Women Empowerment vs Women Reservation

I asked my six year old niece to tell what she is learning in school. She drew a table with two columns, with heading — Feminine and Masculine. Then, in the first row, she wrote Girl and Boy. Second row — Queen and King. I then asked her what’s the feminine gender of Lion. She answered Lioness and then, continued writing for other animals — Tiger, Horse, etc.

There were two very important lesson that I learned from this small exercise while teaching my niece.

  1. She is smart. Her grasping power is good and she has an enviable memory for her age.
  2. The teachings in school has changed to invoke the feminine gender first and then the masculine gender.

The second insight is what I want to focus on.

I remember back in school, my brother and I used to quiz each other. And I remember the nouns as masculine-feminine. Thus, for me, it’s always been Man-Woman, King-Queen, Hero-Heroine, Lion-Lioness, Stallion-Mare, etc.

However, the times have changed now. Little kids in school are learning it as feminine-masculine, which I think has huge implications in the way the human society will evolve in future.

Place of Women in Indian Society

For long, the women have been dominated, subdued and maltreated by their male counterparts. It’s always been “the Man rule the world”. This degradation of women could be because in a hunter-gatherer society, men used to go out and hunt food while women used to stay inside the house and take care of household chores. The division of labour worked efficiently and human society became more advanced and modern.

However, we no longer live in a hunter-gatherer world. The modern world does not require the male to go out and hunt for food or the female to restrict herself inside a house; but the female subjugation has perpetuated perversely. Till few decades ago, in India, women were giving birth to ~10 children. Women were not allowed to work outside and men could marry more than one woman. It was a painful existence for half of the population.

It is in this context, women empowerment is justified. Women must go out of their house, get an education, work and earn and share equal responsibilities with the men. Indians, as usual, is behind the curve in this compared to the Western countries. However, women are increasingly participating in India’s workforce in technology, business, public service, sports, etc. I am assured that when my niece’s generation become matured (some 20 years later), women’s place in Indian society will be much, much better.

Why women reservation is anti-women empowerment

One point though: Indians have this philosophy of ‘karma’ which could be a bit of a problem here. Like with the Dalits (also termed Scheduled Castes) suffered thousands of years of subjugation at the hands of the Chaturvarnas — Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras (also termed OBCs) — have been accorded reservation in education & jobs by the Indian State to undo the years of drudgery. Similarly, women reservation in educational institutions and jobs is being pushed by many civil rights activists. While, this will be certainly a nice gesture by the State, it may delay the empowerment of women in the society, just like it has done with the Dalits.

Any dalit who secures a seat in a IIT/IIM or recruited by UPSC as an IAS/IPS officer has stigma attached to him/her. Everyone feels that the person got the plum seat/posting because of his/her caste and thus, is not meritious and competent. The dalit has to face humiliation among peers as S/he is made to feel inferior. More importantly, the caste tag doesn’t go away. Perpetuation of the caste is probably the biggest drawback of the Caste Reservation policy.

Imagine the same with women. Women reservation in education and jobs will get them coveted seats. But, they will be discriminated by their peers. As with the case of women reservation in local governments, it is usually the husbands who weild power on behalf of their wives. Women reservation in India thus remains flawed and misguided.

It is sometimes claimed that the process has started and will take time for women to realise their true power and women reservation is a ‘good’ first step. I tend to disagree. Women reservation will actually made things worse. Everyone will feel that women get undue advantage of being a woman and the male superiority complex will continue. Thus, I am against any kind of benefits being accorded to women just because they are women. They have to be given equal opportunities and share the same responsibility as men. The women who are bright and succeed, will be admired and revered, regardless of them being a woman. This will effectively break the patriarchial system for good. I am sure my niece generation will see to it that women in India are free from any kind of subjugation. Their gender education is designed so to ensure that.