Women’s Rights — Equality or Equity?

Most accomplishments by women are despite the gender equality imbalance

The upsurge for women’s rights and gender equality gathers momentum after every publicized incident or unique achievement, and yes, on special occasions too. The recent Women’s Day was such an annual occurrence. Amidst all the cheer and uplifting messages, there was the backdrop of stifled voices and anguish of million other women. While messages from Indra Nooyi, Chanda Kochhar, Priyanka Chopra, Hillary Clinton motivated many, there was a Gurmehar Kaur who was trolled into silence — her plea for peace subdued under the dark political hue. And elsewhere, when Irom Sharmila (human rights activist) ended her 16 year fast, the very people whom she was fighting for, failed to give her even 90 votes in her maiden political endeavour. Women, sure don’t have it easy!

For every known face of Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal, there are the little known Rupa Devi (India’s first international FIFA referee), Bhakti Sharma (ocean swimming world record holder), Arunima Sinha (first female amputee mountain climber to have scaled Mt. Everest). For the unique feats by the likes of Aditi Ashok in women’s golf, Sakshi Malik in wrestling, PV Sindhu in badminton, there were thousands who still struggled even to attend school. Meanwhile, all over our country and indeed the world, atrocities against women continued unabated and raised the statistics of rape, violence, molestation and attacks. The subjugation, psychological suppression and discrimination continues to hinder the progress of women in day to day life. This is a constant battle against the male dominated chauvinist bias.

Freedom of expression is challenged with increasing levels of intolerance, More so if it’s related to women

And these achievements are not limited to politics, sports or the glamour world alone. Women have scaled heights in every conceivable domain. Archana Ramasundram as the first woman DG of Seema Suraksha Bal is an inspiration for many. Even as Wing Commander Puja Thakur became the first woman officer to lead the Guard of Honour for President Obama, the IAF recently inducted the first few women fighter pilots and set the ball rolling for GenNext. Similarly, while Arundhati Bhattacharya leads the SBI, Tessy Thomas heads the missile project as Project Director of Agni IV missile in DRDO. In fact, there was an extremely strong women’s team which contributed to the success of our unique ‘Mission to Mars’.

But for the cynicism and suppression by the vast majority, achievements by women would have been many fold. For every genuine supporter of women rights, there are a thousand cynics who counter the progressive pitch with a regressive move. Every innuendo in this realm is a reflection of the chauvinist’s sinister mind. So deep rooted is this rot that even world leaders Theresa May (British Prime Minister) and Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland’s First Minister) were not spared from sexist media headlines (“Legit”) during a recent Brexit meeting.

There is no debate that attempts are constantly being made to stifle the voice of artists to no end. Women’s rights seem to be conditional, governed more by the moral brigade (not the constitution). The recent incident at Ramjas College, Delhi which started as a freedom of expression issue, soon snowballed into a national controversy with the protest taking an ugly turn with clashes between student unions backed by opposing political ideologies. Elsewhere in Assam, 16-year-old Muslim singer Nahid Afrin, the winner of a television talent show was trolled and threatened against her public performance. A Muslim high priest curbed her performance through his diktat ‘not to attend her show’, which was termed anti-Sharia.

“A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black” - Henry Ford, 1909

‘Women have special needs, let’s focus on those. Men have prejudices, let’s eradicate the biases’

Surprising as it is, even after a century, this famous quote by Henry Ford seems to be the guiding principle of the many chauvinists of our democracy who want every move to be censored. Associations and political parties try to dictate the morality agenda in an attempt to be the self-proclaimed conscience keepers for the masses. And this prejudice is not limited to cast, creed, religion, minority or social status, but stems from the superiority engrained in our patriarchal mind-set and culture which transcends from ages. Our eco system has evolved largely from male dominated hunters and food gatherers. Our workplaces and society have mirrored the same model, leading to a heavy skew — suited best to meet the needs of men. Most infrastructure and facilities have been oriented to benefit the male majority. Women continue to struggle and survive in the treacherous world battling for equality and justice.

Equity in true sense will prevail only when individuals are celebrated without the specific mention of gender. That will be the day!

The tussle is not about special privileges or sops, the battle is more for equity than for equality. The physiological and psychological constructs of every gender are different, as a consequence their virtues cannot and need not be equal. This calls for an equitable balance of an empowering environment. Being sensitive to the unique capabilities of women can help them leverage their strengths to surpass their own potential. Why limit this huge strength?

Women’s Day is long forgotten — that was last month. In our social media driven world, where attention spans are in seconds, the world has moved on — and much faster than last month. Will anything change? Will women’s lives get any better? The next big event or success (and sadly an incident) will refocus our attention to this existential issue once again. So what can a few of us do, when the entire system is heavily tilted? Well, if ‘charity begins at home’, so does respect and equality. Let’s start from there!

Views expressed are personal. Connect, Interact, Follow: @CdrSandeep

Cdr Sandeep Kumar is an Intelligence and Security expert and presently Head Security Governance and Risk Management at Reliance Industries Limited.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on April 16, 2017.