness. “If we talk about the cultural level, a polite woman is seen as a good woman. A woman who doesn’t complain is a good woman. These cultural values need to be challenged. There is a limit to how much a woman can endure,” she says.

There also exist dichotomies in the way women are represented, objectified and perceived, which need to be questioned at a cultural level. A woman is a human being first and her dignity needs to be respected. “Either you violate her or you just worship her. These two poles, between which she hangs like a pendulum, need to be broken. She should be treated as a human being,” Singh asserts.

The age-old adage ‘change begins at home’ is pertinent to this dialogue. Before addressing the issues of gender inequality and discrimination against women at a larger scale, we need to observe how much of it has been ingrained within our society and the way our mindsets operate.

Even today, when families search for prospective brides, kitchen and household responsibilities tend to be among the top-most prerequisites. Although women have left an indelible mark across diverse fields such as politics or science, at the grassroots level, these social norms tend to confine them to specific roles, such as being a homemaker. It’s high time that we re-examine the age-old paradigms of the kitchen being a woman’s space.

India’s youth can be the agents of change

It is important to question family values that establish such norms and India’s youth has to play a big role in changing the status quo. “Young people have to be critical of parenting, how they have been parented and how they are going to parent their own children,” Singh says. “Working in the kitchen is a pleasure when both the genders participate.”

There needs to be a balance in the way men and women distribute domestic chores. The age-old belief that a woman’s place is in the kitchen is no more relevant in our modern society. Women, like men, have the right to explore opportunities beyond household chores.

Adding to that, Corinne Kumar, the founder of World Courts of Women, believes that the women of a household should become more “engaged.” She says that women should question the perception that they need to stay at home after getting married.

Kumar lauds the youth of India, who can play an instrumental role in bringing in a much-needed change around gender equality. “The youth of today is wonderful and they are willing to change things,” she says.

Ashvina Basnet, a research scholar at the Department of Social Work, Delhi University believes that equality between men and women can only be achieved when both genders co-exist on the same pedestal. “Women can’t be extremely feminist and ignore men’s voices because they also have issues. If they understand each other, then that will be easier,” she says.

Education is key to establish LGBTQ rights

The scenario for India’s LGBTQ community that comprise 8 percent of the population, also remains dismal. Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that struck down the draconian Section 377—that criminalised homosexuality—in 2018, achieving equality still remains a distant dream for India’s queer as they continue to experience discrimination in society, workplaces and on social media.

Many queer individuals even find it troublesome to come out and be accepted by their family members and friends. Rishabh Sonkar, an advocate for LGBTQ rights, says that it has “not been great coming out” because he lost his friends.

At a societal level, there remains a lack of understanding of LGBTQ identities, which can only change by addressing the issue at the grassroots. Sonkar suggests that mass awareness around LGBTQ rights can happen at the level of education.

To accomplish that, the educational system has to play a big role by creating normalising counselling in schools to sensitise students about the LGBTQ topic. According to veteran LGBTQ rights activist Ashok Row Kavi , there should be “rational sex education” in schools to ensure that LGBTQ children are not bullied. “For example, every school should have a counsellor who has been sensitised to LGBTQ issues. One school may not have it, but three-five schools can pool their services together and have a counselling panel,” he suggests.

Sonkar further emphasises the importance of having a dialogue with teachers and education policymakers about sexuality and gender issues, since they have been “ingrained in our education system.”

Meanwhile, Kavi believes to bring a difference, we need to change policies that manage anti-discrimination laws against the LGBTQ community. “If anti-discrimination laws were managed, then automatically same-sex marriages would be on the cards,” he says while recommending the Special Marriage Act to be made “gender-neutral.”

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