Every year on 8th March we celebrate International Women’s Day. To mark this event and see how college students see “feminism” our university organised a debate competition on the topic “Women Empowerment in Context of Equality and Justice”.
As academic debates are the foundation for new ideas and theories. Something quite noticeable came to my observation. The people who spoke against the motion were quick to talk about human rights – and how feminism is something that is hindering the path of human rights. As a pursuing scholar in the discipline of political science and a feminist myself I felt like this myth need to be addressed.
It’s very evident that since time immemorial women were not granted any “rights”. For example, the early code of conduct- The Code of Hammurabi was biased towards women. The statements in it, mention that men are the head of the household.
Women are supposed to see their husbands as their “lord”, and it’s their husband’s prime responsibility to take care of them. It also states that the tradition of knowledge should be passed from father to son. Another example is the Greek civilization which used to believe that men with property were the only ones who were considered citizens and had voting rights.
Meanwhile, women were not even considered citizens. These are examples that show women were conﬁded to the private sphere.
Considering a recent example of India, you may notice that public toilets for women are a recent phenomenon, that shows how the state associates women with “household”. The same goes for sanitary pad vending machines – are a very recent installation in the public sphere. All of these things question- whether we see women as equal. And if so, then why situations are still somewhat the same for women?
To answer this question we need to understand the psyche of the people. Simone De Beauvoir’s work and her famous lines, ”one is not born a woman, but become one” has always been an inspiration for radical feminists back in time and now. I believe it is very much true with our society in general that “womanhood” is a concept embedded in practice.
Just like you teach your kids how to walk, sit and eat, you also discipline them to ﬁt in the norms of society. The same way you train your children to draw a line when it comes to gender differences. Like you have a by-default feature in your computer in the same way you inbuilt a “by default” of gender biases in your children while raising them.
Do you give a thought before you bring light colours of clothing like “pink” for girls and dark colours like “navy blue” for boys? You might also ﬁnd yourself telling your son that he needs to have a career and a job because he is the “breadwinner” of the family and setting rules for your daughter like policing over her clothing or not allowing her to go out after a certain time.
When we say, “what society will say?”, why do we forget that it is who makes the society?
We need to understand that education, job and career are not a monopoly on men. Clothing, time, and age have nothing to do with rape, molestation, sexual assault, eve teasing and groping. It can happen with any woman of any age, wearing anything and at any time.
For the sake of the coming generation, it’s our responsibility to stand up for women’s empowerment in the context of justice and equality. For that, you need to raise your son in a way that he understands that respecting the girls in his class, not staring at his female co-worker, not being violent towards his wife, and not passing comments on the girl walking down the street is the bare minimum you are doing. It’s the bare minimum to make people feel safe around you.
Gender equality won’t come easy, as it will challenge norms, beliefs and more importantly mindset of people. The structure of patriarchy has a strong foundation that can only be demolished when men themselves leave their biases behind and start treating women as a human beings and not an object. Feminism is not about demanding for special rights for women its about asking for human rights for women.