International Women’s Day: What is it that scares our patriarchal social-order?

Why not go beyond laws and have 50 percent women representation?

Written by Nisha Agrawal | Updated: March 8, 2017 10:32 am
Women's day, international women's day. woman day, women day, women representation, parliament women representation, parliament women MPs, Lipstick Under My Burkha Women labourers head work in Panchkula. Express Photo by Sumit Malhotra

On February 23, the Central Board of Film Certification refused to certify the film Lipstick Under My Burkha citing the story to be “lady-oriented”. It was yet another brutal reminder, if one was needed, of the male-dominated society we still live in. Ironically, this decision comes at a time when women across the world will go on a strike against misogyny, gender-based violence and everything that is “non-lady-oriented”.

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world,” 20th century English writer and modernist Virginia Woolf’s words flawlessly describe why women, after more than 100 years of first celebrating International’s Women’s Day, are still fighting for equality.

Lipstick Under My Burkha narrates the story of four women who live in a small Indian town and have dreams and desires. It looks at things from a woman’s perspective, allows them to tell their own stories, to be good and bad. So why silence it? What is it that scares our patriarchal social-order?

Well, the answer lies in the way we create space for women in our political, cultural, social and economic structures. In India, the figures say it all. While at a primary school level enrolment for boys and girls is almost equal, around 20 per cent drop out of girls is seem at the secondary school level. Then comes economic control. During the last 10 years, the labor force participation rate of Indian women, already very low compared to other Asian countries, has fallen from 37 to 27 percent. As we prosper, we are becoming more controlling and stopping women from stepping out to earn their own incomes. India is one of the few countries in the world where there is a break in a woman’s career when she gets married unlike in other parts of the world where women withdraw for brief periods during child-birth.

Political participation is abysmal. Even after over 70 years of Independence, we haven’t had more than 11 per cent of women in the Indian Parliament. The Women’s Reservation Bill asking for only 33 per cent of seats (why not 50 per cent) faces stiff resistance from male MPs and the whole “male-oriented” political system. The Corporate sector on the other hand is no better. Many listed companies seem to find it hard to hire even one competent woman for their Board, a mandatory under the Companies Act. Why not go beyond laws and have 50 percent women board members?

When Justin Trudeau became the Prime Minister of Canada in 2015 and appointed a Cabinet of Ministers that was half male and half female, people asked him why?. “Because it is 2015” was his simple but powerful response that echoed around the world. But clearly, 2015 has not yet arrived in India.

In addition to the contribution in economic, political and social spaces, women still carry almost the entire burden of caregiving and household work in most countries. India has one of the largest gaps in the number of hours men and women spend on unpaid care and domestic work. This not only takes a toll on a woman’s health but in many cases costs her professionally, forcing her to pull back and fulfill the expectations tossed at by the society. And the worst of all is that this work and care is un-recognized, un-paid and un-appreciated. No GDP figures and other measures of wellbeing take into account this huge contribution that women are making to the society.

There is another horrifying reality of our country. Sixty per cent of both men and women accept domestic violence. Out of this, 40 per cent of women are beaten up for reasons like not serving warm food, disrespecting in-laws, not taking care of their home and not having sex. Women choose to be silent at home and this is where the deeply entrenched patriarchy wins.

All this now has come to a head and women all over the world, including India, are saying that we are tired and fed up– Enough is Enough. A call has been made for a one-day strike on March 8 to show what the world without women would look like. Women will not go to work nor work at home or shop for anything. We will see how the workplace, home and free-market economy that depends on buying and selling of goods and services copes without us. What would a world without women look like? Women will show you on March 8.

Nisha Agrawal is CEO, Oxfam India. Views expressed are personal.

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