A revolution beyond #MeToo
Moving beyond the #MeToo upheaval, Aparajita Gupta and Phalasha Nagpal emphasise on the accompanying need for encompassing social change
The next hearing in the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar is scheduled for today. The #MeToo movement continues to grow stronger. Starting from the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, harrowing instances are being shared from across the globe. People in India have also taken to social media and opened up about their torturous experiences. One disturbing story is following another. Victims who kept quiet all these years are now getting the courage to open up, thanks to a huge movement on social media. These disclosures reflect a crumbling moral fabric. While there may be rare cases of men facing harassment, women are predominantly the victims.
On the surface, it may appear as though this movement is an outlash by women that have been subjected to sexual harassment, coming forth and sharing their stories with the world. Deeper thought and analysis makes one realise that #MeToo has roots that run much deeper. It is a manifestation of centuries of frustration, degradation and mistreatment that women world-over have experienced. It is not just the ones that have come forward, but all women who have suffered gravely owing to gender inequality. On one hand, progress for men has been all about catapulting themselves forward relentlessly; on the other hand, for women, every two steps forward has come with taking one step back i.e., progress has been harrowing. To state it simply, economic and social progress, equality and opportunity have come to us women at high costs of struggle.
From the time she is born, she is known to be the second choice. Unequal access to food, education and other facilities are just signs of this belief. This doesn't stop at home. Many face eve-teasing and stalking the moment they step out. Even at work, many are not spared from harassment. She is expected to be the one who must sacrifice her ambition to raise her family. The one who must take on the role of a homemaker from very early on, paving the path for men to flourish. Pregnant women face torture at the hands of those who don't even flinch at the idea of committing female foeticide. Then, the news of cases like Nirbhaya's instils further fear. Till death, women struggle to be respected and treated with basic human dignity. This is not to say that every woman goes through all this. But most can relate to some such experience. At every juncture in life, she is forced to fight for her independent identity, for her free will, for treatment equal to her male counterparts, for equal remuneration and equal opportunity. For instance, the United Kingdom, the country which initiated the Great Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and catapulted the world into a new era of economic growth, legally stripped its women of voting rights during the same period. Economic growth came much prior to gender equality, even for the developed world. After decades of leading the national movement demanding the right to vote for women, it finally became successful after over 60 years from when it started, and women were finally granted the right to vote in 1928. Till date, the global superpower United States has highly restrictive rights to abortion, depriving women of the right to decisions regarding their own bodies. Another extreme is the case of Saudi Arabia, which highlights the dismal state of women that still continues in certain parts of the world. The country does not treat women as independent with their own free will. This means that irrespective of her age, every Saudi woman is required to have a male guardian, who's permission she must seek before indulging in various activities. Not just that, a Saudi woman's legal rights are also very discriminatory as their witness statements only carry 50 per cent the weight as that of a man's, reducing the woman to half a person in the eyes of law. Talking about India, the Women Reservation Bill, 2008 which proposes a reservation of 33 per cent for women representation in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, hasn't seen the light of the day. The Supreme Court, which is the highest judicial institution of the country and responsible for delivering justice for crimes against women, is yet to see a female Chief Justice of India. We might as well call ourselves, a country governed by the men, for the men and of the men.
All these rules, laws, and social norms show us that even in the 21st century, women are a far cry from attaining the right to equality and freedom and that a long and tormenting battle lies ahead. In spite of having laws in place to check crimes against women, society as such does not respect women and, thus, mere laws will find it difficult to ensure compliance. This calls for a social change. This is not limited to changing the attitudes of men alone. The greater and more difficult struggle lies in transforming the mindsets of women, in terms of how they view themselves, their own embodiment, and their rights. We must not let the embers of this movement die down; instead, we must use this as an opportunity to unite ourselves and claim our rightful position in the world.
(The authors are Young Professionals, EAC-PM, NITI Aayog. The views expressed are strictly personal)