Take any project from the Mars Orbiter Mission to the simultaneous launch of 104 Satellites, the contribution of Indian women scientists in their success is being hailed and celebrated not only by India but also across the globe. Scientists like Dr. Tessy Thomas, N. Valarmathi, Minal Sampath, Anuradha TK, Ritu Karidhal, Moumita Dutta, Nandini Harinath have made every Indian feel extremely proud.
Just like these scientists there are a lot of women who are trendsetters and are glowing examples of excellence and knowledge in diverse domains. This, however, is only one end of the spectrum wherein educated, successful and empowered Indian women are positioned. A vast majority of women at the other end of the spectrum still face enormous amount of sexism, discrimination and oppression. They are still far removed from demanding their rightful place in life and society and thereby, exercise their fundamental rights including the Right to Equality (article 14), enshrined in the Constitution of India. The only way forward, therefore, is to reduce that gap and balance both ends of the spectrum.
Fortunately, we are on the right path, working on the principles of gender equity. The contribution and participation of women in the work force and in the political arena at the grass roots level has enabled India to climb 21 spots in the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum in 2016. It has climbed to 87th rank in 2016, which is a vast improvement from being ranked at 108th in 2015. It has substantially improved due to attainment of education, economic participation and opportunity, health and survival and political empowerment. (Source: https://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/economies/#economy=IND) It ranks 9th on political empowerment in the world, which is a major achievement and also underline the inherent strength of the democratic model our country has adopted.
However, there are no two opinions that there is a long way to go as far as gender equity is concerned and one of the major stumbling blocks is how women are perceived by our society. While the legal and constitutional framework protecting rights of cross sections of women is extremely empowering; liberal and progressive awareness about these provisions is abysmally low. Even if legal awareness is there, accessing justice, navigating through the long winding legal tangle, is no mean task for any common man or woman.
Similarly, gender imbalance and gender discriminations, leading to a steady decline in the female population of the country since 1961, is a well-known stigma in the growth story of India. The multi-sectoral Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme was launched in 2015 by the Prime Minister to address precisely this issue and reverse the decline. The declining numbers, however, reflect only part of the story. It is merely a symptom, albeit a grave one, of the low social status of women and girls. It amply reflects how the deep rooted patriarchal social structure in India governs the entire life cycle continuum of neglect, abuse, inequality and discriminations in a woman’s life. Such discriminations and violation of basic human rights of women cut across class and demographics and manifest in minor to grave instances of sexism, experienced on a day to day basis.
Even today, it is quite common to come across such instances of women being prevented from watching TV or listening to the radio so that they do not get “spoilt to being compelled to drop out of school, forced to marry early etc. These discriminations might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalized that one doesn’t even feel the need to protest. Misogyny and violence against women and girls are increasing at an alarming rate.
#WeAreEqual Campaign of WCD
Given such a context, awareness, mindset change along with social and behavioral change towards creating an enabling environment for women and girls to achieve equality, becomes a constant necessity. It also becomes a necessity to engage with men and boys who are equal stakeholders in the process. It is imperative that men and boys show the mirror to our society and become equal partners in the war against sexism, inequality and gender discriminations.
Targeted at raising awareness, Ministry of Women and Child Development initiated a social media campaign #WeAreEqual recently on 13thFebruary, to highlight the need for equal opportunity to women in the fields of education, health, nutrition, safety and dignity. The Campaign is part of a series of initiatives to mark International Women’s Day on 8th March including the Nari Shakti Awards ceremony. It appeals to all to participate in the campaign saying, “YOU and I, WE are one. This International Women’s Day, share your slogan of equality and join the change.”
The campaign is getting a lot of traction on social media as more and more celebrities, sports stars and everyday heroes have joined in. Both men and women have been posting the #WeAreEqual messages on social media for positive affirmation of gender equality. They are also communicating their personal stories and efforts towards creation of a gender just society. Additionally, it indicates ownership of common people of not only the importance and necessity of gender equality but also their willingness to take responsibility towards invigorating change.
Popular actor Aliya Bhatt and Indian Skipper Virat Kohli will also lend their support to the Campaign as indicated by the Ministry of Women & Child Development earlier. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan, Wrestler Sangram Singh, Olympian Boxer Mary Kom, Dia Mirza and ISRO scientists K Thenmozhi Selvi, Subha Varier and Minal Rohit etc. have already lent their support to the campaign. Social influencers like them can not only boost traction but also inspire change.
For the Campaign, Mary Kom has posted as follows, “I want every girl to have the liberty to pursue her dreams. Give them more recognition in sports.”
Amitabh Bachchan has delivered the #WeAreEqual message in a very emphatic manner by making this declaration for the campaign: “When I die, the assets that I shall leave behind, shall be shared equally between my daughter and my son! #genderequality #WeAreEqual.” Needless to say, this message very effectively advocates for equal property rights of men and women.
Common people are also sharing their personal stories and messages with this hash tag, reiterating its necessity, application in daily life, acknowledging the world of sexism faced by women every day and that it is a valid message to send out.
There is absolutely no doubt that India needs to maintain its tempo in the march towards achieving gender equity and a gender just society where men and women have equal access to all resources and opportunities. Every little effort, every campaign, every initiative counts! And every stakeholder has to believe in it.
*Author is a freelance writer and a development communication professional, currently serving as Head, Communication at SOS Children’s Villages of India. Views are personal.