–Kakali Das |
Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 – endorsed by 189 governments at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, and powered by the 21st century women’s movement – is the most visionary agenda for the human rights of women and girls, everywhere. With this idea of ‘generation equality’ we are now closing 25 years of making that Declaration. The Beijing platform for action have marked the historic blueprint which guides the vision of the current sustainable development goals. Sustainable development goals are a set of 17 goals that the world has come together to agree on to use as a blueprint to where our future leads. It’s that vision for collective action and wisdom. What ‘generation equality’ does is to place the issue of gender equality in the front and centre as pre-requisite to achieving the other spheres and aspects – meaning, if 50% of the population aren’t liberated, empowered, or treated equally there’s absolutely no way we would achieve what we intend to. And ‘generation equality’ is that urgency, commitment or road map that encompasses to guide us in definite ways towards the 2030 agenda, which is to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
Women, as a gender represents one half of the population of this country. If we have, in fact, done justice to what our founding parents imagined us to be as a country that treats men and women equally, no interventions would have been required. Unlike other countries, when India got its independence women and men were granted equal rights, though mostly in the form of words. In many other histories women had to fight for their right to vote, to inherit property, but our constitution viewed men and women equally. But has that really translated on the ground?
Compared to the rest of the world, how much progress are we making as a country in terms of fundamental rights for women, equality and empowerment for women? How far has the virus and the lockdown affected and set us back in that aspect?
To think of India in a monolithic homogenous way would be being disloyal to the idea of India, and to further speak of women in a monolithic way as one homogenous group, in one homogenous country is probably doing double the disservice. Essentially, when we write or speak about gender rights, it’s important to understand that the deep rooted cultural and social notions and the history of gender rights inIndia is embedded in its past – that makes us a country of many stories, of many realities, and from the perspectives of gender, very paradoxical.
We are one of those countries where we have had our moments long back – our first female President, first female chief minister, first women in the IAS, in the days of yore than many of our peers or other countries that today are super economic powers have had. We have largest number of women in grass root politics as compared to anywhere in the world. These are the statistics that we should be wearing on our shoulders. The country has, over a period of time, been looking at increasing the number of women in the armed forces, as frontline workers, and wherever it may be. India is also the home to the largest number of women health workers serving selflessly day in and out. Of course, the representation of women across the pipeline has been a matter of pride, but it has also been a matter of guilt, because we know for a fact that women as an entity are still missing from the apex of the organisations, from places where decisions are being made, from board rooms still largely. Moreover, the tragic issues like low child sex ratio across the globe has crippled the future of the nation to a larger extent; we still witness women crumbling under the honour paradigm, struggling to make it primetime across any spheres.
I think, the journey between equal representation and affective participation is a journey that we are yet to plug in fully, but that said, no country in the world today, as per sustainable development goals and indicators are gender equal countries, no matter how rigorously they claim it to be. But that doesn’t give us any consolation to be where we are as a country now.
There was a surge in the amount of unpaid care work during the lockdown with migrants returning, of which most of them were men. The amount of unpaid work on women or the cumulative burden on them had almost more than tripled. A surge in the cases of domestic violence had too been witnessed, as reported by the NCW, since women were locked up with no access to essential services and the informal support group of their family members per se. These are women who have gone off the radar or are missing, either in terms of identity or work or income, or composite identity, meaning there is deprivation on every single front of their lives.
The massive migration that India witnessed,the women that accompanied the families of the migrants/workers that headed back to their villages during the lockdown because of being unable to sustain themselves in the cities had ghastly experiences too. Even in the urban homes, the amount of negotiation that the women have to undergo to break-through those barriers, travel through another Cities, find work that pays and honours them, and suddenly to lose that power, the entire deal that they have negotiated and to put their lives behind, I think it would take us very intentional, sustained and long term interventions to actually pick women back to their earlier self.
The constitution is the very foundation of how we identify ourselves; the truth here is that any piece of legislation or law is far from its implementation, because through the constitution we are challenging the oldest living institution of the world, which is ‘patriarchy’. For an instance, about 50-60% of all agricultural work is done by women. But today, when the entire nation is witnessing the historic farmers’ protests, are we, for once, imagining a woman as a farmer? The fact and the difference between ‘the provisions of the constitution as fundamental right’, and ‘the access of the constitution as fundamental right’, is precisely evident.
The changes must be executed on different levels – governments, states, cities, corporate sector, public sector organisations, hospitals, mid-day meal programmes, alongside various other sets of establishments such as, our judiciary, executive, police force, doctors, nurses – it’s utmost necessary to bring everyone on board. Ultimately, the change has to happen on these levels and all organisations. “I think, it’s a realisation that has happened between the women’s movements, and not otherwise. We may have left the men out of the conversation for a very long time. Today, it is a moment of realisation forthe women regarding how they were never vocal to their counterparts or men, particularly if they are looking at the re-distribution of power”, Nishtha Satyam, Representative For UN Women said.
In September 2014, the idea of gender equality occurred to the people which resulted in the campaign, HeForShe, launched by the then Global Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, which emphasises on mobilising half of humanity in support of the other. The understanding that this movement would shackle ‘inequality’ is a novel understanding in any system. For long, we have had a said group of black suited men sit in a room and talk vehemently and passionately about the idea of curbing gender discrimination, but now the idea of ‘nothing about women, without women’ is prevailing far and beyond amongst all and sundry. That we can no longer have this conversation in isolation and that women’s rights are human rights must be perceived as rapidly as possible. If women do better, society does better, children are better off, the country’s GDP does better.