Saturday, December 2, 2023

Beyond rhetoric

Today (March 8) is International Women’s Day. The day is an occasion to celebrate the progress made towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and also to critically reflect on those accomplishments and strive for a greater momentum towards gender equality. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” The idea carries many aspects in its fold like motherhood, equal rights, partnership in development, support to social health, etc. It is about celebrating a woman and paying tribute to the multi-roles she plays in life. This important day provides an opportunity to celebrate the progress made to advance women’s rights and to assess the challenges that remain. It encourages us to consider steps to bring about equality for women and girls in all their diversity and to celebrate the collective power of women past, present and future. Indeed the significance of the International Women’s Day lies in our re-affirmation to improve the condition of women especially those at the margins of our society and empower them to take their rightful place in the society. Despite existing policies women are still socially disadvantaged section of our society. Even within the family they suffer discrimination. There is a growing trend of crime against women. Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of discrimination against women. Sure on paper our women have political rights or status fully equal to that of men. If a cross-cultural or multi-national analysis of legal provisions for women is made, our society is likely to emerge as one of the most progressive society. But the problem really lies in the fact that most of our women are not yet fully aware of their new rights and opportunities. The bureaucracy they must deal with in order to exercise these rights, or to obtain redress for grievance is too complex, too slow, too distant, and even too expensive for them to use. Their general inability to use the law is further aggravated in situations in which they have to fight a husband or a father. In the role allocation within our culture, these are the persons upon whom women normally depend to handle court matters. With this background in view, it hardly needs any proof to convince the world that no society can move forward along the path of progress if half of the population, meaning women, is lagging behind. Countries and societies where woman are given a liberal treatment and are brought at par with men folk are among the most librated societies and at the same time prosperous ones. Conversely societies where women are given discriminative treatment and are not considered at par with men are definitely backward. In India, women have all the constitutional rights as men have and the Indian law allows no difference of gender. In that sense ours is one of the most emancipated constitutions and societies. However, on the ground, we have much that does us no credit in the context of treating women with respect, dignity and humanism. Instances of violence against women, rape and molestation have increased manifold. Sadly, law-enforcing agencies, particularly the police, have come under criticism for slackness in the discharge of their duties. Gender discrimination is still observed in some cases. In particular our women in rural areas have not been spared the grilling chores of life on one hand and misbehaviour of the male folks on the other. It is true that on the level of administration strict instructions are given to all concerned to eradicate discriminative practices and the government discourages all actions that might be disadvantageous to women. Even reservation for women in many branches has been accepted formally. But still we cannot claim to have done all that is needed to be done in this behalf. For example rape is a common crime committed against women but the laws are mild and punitive action is usually hindered. Harassment of women in offices and work places has become a recurring phenomenon. Since education has spread rapidly and employment opportunities for girls have increased manifold, instances of harassment of women have emerged a new menace. It is all right to celebrate International Women’s Day but it reminds us that in our state we owe much more to women than just issuing statements and sweet rhetoric.