Monday, September 27, 2021

Gender parity

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week of granting permanent commission to women officers in Indian Army and upholding their right to command oppositions is a welcome step towards gender parity and equality in the country. Gender discrimination cannot be the criteria for deprivation of equal rights in any profession including the armed forces. The court has thus done well to question the regressive bias of the government that had opposed the permanent commission for women in Indian Army on grounds of “women’s physiological inferiority, social and family obligations including pregnancy” and the likelihood of “men not taking orders from women officers.” The court has thus rightly pointed out that such contentions perpetuate sex stereotypes. It is, however, a sad reflection of things that the government which is supposed to ensure gender parity in all spheres of life should be arguing against it by invoking old-fashioned ideas and myths about women. Such a contention is out of sync with BJP’s slogan of ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ but very much in line with the RSS idea of need for women to maintain traditional family roles. Its supremo Mohan Bhagwat recently blamed the increasing education, primarily hinting at women and affluence as reasons for increasing cases of divorce. However, BJP and RSS may not be the only ones on the erring side of gender parity. Many other political groups and individuals and other social figures have been giving voice to their deep-rooted biases and prejudices with respect to the gender from time to time. Recently, a religious leader from Gujarat has said that menstruating women who cook food for their husbands will be reborn as dogs in their next life, while men consuming food prepared by women having their periods will be reborn as bullocks. The religious head is associated with the temple that runs a college which recently was caught in a row when the principal and female staff had allegedly forced more than 60 girls to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating. Misogyny in India is deep rooted and goes back to thousands of years linked to the social and caste hierarchies. What is worrying is that such prejudiced views are even expressed by those in responsible positions, particularly political parties, none of which have adhered to equality within their own party structures. Seven decades after independence, their representation remains token and symbolic. Almost all political formations remain strong male dominated bastions. Recently, a study by Amnesty International India revealed that Indian female politicians faced abuse, including rape and death threats, on social media during elections last year. To add to the unending and unaddressed saga of sexual violence, online sex abuse has further enhanced the gap between men and women. This gap cannot be addressed by mere slogans and schemes. It needs fundamental changes in the laws and the way these are executed, in the way political formations are structured so that gender justice can begin to percolate downwards. What is, therefore, particularly worrying about BJP government’s assertions in the apex court with respect to the question of gender parity in the Army is that these regressive ideas have not emerged from some maverick within the party but are meticulously and methodically articulated official positions. A more responsible action is expected from those in power. Coming back to our State, Advisor for Information & Public Relation, Toshi Wungtung was reported to have stated the need to address gender issues in the State at a 3-day State level workshop on gender budgeting for gender equality in rural areas on February 19 last. In his address at the workshop, he stressed that political empowerment of women is the need of the hour in Nagaland “as it is a tool to formulate policies.” “All said and done, beyond women empowerment there is a need for empowering women politically and to partner with women in evaluating and formulating policies in the state,” he was reported to have said. His statement assumes significance in the light of the fact that Nagaland legislative assembly is yet to see a women representative since statehood. Only one woman politician, Rano M Shaiza has so far succeeded to get some political space. In 1977, she became the first woman Lok Sabha member from the state and continues to remain the only one.