Thursday, February 13, 2014

From Sexism to Gender Sensitivity: Everyday with Every Action

Rakhee Suryaprakash

Image: (c) Nobel Women's Initiative
“To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it” said Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today’s rampant misogyny and the societal backlash to the empowerment of women call for immediate solutions as it affects both men and women. For every girl and woman pushed into a role or path she is unhappy with somewhere a boy or a man is pressured as well. Empowering women and rooting out misogyny is incomplete without involving and educating the patriarch himself. Men are the gatekeepers and to neutralize misogyny they need to be involved and re-educated.

Despite India praiseworthy status in legislations empowering and aiding women in The Guardian’s recent country-to-country comparison of laws on women’s rights the ground reality is disappointingly different. Laws need people to implement them and the will to implement is lacking. In the article “Good Laws, Bad Implementation” Vasundhara Sirnate of The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy quotes following alarming figures from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) for Indian men: 68% believed that women should tolerate violence to keep family together; 65% felt that sometimes women deserve to be beaten; 37% have physically assaulted their intimate partner at least once; 24% have committed an act of sexual violence against someone in society, 20% committed an act of sexual violence against their partner, and to cap it all 92% were aware of the laws protecting women from abuse.

 Sadly the misogyny is so automatic and entrenched in our group consciousness that an unlearning process and re-education is required immediately. The first step in unlearning is facing ugly facts. In this context social media is a boon. Short films on this theme have captured the imagination of the netizens and are forcing them to confront everyday sexism. Of them all the ones which impressed me follow.

Oppressed Majority by Élénore Pourriat showcases the ludicrous yet chilling reality of the oppression that women face everywhere and every day through role reversal. In it the protagonist is a chubby father dressed in a t-shirt, Bermudas (not even shorts!!), and flip-flops who is continually harassed by women around him who dominate his reality escalating to a sexual assault by a mob of angry women. And throughout the man is blamed for being provoking! The series of films Flip Side are humorous but they also carry a serious message of how widespread sexism and misogyny is. The silent film Bol is equally thought-provoking without employing role reversal. It’s a stark reflection of the harsh reality of the traumas faced by girls and women in India. Every ugly unquestioned and unstopped act silently urges the viewer “to speak up, speak out, and speak against” the oppression!

Okay so the message has reached those with a hook up to the Net but what about rural populace dominated by the dreaded khaps and kangaroo courts? What about children and youngsters who haven’t yet been indoctrinated or bought into the majority philosophy yet?

For rural populations with no access to the Net the networking influence of the Self-Help Group (SHG) movement and the elected woman representative (EWR), now 30% of all legitimate panchayat institutions, could be the key. By taking the message of gender sensitivity to the rural masses through SHGs and EWRs we can hope to persuade them to unlearn the years of unquestioningly accepting harmful gender roles.
Schools and colleges have a moral science and value education component built in. By training teachers in gender sensitivity one can help mould the minds that will in turn shape those of our future generations. There are no quick fixes but the conditioning to being gender sensitive needs to be a continual one without exceptions and needs to happen everywhere ... in our homes, our educational institutions, our workplaces, and in the places of our worship in order for society to successfully unlearn the evil that keeps its women subjugated.

“Good Laws, Bad Implementation,” Vasundhara Sirnate, The Hindu, Feb 1, 2014, Saturday, pg. 10.
(Links to Oppressed Majority & the Flip Side series on Yahoo! Screen)

Raakhee Suryaprakash has a Master’s degree in International Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry but her passion remains writing and researching things that change the world for the better. Her work has been widely published both in print and online media. Raakhee Suryaprakash is in the process of launching a social enterprise SUNSHINE MILLENNIUM that aims to help India's off-grid rural areas achieve the Millennium Development Goals by setting up of solar-powered millennium development centres maintained by local stakeholders and funded by corporate social responsibility programmes and government schemes.