Insensitive gender sensitivity

In truth, gender sensitivity is crippled by distinctions in class, appearance and sophistication – if high-born, you are more equal than others

These are gender sensitive days. Sensitivity, though, varies directly with the stage of socioeconomic progress achieved in a particular society. For instance, gender equality in the workplace, in North America and West Europe, the two most developed regions in the world, is much higher than the rest of the world. McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), in 2015, had mapped 15 gender-equality indicators for 95 countries and calculated a gender-parity score (GPS) for each region. In the analysis, a GPS of 1 indicates full gender parity, not achieved by any geography. Only North America and Western Europe made the most progress towards parity with a GPS of 0.73 and 0.71, respectively.

The research used 15 indicators which covered both gender equality in work and society. After all, the concept of gender equality originates in society and spreads to work. MGI observed that absolute scores on equality in society tend to be higher than those of equality in work. It could not find any country with high equality on social indicators but low equality in terms of employment and labour markets. Predictably so, since gender equality in society is a powerful determinant of gender equality at work.

MGI research pinned this correlation with data. For instance, gender inequality, it observed, was worst in the Middle East. Two other regions, Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa, did marginally better. MGI found that 40 countries had high or extremely high levels of gender inequality on at least half of the indicators. The regions with the farthest to travel are the Middle East, with 0.50; Asia–Pacific, with 0.56; and sub-Saharan Africa, with 0.57. No prizes for guessing the socioeconomic background of the residents in these regions.

A similar exercise, if undertaken in India, will also show a wide disparity among different regions. Social consciousness on women empowerment in large cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi will not be the same as in smaller centres like Saharanpur or Muzaffarnagar. Again, within the city, gender sensitivity will vary directly in relation to the socioeconomic stature of the person in question.

Even within similarly placed socioeconomic strata, views on gender sensitivity tend to be varied. Take politics as a profession for instance. Place certain leaders in front of those belonging to a similar stratum – take the "elites" in the national capital for instance. If one asks them to compare leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sushri Mayawati, the eulogy on Priyanka's charisma will perhaps be the longest. Many will wax eloquent on how the Nehru-Gandhi family's daughter can change political equations by her mere presence. On Mamata, the unrivalled crowd-puller in West Bengal, the state having the third-largest number of Lok Sabha seats, the verdict will be condescending, at best, since she has been opposing the villain called Narendra Modi. Had she remained neutral, like some other chief ministers of states neighbouring West Bengal, there would have been little consideration of her popularity and political dominance. The rule adopted is simple: Gender equality depends on socioeconomic status at birth. Difficult to digest; but the truth always is. Curious that such status depends on birth, a chance factor in life and not on a person's contribution in their chosen area of operation.

Elitism aside, gender disparity, in India at least, depends on a person's appearance, dress sense and ability to express themselves in accented English. Sadly, persons like Mamata Banerjee pay the least attention to any of these essential requisites. The feisty West Bengal chief minister does not even hesitate in her use of language – English, Bengali or Hindi – whichever comes to her tongue. But with her support base, she conveys her message eloquently enough. In terms of educational qualification, her degrees are no less than the many politicians who grab limelight. But, a girl from a lower-middle class background would never be ranked on the same pedestal as a high-born. In such a framework, even the mere thought of gender equality is a dream that cannot be achieved.

In 2015, 193 member nations of the United Nations had signed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 5 is to "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls". This indeed is desirable; but, in the process, if certain rigid cultural barriers need to be dismantled, how would society react? Here also, reactions vary depending on the culture in question. Someone seeking entry for women of all ages in Sabarimala might not be on the same page as one fighting to empower a woman at the receiving end of divorce under a different culture. Interestingly, even women who are sufficiently empowered and have breached the glass ceiling, who in effect are more equal than men, espouse different views depending on their political hues.

Gender sensitivity of a person depends on the culture of an individual. Even well-known global leaders succumb to the temptation of exploiting female subordinates. Allegations against President Donald Trump on molesting women, substantiated or not, and the well-admitted peccadilloes of former president Bill Clinton are some examples. The "Me too" confessions have exposed the treatment meted out to otherwise prominent female personalities by their men colleagues. In a world where reactions of society are not uniform but, instead, are based on strong allegiance to a cause – gender equality, too, will be subjective. In this world, Priyanka or Hillary is more equal than Mamata or Monica. The former is treated with respect while the latter needs to struggle to overcome her hurdles. Mere gender sensitivity campaigns or an SDG contained in a UN document will not change the prevalent scenario.

The fact that the two most populous nations in the world, India and China, have imposed a ban on sex determination of the foetus, only to discourage female foeticide, illustrates the insurmountable problem that must be overcome before gender sensitivity takes deep root here. Forget the workplace when women are not safe in their own homes. Where dowry death is frequent and where "Beti Bachao Beti Padao" campaign is used to create public awareness, goal number five of UN's SDG will remain a mere academic point of discussion with no respite for those who suffer at every stage of their lives.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

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