RASHMI OBEROI | 7 MARCH, 2020
International Womens Day
“There is no reason why a woman cannot go wherever a man goes, and further,” explorer Harriet Chalmers Adams said in 1920. “If a woman be fond of travel, if she has love of the strange, the mysterious, and the lost, there is nothing that will keep her at home.”
From serving in the frontline to combat roles to taking charge of their roles in the future, to women leading a life which is catering to various domains starting from family to profession to social arenas, women are taking the world by storm. Women are feeling more empowered now, they want their voices heard and are demanding gender equality in all walks of life. Women are no lesser or inferior to men and the roles women play around the world continues to evolve.
While westernised societies have seen women actively achieve gender equality, other less developed countries see women fighting for basic human rights. Women were often forced to adhere to the strict stereotypical roles that were given to them, but many have begun to break free from those roles in the last 100 years.
Access to education has opened women’s eyes around the world to the realisation that they deserve to follow their dreams without having to face gender inequality. Sadly, not all women enjoy the right to education and their roles are therefore determined by their specific culture, religion, and sometimes ancient and severely out-dated traditions. It seems like common sense that women should be entitled to the same opportunities as men, but there is still a great deal of social resistance in many regions of the world when it comes to offering an equal playing field.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, let us look at how India has shaped the roles of the women that live here. Let this offer insight into how far women have come and the struggles they still sadly face in many parts of the country. While there have been several changes in law in India that have been for the welfare, security and benefit of women as well as with the aim to eliminate gender-based discrimination, one of the fundamentals of the Constitution of India, we have a long way to go still. As we have seen, the Supreme Court has taken several initiatives and in some cases issued directions to the Government as well, but it is the practical implementation of these laws that is required to ensure equality of women.
There are many difficulties that many Indian women face, which include poverty, female feticide, sexual harassment, lack of education and job skill training. India still ranks very low in the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index. A lot needs to be done to ensure that Indian women have equal rights and we see an India defined by inclusive citizenship rather than exclusive.
The concept of equality, however, requires equity. The history of social development is also the history of inequality: inequality between nations, religions, ethnicity, class, caste, race and sexuality. However, the question of women's rights looms large, cutting through all the layers of social stratification. In India, the constitutionally guaranteed equality for women is often contradictory to the harsh societal reality of the land and its cultural norms.
The struggle for women's equality began in India in the 20th century, during the struggle for Independence. In the fight against the British, western educated leaders like B.R. Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Savitribai Phule encouraged women to step away from their homes and hearths and enter the public sphere in the fight for Independence.
Indian values, nationalism and cultural heritage were glorified through the symbolism of 'Mother India'. Perhaps for the first time in India, the idea that a woman is part of the larger Indian tapestry as a legal citizen, took root. The inclusion of the female citizen into the public sphere necessitated citizenship rights and changes in the law such as right to education, inheritance rights, abolition of sati and polygamy as well as allowance for widow- remarriage.
While a struggle for nationalism changed the legal landscape of women's rights through the colonial era, the post-colonial era in India has been marked by sweeping changes such as globalization, neo-liberal policies and the leaps and bounds in technological development. This has expanded women's participation in the public sphere. More Indian women than ever are engaged in business enterprises, international platforms, and multi-national careers. For example, it is a rarity to see a woman running an automobile workshop but Shabina Chinoy Nadaf does just that, running and administrating her workshop for their Skoda dealership in Kolhapur. Traditionally, an all-male bastion, Shabina stepped into the shoes of her Manager when he quit in the early days of when their business was being established. Taking on all the responsibilities with aplomb, she runs a tight ship but with a woman’s touch that made it all the more successful. I always say women have superpowers in being able to manage multiple roles and donning many hats - daughter/sister/wife/child/friend/in-law/mother/professional/entrepreneur…you name it.
In recent years women from India have felt more empowered to call out men’s follies, leading to a global conversation about sexism, misogyny, and the power dynamics that women are subjected to in the home and beyond. In many ways it’s still a man’s world, but from politics to the arts, women are working to change that in their communities. It’s a mission playing out in several arenas: in government institutions, inside the workplace and home, through activism on the streets, and in the ability to tell their own stories and shape their societies.
But change is seldom easy. The patriarchal status quo is deeply entrenched, especially in authoritarian states where challenging the system, whether you are a man or a woman, comes at a hefty cost. Women find strength to fight in their own way, whether it’s within their families or on a bigger scale in their work. They have so much power.
Let us salute the spirit of a woman – who has the ability to cross boundaries: social, physical and religious to understand others. Also, the freedom and power to be aware… In my case: To know who I am and being true to me is liberating. It is seeing the world through the people who populate my stories and my life. Their perspectives lead to unexpected insights into mine.
Be fearless and shatter stereotypes is my mantra!