Millennium Post

Will gender equality elude us?

From cradle to grave, from infancy to old age, at home and out of home, women are being discriminated against men in India and elsewhere in the world. This is nothing new. It has been happening from time immemorial. The society, family, men and women alike are contributing to this malaise. Discrimination in serious forms has taken its toll on women, young and old, in the form of domestic and sexual violence. Many women have been subjected to rape and on resistance have been murdered or maimed. For resisting advances by men, they have been attacked with acids disfiguring them and at the same time denting their psyche. Over the years, plethora of laws have been enacted and rules have been framed to put a stop to this menace but the result has been minimal. Enforcement of these Acts such as relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Harassment at workplace Act, and Trafficking in women Act, Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children Act etc. has not been something to write home about. Women are living under fear. At home, because they are subjects of domestic violence, outside, because of fear of being molested or worse, being subject to other forms of sexual violence.

Several international agreements and conventions have recognised women’s rights to their own body (reproductive health), their economic, social, political and educational rights among others. Despite all these, women in many countries remain poor and illiterate. They have less access to food, medical care, property ownership, training and employment. They are also less politically active. When a woman is able to control her own fertility such as, decide the number of children, timing and spacing and the gender of the offspring she will be able to realise her full potential. Women cannot achieve gender equality unless men cooperate because currently they decide the number, spacing, time and the sex of children in their sexual relationship.

Since gender discrimination starts early in life, greater equality for the girl child should be ensured at that stage so that they can have equal rights later in life. Disparities arise from early stages when boys and girls are treated differently. As boys grow, they participate more in public and community life whereas girls face several restrictions. Their freedom and movement gets curtailed, they have little say about their career, future and marriage. These negative behavioural trends can be changed but slowly through legal, social and educational interventions.

According to available data, about one third women in the world get battered, raped or abused in some way. And in many cases it’s someone they know or are close to. Gender-based violence glaringly shows the gender inequities, psychologically traumatises the victim, hampers their health and in some cases results in death. It can have profound effect on the victim in terms of unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion, sexually-transmitted diseases, gynaecological complications apart from psychological problems. Violence aginst women have been called ‘the most pervasive yet least recognised human rights abuse in the world.’ It also perpetuates male domination and control over women. It is sustained by a culture of silence and denial of the consequences on the individual victim and the society.

Jackson Katz, educator, author, filmmaker and cultural theorist, who is a pioneer in the fields of gender violence prevention education and media literacy, has suggested a paradigm shift in the perspective of gender violence. He argues that calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem, for a number of reasons. He sees violence against women as primarily a men’s issue and enlists men’s support in the struggle to prevent men’s violence against women.

Feminist linguist Julia Penelope saw the issue of gender violence as a linguistic construct where the victim or the survivor is always the focus, always blamed for whatever has happened to her. In her famous ‘John beat Mary’ construction she has shown how the passive voice has entirely shifted the focus from the perpetrator of crime to the victim: John beat Mary. Mary was beaten by John. Mary was beaten. Mary is battered. Mary is a battered woman.

In the above, John, the perpetrator vanishes from the picture. Instead of stating what John did the sentence becomes ‘Mary is a battered woman’ for which John is responsible anyway. But he is not blamed. The spotlight shifts to the victim, Mary. And the violator falls of our psychic map. Victim blaming is pervasive in cases of domestic and sexual violence which is to blame the person who has faced violence than the person who inflicted it. And we say why these women go out with these men?  Why do these women go out so late? Why were they wearing those funny dresses? Why was she drinking with those guys in the hotel room? This is victim-blaming and we are conditioned to think like that. But blaming the victim is not going to help the situation. On the other hand, we have to ask questions about the perpetrator of violence. By we, I mean the society, the individual and the Media.

The author is a former senior information service officer
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