Just after the devastating deluge, there came the waves of gender rights, with its many forms of protests and a variety of conflicting programmes in Kerala. Although āpolitical mileageā is perceived to be the undercurrent of the ongoing agitations and counter activities, it clearly brings to the focus the need for a clearer perception and bold action in favour of gender equality. The issue is vital to the progress of our country, since gender seems to be a dominant variable that influences human development in India. Gender is a vital dimension of social stratification, putting the female at a disadvantage.
A bleak scenario
Violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights violations across the world and especially in India. It is rooted in gender inequality and discrimination against women. Gender inequalities and their social causes impact India's sex ratio, women's health, education and economic conditions.
Gender inequality in India is a multi-faceted issue that concerns men and women. Some argue that various gender-based indices place men at a disadvantage. For example, 914 women to 1000 men in India is a cause of concern (Census 2011). The declining sex ratio in different States is well worth investigating.
While Indian laws on rape, dowry and adultery have women's safety at heart, several highly discriminatory practices are still taking place at an alarming rate, affecting the lives of many women. The fear of violence against women often hinders their educational mobility, employment, skill enhancement or income earning capacity and political participation. This, in turn, affects womenās capacity building and exploration of their potential. Every child deserves to reach her or his full potential, but gender inequalities in their lives and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality. Beyond biological aspects, there are many psycho-social issues that are important in the life of a āgirlā baby born in our country.
Roots of the problem
The existence of patriarchal social structure, patrilineal property transfer, religious and ritualistic practices, the notion of financial liability and vulnerability to sexual assault are some of the factors behind discrimination against girl children. Another important factor in discriminating against women is that ideas about manhood are deeply ingrained in our society. From an early age, boys are socialized into gender roles designed to keep men in power. And they grow up believing that dominant behaviour towards girls and women is part of being a man.
Life cycle-based approach
Since gender stereotypes are pervasive and operate throughout a lifetime, a life cycle-based approach is required to transform the way men and boys socialize in their surroundings such as domestic, education, workplace and economy. Life cycle-based approach should start with early childhood education and care. Early childhood is the most important phase of development of a personās life. This is when cognitive, social and emotional skills are learned, influencing lifelong educational achievement, health and wellbeing.
When young girls and boys are denied access to the opportunities, care and services they need to thrive and develop to their full potential, it affects the rest of their lives. The role of the family remains crucial in this initial formation. It is on this foundation that the family will build the gender identity. Here, mothers have a crucial role in educating boys on how to treat their sisters and female friends. In this matter, parental role modelling is more crucial than their instructions and corrections.
Formation of gender identity is an ongoing process influenced by other agencies such as school, social groups, extended family members, workplace, etc. Indian family system seems to be slow to absorb changes, even if it is legislated. Part of the problem seems to be the rural background of the majority of the population. Three-fourth of the Indian population live in rural areas where the problems related to girl child are dominant.
Some steps in the right direction
Understand power and discrimination: Sexual harassment is not about sex but about abusing power. Human diversity means differences, and these should be celebrated. Attaching a value of superiority or inferiority to a difference leads to discrimination and exclusion.
Recognize gender diversity: Gender-based discrimination should be approached within a broader diversity framework. Discrimination is influenced by other factors such as ethnicity, race, religion, caste, ability, and age, to name a few.
Start with self: Change always begins with the self. Each one of us plays multiple roles in our lives. We may belong to some powerful groups that set the rules. We may also belong to groups that must follow rules set by others. Each of us can become more conscious of our experiences with power and dis-empowerment and draw from them to be more inclusive and non-discriminatory when we are the ones in positions of power
Raise our boys and girls with the right values: We must raise children with the values of equality, non-discrimination, non-violence, and appreciation for diversity. In our roles as mothers, fathers and teachers, we must be careful to impart the right messages, not only through our words, but by our actions.
Create an enabling environment: We must build the capacities of the educational, legislative and judiciary bodies; police, media, and other stakeholders we associate with, to be sensitive and responsive to gender discrimination in their policies and practices.
The Project Swabhiman successfully experimented in New Delhi, is a clear and practical model. Swabhiman programme enables women and adolescent girls who belong to the lower socio-economic strata in and around Delhi, by empowering them to lead a life of dignity through realization of their self-esteem and inner potential. It follows a tailor-made strategy called the ā4 S Modelā, which is an acronym for four novel approaches, namely Seeking Healthcare as a Behaviour, Support for Education, Supporters in Men through Male Involvement, and Sustaining the Change in Communities.