For any society, it is important to be clear in its goals. India must know as to what kind of society it wants. Do we want half of our population to be defunct? Do we want our women to be passive, sleepy, submissive objects? How fearless are we when it comes to the question of women?
Those who advocate that women should remain within the four walls of the household do not realize that their opinion emanates from fear. Men are afraid to lose their centuries old domination. If we want full and free participation of women in nation building, we must chalk out our own ideas. If we want a healthy and vibrant society where girls and boys embrace life with joy, we must first be clear in our own minds.
Dead living women are not good for society. For any society to grow, to have strong cultural roots, to bloom economically, we need active participation of both women and men. There is ample data to prove that participation of women in all fields of life and education in particular increases efficiency, productivity, work culture and discipline. Hundreds of papers and thesis have been written to suggest ways to increase women enrolment in education and further in employment. Strategies have been worked out to stop drop outs. There have been animated and agitated discussions on women occupying high administrative positions in Indian universities and academic bodies. The importance of women hostels, scholarships, day-care centers for children of young, working mothers and women common rooms has often been underlined.
We are all aware of the quotation that if you educate a boy, you educate an individual but if you educate a girl, you educate a family. So here, we can produce yet another paper, yet another lecture on the importance of the role of women in higher education. We can suggest ways and means to achieve increased role of women in higher education sector. We can get passionate and personal about the importance of women and that would be the end of it.
Or, we can choose to be different. We can get real about the issue. We can try to think about the issue in an original manner. We can be more true to ourselves in discussing this issue. We can talk about our lived experiences or experienced truths. We can talk about this question of women in higher education on following lines.
Exposure and Experience for Girls and Women.
The Syllabi Content and Gender Sensitivity.
Wage Parity in Private Sector Education.
The Question of Reservation.
Discussion on Religious and Property Rights.
Exposure and Experience for Girls and Women
The importance of exposure just cannot be over emphasized. Exposure is crucial to the development of an individual's overall personality and perspective.
The brightness of personality comes from variety and intensity of exposure. New experiences are essential in shaping a new individual. Telling, giving lessons, asking to cram and demanding obedience-all this must come later. First and foremost we must provide new challenges, new experiences both to our girls and our boys. Curiosity, confusion and unanswered queries ignite young minds. If we want our nation to glow and grow and touch new scientific and intellectual heights, we must create an atmosphere where both girls and boys have global exposure. The methods can be wide and varied. Internet and its positive use come handy.
The Syllabi Content and Gender Sensitivity
An innocuous picture showing a women cooking and cleaning or a man sitting on a desk has deep gendered biases. Simple ‘do as directed’ grammar exercises have sentences like ‘Radha pani lana’, ‘Ram school ja raha hai’. Right from text books for children up to higher education grammar and other books depict women in serving, helping, and auxiliary roles. In text books you hardly find a woman flying an aircraft or leading a battalion.
Our books must free women from the burden of stereotypes, expectations, idolization and sacrifice. We do not need only stories of sacrifices made by women. We need stories of their valor, tact, managerial skills, success, knowledge, achievement and domination. There is no need to treat women as perfect idols simple because women are not perfect. They are human and being human is being imperfect. There is an urgent need to free women from expectations and stereotypes. Cleaning, washing, cooking and serving are not only a woman’s job. There is no need to congratulate a woman on being the secret behind a man’s success. She herself needs to be a success. High time we celebrate men who support women and become the secret of their success.
There is no need to burden the mother with the unending pile of sacrifices. Let us try and reduce those sacrifices. It is high time we stop telling women only how beautiful they are; we should also tell them how brainy, how strong they are.
Women live under the constant tyranny of the body image. A woman is not just her body. She is her intellect, tact, her hard work, grit, conduct and so on. A woman should not seek liberation only in entanglements and relationships etc. but in being her true self. Every second advertisement applauds women being brilliant at multitasking. Do we realize how much we have pressurized her by these expectations of multitasking? Let us try and reduce those tasks. How many texts, stories and photos celebrate the individuality, oddness, weirdness, adventurousness, fierceness or opinions of women. None. We have put mountains of burden of perfection on women. It is unfair.
