Hope… We use this word so often in our everyday language. It is a feeling of trust, security, and a reason to keep going. I also think it borders between that passionate desire of our heart entwined with a feeling of expectation and a longing for a certain thing to happen. It’s only hope that has got us through 2017 and now makes us look forward to 2018.

Most of my writings this year have been centred on gender issues and gender-based discrimination that is still looming large. Gender inequality extends across various facets of society. The root cause of gender inequality in our society lies in its patriarchy system - a system of social structure and practices, in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women. Gender inequality is therefore a form of inequality which is distinct from other forms of economic and social inequalities. It dwells not only outside the household but also centrally within it. It stems not only from pre-existing differences in economic endowments between women and men but also from pre-existing gendered social norms and social perceptions.

Political participation is often perceived as a key factor to rectify this situation. However, gender bias extends to electoral politics and representative governance as well. Gender inequality, in simple words, may be defined as discrimination against women based on their sex. Women are traditionally considered by the society as a weaker sex. She has been accorded a subordinate position to men. She is exploited, degraded, violated and discriminated both in homes and the outside world. This peculiar type of discrimination against women is prevalent everywhere in the world and more so in Indian society.

Then there is also gender-based pay discrimination which is a huge issue in today’s times – the need to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women. Women out there need to keep pushing, and should not allow it to deter them as we need all strong women to come out and speak about it. Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect.

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as men do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer. It is also thoughtless to condemn women, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less. Equality is a given. A woman is human.

For ages it was believed that the different characteristics, roles and status accorded to women and men in society are determined by sex, that they are natural and therefore not changeable.

Gender is seen closely related to the roles and behaviour assigned to women and men based on their sexual differences. As soon as a child is born families and society begin the process of gendering. The birth of the son is celebrated, the birth of a daughter filled with pain; sons are showered with love, respect, better food and proper health care. Boys are encouraged to be tough and outgoing; girls are encouraged to be homebound and shy. All these differences are gender differences and they are created by society.

Not just in India, but since time unknown women have been looked down upon as inanimate objects all over the world. To fight for the equal rights for women, there have been feminist movements around the globe. Indian feminists had to fight against culture-specific issues within India’s patriarchal society. The patriarchal attributes include dowry, siring sons, among others. Also there are issues like female infanticide and female foeticide that exist.

The adverse sex ratio, poor educational and nutritional status, inequality in wages and violence against women are prevalent in our society, like many other patriarchal societies of the world, even today, and the gender discrimination certainly continues to be an enormous problem.

There is change now: the voices against gender inequality and violence have never been louder. The horrific rise in crimes against women, especially post the December-2012 gang-rape in New Delhi, has led to widespread protests and demands for change across the nation. The incident, which is often considered a landmark in the fight for women’s rights in India, has also led to a few reformative changes in the criminal justice system with provisions for stricter laws and speedier convictions.

However, legislative changes alone cannot reverse the current epidemic of violence and injustice against women. The conversation today, therefore, is no longer just about law and order; it also highlights a woman’s right to dignity, respect, and equality across all spheres of public and personal life. While increasing representation of women in the public spheres is important and can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their homes and in broader society.

Of course, for this to succeed, parents and teachers have to take on a hands-on approach even outside such workshops by encouraging questions and highlighting positive examples and role models for both girls and boys. There is too much negativity around gender and sexuality issues, and parents should remember that kids would actually like to hear it from their parents rather than from the media. They should focus less on protecting girls, and more on empowering them to be able to communicate their ‘no’ and ‘yes’ clearly and frankly.

As societies progress, the conversation around gender stereotypes will also evolve with the needs and demands of the day. India’s current spate of crimes against women along with the age-old grip of patriarchal laws and customs dictate an urgent need for gender-sensitive education and upbringing. The only way to ensure a safer and equal society is to educate tomorrow’s leaders and lawmakers against the mistakes and injustices we’ve seen and borne in the past. And raising our sons and daughters without discrimination is a giant leap in that direction.

A society which commits atrocities on their weaker members is not only uncivilized but also underdeveloped. The brutalities done on women by men are not their sign of strength by they are construed as the sign of their weakness which they are camouflaging.

History has proven the fact that the societies and civilisations which haven't respected rights and safety of women have perished badly. I firmly believe that respect and safety of women are the basic foundations of a society. It is imperative that if a community is not providing equal rights to women and if women are bereft of basic freedom, there cannot be an ounce of progress in that society.

The fight must continue for security and equality of women…for their safety…for their rights to live and do as they please. A New Year… A new beginning… New hopes and new dreams… May we find it within us to continue hoping!