Print Media or social media which usually have headlines and cause a hue and cry on even the smallest of things did not mention this winning of an award by a former high school teacher from a remote area in the Kannur District of Kerala. Ms. K.K. Shailaja, Health Minister of Kerala, known for her down-to-earth missions, a major one last year is the fight against Nipah and this year's war against Covid, which won her an exceptional award. During the first week of September 2020, Prospect Magazine, London announced their awards for fifty thinkers who influenced the world during the year. Ms. Shailaja was first on the list of awardees. The honour becomes all the more important when the magazine reports that the second was Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the third was Marina Tabassum, a famous architect of Bangladesh who designed houses that would stand against the ravages of floods in villages. It is still more interesting that seven out of the first ten are women and twenty-six out of the fifty are also women.
Instead of Ms. K.K. Shailaja, if the minister happened to be a man, the print and social media would have come out with descriptive and colourful reports about the winning of the award. There would have been plenty of functions organized, congratulations offered, bouquets and garlands given, cut-outs erected in street corners, crackers burst and any number of eulogies or panegyrics written. The Chief Minister of Kerala who briefed the press every evening for one hour did not mention this. The secretary of her political party did not speak about this or about her though he met the press more than four or five times a week.
However, there are small reports of relief about women’s actions. Ms. Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway answered children’s questions about Covid by being available to them for an hour. Ms. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany reviewed the continuation of a gas project with Russia. Ms. Maria Kolesnikova who challenged Alexander Lukashenko’s presidential election was abducted by masked men after she tore up her passport to avoid expulsion from the country. All these were also small paragraph reports or a few frames in television networks. These are all sharp in contrast to reports about even the smallest of men’s actions in the smallest of countries in the world. Wonderful achievements by women like the listing which Prospect Magazine has brought out will not be reported because they are all about women who do not matter to a highly male-dominated society.
Again, there are big reports, of another kind, about women’s actions. Ms. Ragini Dwivedi and Sanjjanna Galrani from Bengaluru were more important than their counterpart-men who organised the rave parties in their city. Ms. Rhea Chakraborty stole the limelight though there were three other men including her brother who were allegedly involved in providing illegal substances to the famous actor. Ms. Sapna Suresh was arrested from Bengaluru for organising the smuggling of gold into the country through diplomatic consignments in Trivandrum though there was very little mention about the men who helped her to do all these. These were all reported descriptively and loudly because they were women. How could women ever do this? Someone said the mentions of Coronavirus had decreased since the reports of these women became more interesting.
One doesn’t have to go into the past to prove to the world the leadership capabilities of women by referring to Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka or Golda Meir of Israel or our own Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom or Theresa May of UK in recent times. During the first week of September 2020, News Portal brought out in their IT Services Report a global list of twenty-five women who made notable contributions. It included five Indian women: Ms. Aarthi Subramanian of Tata Sons, Ms. Inderpreet Sawhney of Infosys group, Ms. Roshni Nadar Malhotra of HCL, Ms. Riju Vashisht of Genpact, and Ms. Laura Langdon of Wipro. So, there are women who will excel in what are considered the bastions of men, if given opportunities.
One should also bring to memory the courage and grit of a seventeen-year-old girl from Bangarmau in UP who fought her constituency’s MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar and sent him to life imprisonment for not only attacking her modesty in the worst way but also framing false charges against her father and getting him arrested and killed in custody. She had the courage to attempt self-immolation in front of the Chief Minister’s residence demanding action against Sengar. She fought against her molester despite a motor vehicle accident in which she was seriously injured and two relatives died while her lawyer also was seriously injured. She not only succeeded in forcing the government to hand over the case to the CBI which charge-sheeted Sengar and his associates but also wrote to the Supreme Court which intervened and transferred her case to Delhi to have a fair trial. She forced the CBI to recommend appropriate action against an IAS officer Aditi Singh who was District Magistrate during the time and Pushpanjali Devi and Neha Pandey, two IPS officers, for their lapses and alignment with the offender despite being women. She not only got the sympathy of people in the country but also drew support from social organizations. So, suffice it to say that even a young girl from a remote village could steer her unfavorable situations to succeed in her fight for justice when all odds were against her with the political maneuvering of the people in power.
Why does society not only refuse to recognize women for their achievements but conversely, also unfailingly highlight it when they break social compromises, laws, rules, regulations, or even traditions? Why doesn’t society consider the fact that more heinous crimes generally committed by men get overlooked and lesser criminal offenses done by women get exaggerated? Why does society fail to give equal justice to all offenders without considering gender? Why does the society which excuses the men at fault without much difficulty refuse to excuse women when they are at fault?
Are there answers to these questions?
If one takes the total amount of physical work done by people in a country, it is surely obvious that more would have been done by women. If one takes the total amount of food consumed by people in a country, again there are no prizes for guessing that the lesser quantity would have been consumed by women. If one takes the total amount of suffering that people undergo, the more will be the lot of the women. If one takes the total amount of help rendered in a family, the more will be the share of the women. If one takes the total amount of destruction in the world, the more will be done by the men. If one takes the total amount of power held in any society, the more will be in the hands of the men. If one makes a list of deprivations created for people, the more will be faced by women. There could be plenty more.
Women get an unfair deal in every society.
Social organisations, even political organisations, have started movements for women empowerment so that they would be equal to men. Some of the universities have started departments of Women’s Studies which research on making women learn methods of asserting their rights in different forums. There are exclusive women’s organisations that promote the social positioning of women on par with men. Even governments encourage women entrepreneurs and in some cases, there have been reservations for women for employment. All the same, the ultimate truth remains that women are nowhere near an equal position with men in many fields though exceptions do exist.
There are lots of patronising actions that are done by benevolent men to empower women. Such people would speak about giving importance to women by allowing them to be the first in a queue as if it is a concession offered to the weak. Some of these will also give statements like women should be respected because they are mothers or going-to-be-mothers or even say that they are sisters. In some cases, places may be reserved for women as a mark of respect for them, not as a mark of their right to privacy. In some other cases, there are always statements made that women need to be protected and that is the responsibility of men who are supposed to be chivalrous. Most of these come from an acceptance of male superiority or even domination as a philosophy of life.
Thinkers on the subject of empowering women have repeatedly stressed the need for developing the competencies of women so that they would be equal to men in front of opportunities. Making women equal to men is neither possible nor desired as both are created differently and when men end their growing into maturity by the time they are able to procreate, women go a few steps further, to conceive to deliver and to breast-feed the young one. Thus, from a biological point of view, women have superiority over men. Hence, empowering women should not concentrate on equating them with men. Instead, what is necessary is to provide equal opportunities for women to excel in all areas where men are able to do so.
There is one important cultural issue that is to be considered when one looks at the need for bringing women on par with men in front of opportunities. This is the cultural attitude of men towards women. Therefore, what is necessary for the women empowerment programmes is to empower men to think differently when it comes to the positions that are to be made available to women by right in any given society. Societal functioning with regard to cultural positioning is difficult to change. But change we must and such changes can come about only with a determined mindset that empowers men, who are currently the dominant sex in society, to stand up for the rights of women.
About the Author:
The author is Director of College for Leadership and HRD. He writes and trains and lives in Mangaluru.
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