How many professors are gender-sensitive? Courses on gender-sensitivity must be made compulsory like refresher courses. Every teacher must be regularly trained in gender sensitivity. Every teacher, male or female, must realize that equality of women is good for the society, for the family and the nation. It benefits all. It creates a fair environment where everyone can be happy. It frees men from the burden of forced show of masculinity. Gender sensitivity increases happiness index of the society.
An interesting incident recently underlined the extreme bias of the society towards women. Martin R. Schneider, writer/editor@SchneidRemarks, @Front RowCentral and Cohost@PolyTheatreCast narrated an experiment in a number of tweets on 10th March 2017. See and feel the story in his own words:
“So heres a little story of the time @nickynacks (his lady colleague) taught me how impossible it is for professional women to get the respect they deserve. Nicole and I worked for a small employment service firm and one complaint always came from our boss: She took too long to work with clients. (This boss was an efficiency fetishizing gig economy-loving douchebage but that’s another story) As her supervisor, I considered this a minor nuisance at best. I figured the reason I got things done faster was from having more experience. But I got stuck monitoring her time and nagging her on the boss’ behalf. We both hated it and she tried so hard to speed up with good work.
So one day I’m emailing a client back and forth about his resume and he is just being impossible. Rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions. Telling me his methods were the industry standards (they weren’t) and I couldn’t understand the terms he used (I could) He was entertainment industry too. An industry I knew pretty well. Anyway I was getting sick of his shit when I noticed something. Thanks to our shared inbox, I’d been signing all communications as ‘Nicole’. It was Nicole he was being rude to, not me. So out of curiosity I said, “Hey, this Martin, I’m taking over this project for Nicole.” Immediate Improvement. Positive reception, thanking me for suggestions, responds promptly, saying ‘great questions!’ Became a model client. Note: my technique and advice never changed. The only difference was that I had a man’s name now.
So I asked Nicole if this happened all the time. Her response: “I mean, not all the time... but yeah. A lot,” We did an experiment. For two weeks we switched names. I signed all client emails as Nicole. She signed as me. Folks, it fucking sucked. I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single. Nicole had the most productive week of her career. I realized the reason she took longer is because she had to convince clients to respect her. By the time she could get client to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get half way through another client. I wasn’t any better at the job than she was; I just had this invisible advantage. I showed the boss and he didn't buy it. I told him that was fine, but I was never, critiquing her speed with client again.”
So this is Martin’s experiment is his own words. Nicole knew that she was being treated differently for being a woman. She had accepted it. It was part of job for her. But this is such a telling tale. Now we know why George Elliot called herself George. Now we know when Amal Clooney goes to speak at the U.N. on genocide, why leading media groups report her baby bump and not the content of what she said. Her being a leading lawyer is less important to the fact that she is George Clooney’s wife.
This is how it is. This is the extent to which this world is unfair to women. This is the reason why everyone needs training in gender sensitivity.
Needless to say that men and women ought to be paid alike. This proposition as it sounds so obvious is in fact very difficult in practice in the private education sector. We often find women who are less paid than their male counterparts. This must end.
On The Questions of Reservation
If discrimination and disadvantage are the basis of reservation policy in India, then no other group deserves it better than women. Across castes and economic class, women have been discriminated against and hence need reservation. Either end reservation altogether or give it to women.
Discussion on Religious and Property Rights
It is good that there is a very healthy debate going on in our country regarding triple talaq. The Supreme Court of India is hearing arguments and hopefully there will be an end to this inhuman practice. Similarly, cremation rights for women, the profession of ‘purohits’ for women and equal property rights for women should also be considered. Any religion which does not change according to times becomes a burden and slowly decays.
In Hindu thought, we have ‘yuga dharma’ which asks us to act according to place, time and circumstance. Our actions must coincide with place, time and circumstances. The society must open up and let women chart their own destinies. Men have been deciding for women for too long. High time women started deciding for themselves.
The above, in short, are some suggestions which can instill gender parity and sensitivity in our coming generations.
(The above keynote address was delivered by Prof. Shubha Tiwari at a UGC sponsored national seminar on “Need of Women’s Emancipation in Qualitative Education and Research” on 21st March 2017 at J.R. University, Chitrakoot, U.P., India)