Friday, March 12, 2010

How Did You Celebrate Women's Day?

A man I met on the immensely stupid Women's Day wished me a Happy Women's Day and asked how the Women's Reservation was going to make my life better. He was mocking women, of course.

Now, I too am against reservation of any kind because I feel it takes an opportunity away from someone who deserves it on account of merit and gives it to someone who may be totally underserving, simply because he/she was born into a minority community. And most communities that continue to enjoy reservation in Government jobs & Government-run institutes are no longer as impoverished or deprived as they may have been at the time of independence. They have access to the same education and infrastructure that non-minorities in our country do. But the biggest injustice brought about by reservations - or Affirmative Action as it is called in the US - is that someone who deserves the spot is denied it simply b/c he's part of the majority.

Women's Reservation is a different issue altogether though, and I'm not saying this b/c I'm a woman. I'm saying this b/c I believe that women are the largest disenfranchised and unempowered minority in India.

Women in our country (and I'm not talking about financially independent career women like me who form less than maybe even 10% of the female population of India) are denied all kinds of social and personal rights even to this day.

We are still expected to adopt, or in the very least, append our husband's last name to our names after marriage. State-owned banks do not allow a married woman to open an account with her maiden name (I don't know whether this is true of private sector banks as well). A woman's identity continues to be defined by that of a man, be it her husband or her father. All forms, whether emanating from the private or the public sector, ask for her father's/husband's name.

Women are still expected to leave their parents' home and live with their in-laws after marriage, rather than it being an even playing field where both husband & wife set up their own home. A woman who expresses her desires to live apart from her in-laws is seen as an evil, vile woman who is trying to draw the son away from his parents. Never mind that she had to leave behind her own. This is particularly true in small towns.

Men try to harass women at every given opportunity. They lech at us in the most disgusting manner, violate us on the streets by touching us at the most private places, harass us sexually & emotionally, and try to take advantage of single women in every way they can.

Most Indian women (and remember, I'm not talking about you & I) don't even have control over their own bodies or what happens to them. They don't have any sexual or reproductive rights. They must give in to the man whenever he wishes to have sex or face the consequences, generally physical abuse. They often cannot insist on the use of protection during sex and have to bear children even if they don't want to, thanks to "mis-timing" on the part of the man who thinks he is some kind of a God & a blessing to womankind. They get no support from their families even if they're victims of domestic violence and wish to divorce their husbands.

They are expected to perform at the same level as their male counterparts at work, and also bear the primary responsibility of running a house, performing day-to-day household chores such as cooking & cleaning, and be the primary parent raising the child.

So what kind of women's empowerment do we celebrate on Women's Day?


And that is where I think the Women's Reservation Bill is going to help. It may not directly impact your's & my lives, but it WILL impact the lives of millions of other women who are not in a position to speak up for themselves. For every you & me, there are at aleast a thousand women who are forced to suffer silently.

I hope this past Women's Day, rather than saying 'thank you' to every man who wished you a Happy Women's Day and enjoying free meals or free drinks at bars, you asked yourself some tough questions. Do the men in your life, be it your father, brother, husband, partner or boyfriend, respect you as a person? Do they ask you for your opinion even on issues that matter and value it, rather than consulting you only when it's time to decide what color walls you want in your house? Do they treat you as someone who is just as capable as themselves? Do you have your own identity rather than it being defined by that of your husband? Do they listen to you when you speak? Are your decisions you own and not taken by your husband? Are you allowed to do what you feel like, wear what you feel like, and meet whoever you feel like?

I hope you asked yourselves these questions and I hoped you answered them in the affirmative b/c these questions will determine whether you are truly empowered, not whether you got a gift or a free drink on Women's Day.


Nirav said...

Completely agree with your analysis on the state of women in our country, but completely disagree on your analysis on how reservations will help.

I am with you on the fact that women have been and are seriously disadvantaged and unempowered in our country. But again, I have completely failed to understand how having 33% women in parliament is going to help.

The only argument that I have been given is that if women get elected, they will ensure that the ordinary women of their constituencies will get benefited and empowered. My question to you is this - even now there are many elected female MPs and MLAs. Has their presence made a huge difference to the state of women in their constituencies?

I agree with the problem, but is reservation a solution? Especially in parliament? I can still understand if it is reservations in primary school or something, but parliament? Seriously beats me!

I'm surprised seeing so many ordinary educated women support this reservation. But once you talk to them, you realize that it is an emotional reaction, which is more symbolic than practical.

The knife said...

In an ideal world, political parties would have put more women up for election. But this is not an ideal world. Will women politicians be any different than male ones? That depends on how much faith one has on politicians.

It's difficult for folks like us who work in agencies to understand the need for reservations. There are so many women at work. But we do not represent the reality of India.

At least people will begin to acknowledge the existence of women with this.

I have an axe to grind on reservation in general. Will write about it once.

Scarlett said...

@Nirav - I think having more female voices in the Parliament will ensure women's issues get heard & addressed. Simple noise of numbers, you know. But that will depend on the quality of women who're being given tickets to contest the elections. Women are seriously disadvantaged in this country - more than any minority community - and if our issues get addressed even to a small extent, it'll go a long way in improving our condition & status as a community.

@The Knife - I don't support reservations either but I think it was needed in this case b/c women form a large part of the Indian population, yet we are neglected & our concerns are unheard.

You will find a large number of women in research b/c this is one of those professions that lets women manage their family & work life well. It's not as demanding as demanding physically & in terms of time as sales, marketing, banking etc. jobs. It also gives women the option of working from home, working part time & in some cases, flexible working hours, which women need as they generally tend to be the primary care-giver for their kids.