“Do you think celebrating one day as Women’s Day can really help us solve our problems?”
This was one of the questions I was recently asked in an interview regarding International Women’s Day. It is a realistic question, but one doesn’t need to be an optimist to believe that we can make one day matter. However, if used as a day to introspect, identify, analyse and set goals that need to be met, one day can really make a difference. So what are our most pressing issues related to women, which need to be addressed and should be looked into immediately?
Forget crime, most of the abuse pertaining to women stems from our perception of a woman’s role in society. It is the rampant stereotyping of ‘what a woman can or cannot do’ that makes it easier to discriminate, and this category is extremely diverse. Ranging from what a woman can wear to whether she can work, and what age she should get married to whether women can smoke. Some of these things may seem trivial and not as important when looked at the more pressing issues at hand, but these ‘insignificant’ issues are still important. Not only do these set of self-proclaimed morals encourage discrimination, they also justify crime against women. The culture of silence and shame is part of it. A woman is expected to never raise her voice against abuse. In fact, the very definition of abuse is distorted. For many, marital rape is a myth and domestic violence should be tolerated.
“Mard hai, ghussa agaya” (He is a man, it is okay for him to get angry)
But a woman can’t, even if she’s beaten black and blue. Because of course she is the upholder of dignity of the entire generation.
Amid all the news of war, politics and economic despair stories of abuse, rape and resistance pertaining to women are often marginalised. From the way cases are reported to the investigation process, everything is in shambles. Not only is it extremely difficult for a woman to report a crime, the legal process also gives little hope of justice being served. Our courts are still seen, by many, as largely male-dominated territories.
Women are then discouraged to report cases or pursue legal action. I have written about rape, harassment, honour killings and crimes against women extensively as a way to counter the mindset. The initiation point for me is to at least get people talking about such issues and break the taboo. It might seem very little in the face of heinous crimes but I do feel that all of us need to start voicing our concern about such issues.
By us, I don’t just mean the activists or women; until men realise their responsibility and take ownership, our issues will never really be addressed.
Years of struggle against crimes has made many women bitter. Feminism is then seen as female chauvinism, which has caused even more damage to the women’s rights struggle. Men and women are counterparts, therefore for the women rights struggle to really make an impact, the men in our society will have to join ranks and put an end to the emotional and psychological abuse. How do we make that happen? By engaging people in discourse and, encouraging and involving young men to help define the various forms of abuse and suggest ways in which they can be countered.
Laws do not exist in a vacuum, they are upheld and implemented by people from within the society. Unless the mindset is tackled at the grassroots level, there is very little hope that these laws will be used in their full capacity to eradicate violence – whether psychological or physical – against women. If we start by putting an end to reinforcing gender roles onto our children, in other words put an end to ‘what you can or can not do’ we can redefine the way issues pertaining to women are perceived and tackled.