In your view: Top gender issues for India

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A couple of weeks ago, I crowd-sourced your view on the three top gender issues for India. Between email, Twitter and Facebook, I got about 23 responses–a couple irrelevant and a couple late. Based on your responses, this is the short note I prepared. I am sharing it because several people were curious, and also as a matter of placing this on the record.

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At the core, the fundamental gender challenge in India is a lack of equality which leads to a lack of equity. In anticipation of writing this paragraph, I crowd-sourced views on the three most pressing gender issues in India in a 3-5 year perspective. Four sets of inter-related issues emerged: equality, livelihood, reproductive rights and health and sexual and gender-based violence.

The first rubric of “equality” raises two important concerns–the pervasive impact of patriarchal social structures and culture and the inequitable reality that in every sphere the playing field is uneven for men andwomen. The lack of equality manifests first in families where girls and women face discrimination. People who responded listed ways in which patriarchy worked–from male preference which affects everything from the survival prospects of girl children to equal access. Women are saddled with the burden of safeguarding tradition and cultureand this also becomes the rationale for restricting their choices and options. In fact, women are “never given a choice,” whether it is in the choice of dress, career, college or partner. Stigma applies to any choice a girl makes,and silence is a corollary. But patriarchy is also reinforced by modernity; stereotypical media representations andobjectification of women are an example. Patriarchal thinking is perpetuated by social conditioning and is expressed in “deep-rooted casual, everyday sexism, with misogyny at its extreme.” Equal access to a playing field that is level pertains to every stage and every sphere–nutrition and food security, health, education that does not reinforce discrimination, law and justice, and childcare. An equal playing field arguably begins with usable, affordable public toilets for women (or even a toilet in every home) and ends with women playing a real, active, visible and vocal role in the public sphere.

The second rubric of ‘livelihood’ has three dimensions: equality of opportunity, capacity-building and workplace safety. Equality of opportunity extends beyond equal access to livelihood choices and chances to recognizing women’s work as work, to assigning value to the unpaid labour of women and to closing the pay-gap. Capacity-building includes both livelihood and life-skills training. Job-training andplacement help, as well as practices such as job-sharing and flex-time were specifically mentioned. Women’s financial literacy (money management, small enterprise management and retirement planning) was also suggested as an area of work. Non-discriminatory and safe workplaces are critically important if women are to enjoy livelihood security.

The third rubric of “reproductive health and rights” covers health and sex education, which teaches boys and girls about their bodies, sexuality, health and violence. The absence of such educations results in an inability to deal with violence. But at the core of this rubric is surely the question of access to safe, affordable, timely and good health care, including safe abortion. Maternal health needs and maternal mortality are oft-mentioned concerns.

The fourth rubric of “sexual and gender-based violence” includes not just the acute lack of personal safety for women but also flawed systems of justice. The accent on protecting women by creating restraints and walls around them, rather than creating conditions to prevent violent behaviour is also a part of this rubric. Of the different forms of violence, female foeticide, honour killings, sexual assault and rape, workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence were of greatest concern, in that order.

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The ‘raw’ list of responses is given below, sorted under the four rubrics. I have done the minimum editing, and some of you will recognize your words.

EQUALITY

  • Equity
    • Female literacy
    • Equity
    • Access to law
    • Education for girls.
    • Equity
    • Education
    • Access to safe and affordable childcare;
    • Useable, affordable public toilets for women
    • Representation of women in local bodies, politics, unions. In a REAL way–numbers and voice.
    • Women agency and initiative, at the workplace and in the public sphere.
    • Food security for women
    • Access to education, Discrimination in schools – It’s common for boys (as victims of upbringing) to think girls don’t deserve respect and it is appropriate for boys to exert power over girls. Most text book material don’t acknowledge the contribution of women
  • Patriarchy (Structure plus culture)
    • Social conditioning and norms
    • Male-preference, cutting across ages – patriarchy – with consequences for everything from access to school to nutrition
    • After all, the preference for a male child. Female infanticide. Sex-selective abortion
    • Stigma selective applies to girls for all choices (eg cohabitation)
    • Why are women never given a choice? I can’t choose my dress, my career, my college, my partner.
    • Tradition as a way of restricting women, the burden of safeguarding tradition and culture
    • Media objectifying women, media representations of women, stereotyping women
    • Culture=related stigma and silence.
    • Deep-rooted casual, everyday sexism, with misogyny at its extreme
  • Family practice
    • Gender issues are often family issues. Education & protection for children’s rights supports overall reduction in family violence.
    • Foetus to Grave equality,
    • Declining sex ratio
    • Gender equality
    • Conflict and injustice in families, discrimination at home – The belief that women should be controlled by men and are a part of man’s property.

LIVELIHOOD

  • Equality of opportunity
    • Recognition of women’s work as work/ equal pay
    • reducing the pay-gap
    • Opportunity
    • Opportunity
  • Capacity-building
    • Low financial literacy. NGOs could host workshops & counseling for women on money mgt, small biz fin mgt, retirement planning…
    • Job training/placement help for women (especially for returning to labour market); job-sharing & flex-time
  • Workplace safety
    • Livelihood and workplace safety
    • Workplace discrimination

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS

  • Health and sex education
    • Inadequate training and knowledge on male-female bodies, sexuality, violence – resulting inability to deal with violence.
  • Access to safe, affordable, timely health care
    • Health
    • Health security for women
    • Access to safe, affordable, timely health care
    • Access to healthcare
    • Access to safe and good healthcare
  • Women’s sexual and reproductive rights
    • Access to safe and legal abortion.
    • Maternity needs recognition
    • Maternal mortality would be high on the list
    • Maternal mortality

SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

  • Violence and lack of safety
    • Safety
    • Safety of women
    • Safety of women
    • Safety of women
    • Crimes and violence against women, all forms.
    • Particularly domestic violence and rape.
    • Sexual assault
    • Sexual violence
    • Personal safety (though this applies to all, it’s more acute for women).
    • The skewed sex ratio – female infanticide, female foeticide
    • Female foeticide
    • Female foeticide
    • Female infanticide.
    • Honour killings and khap panchayats
    • Honour killings.
    • Kumki: // Honour killings
    • Workplace sexual harassment
    • Sexual harassment — street, cyber, workplace
    • Acid attacks/attacks because women spurn men — Been keeping an eye on this across the country and there is a scary increase in the number of cases of men attacking women they decide to fall in love with, ex-wives and former girlfriends. Acid, knives, the weapon doesn’t matter the intent is to control and refuse to let women make decisions of their own. This also involves a large amount of stalking.
  • Lack of justice for violence against women
  • Accent on protection rather than prevention
  • Accent on women being safe rather than preventing/teaching men not to be violent.
  • Accent on protection.
  • The issue of provocative dressing as a cause for rape.

Please feel free to leave other views and suggestions as comments.

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