Why are Indian women denied the freedom of walking on the streets of their own city fearlessly - broad daylight or not! Can they not use their own judgment of appropriate dressing when stepping out of the house - not one stipulated by our narrow minded society? What would it take to let a girl enjoy her own personal space in a crowded marketplace - without being rubbed against, pinched or felt up?Will it ever happen that a women meets a fellow metro traveller in the eye and finds him not staring at her - or if he is, will he ever be embarrassed at being caught staring and look away. Is this too much to ask?
This is the 21st century and in this day and age, to read something as horrific as the molestation incident in Guwahati leaves you in despair about the state of the country.It is not important whether the girl was drinking or not - no one has the right to hurt and brutally humiliate another human being. Clearly, education has not taught the key instigatorseven the basic principles of life,while the law seems able only to react, not prevent. The world will not change for our daughters until we make a change in our sons.
As mothers there are things we can do, some simple steps to make that change. If we call ourselves a generation of empowered women and informed mothers, surely the least we can do is to ensure our sons are not the ones responsible for a woman's discomfort at any level in the future. This is now a global movement, one from which India cannot afford to be left out.
There is no place forgender stereotypes
"Mothers need to wipe out gender stereotypes completely. These stereotypes are the first indicators to children that boys and girls are not equal and as they grow up, they will take this gender imbalance in status and power as a given," explains Dr Surabhi Tandon Mehrotra, mother of a teenage boy and a senior consultant with prominent organisations working on women's safety and gender issues. "A simple first step is to sensitise children that household chores have nothing to do with gender.Housework is work too and needs to be valued and respected just like any other work.
Dr Mehrotra also brings up the need for creating an environment where both men and women can opt for professions of their choice freely. "Traditional roles of women as homemakers and men as breadwinners imposed by society have only reinforced the gender imbalance. A man may prefer to take on the role of a homemaker and he should be able to make his life choices without hesitation. You may not realise the impact today, but imagine the positives of a whole generation of young men who don't believe in any kind of gender discrimination."
Respect has to be shown to all women
"It is scary how some children are growing up without the tiniest bit of social responsibility or manners. Kids are watching and learning and reflect the culture of their family. You cannot preach respecting women to your son while allowing him to hit and scream at your maid. Are you giving him the message that certain types of women don't deserve respect?" says Shirin Tabassum, mother of two young boys. "If a boy hasn't learnt to respect the woman who works hard all day to care for him, is he capable of feeling there's anything wrong with jeering or harassing a stranger?"
Communicate openly and keep nothing hidden
"My 9 year old son is aware of the basic age appropriate facts about sex and now any further talk on the subject is as casual as discussing soccer. Kids will get their information anyhow. If you make sex a taboo topic at home, they will get distorted versions from friends or the internet. How are you going to teach respect and responsibility at that stage, if you haven't even been able to broach the topic when they were younger and keen to learn?" questions Arati Singh, also a mother of two boys.
Dr Mehrotra adds, "Children begin to really understand the differences between male and female bodies when their own bodies are going through changes. That is a perfect time to reinforce the lesson about being sensitive to each other's physical changes and not mock at awkward moments."
Fathers need to set the example
"Fathers are an important role model in this context. Your son is watching you, subconsciously copying your bowling action, your driving style and perhaps also the way you talk. But remember that he is also observing how you interact with the women around you and is likely to imitate that without question too," feels Dr Mehrotra.
Don't trivialise sexual harassment
Whistling or staring intently at another's body may seem like harmless fun, but according to JAGORI, a women's training, documentation, communication and resource centre, this is as much atype of sexual harassment asunwelcome kissing, hugging and touching, passing lewd remarks or making obscene phone calls.
"Don't trivialise harassment. Don't call it 'eve-teasing' or 'joking.' Sexual harassment is an aggressive and abusive act that causes hurt, trauma and pain. Calling it by any other name doesn't change the fact that it is abuse," reads an excerpt from JAGORI's handout on Sexual Harassment - a must read for all parents and young adults. The booklet defines all actions that constitute sexual harassment and also suggests effective Do's and Don'ts for both boys and girls, including the differences between flirting and harassment. Two other critical points that need to be communicated to boys:
Don't assume that girls like being harassed. Girls despise and avoid harassers. When they say "no," don't assume that they mean "yes". If you are not sure they are saying "yes" or "no," take the safe route and back off.
Don't assume that girls who dress "daringly" deserve to be harassed. Boys and girls both havethe right to dress as they want. You may not like what a girl is wearing, but that does not give you the right to show your anger or disapproval. Harassment is an offence and cannot be justified on any account. (http://jagori.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/sh.pdf)
Be alert and stop unacceptable behaviour early
Do not tolerate sexist language and attitudes from your child, irrespective of gender. Teach your child that it is NOT acceptable to act aggressively towards others. Teenagers are bound to have conflicts with the opposite sex. Encourage your son to come to you with his problem, listen to him and help him understand his own feelings toward a girl. Compliment the positive ones and work through the negative ones, suggesting alternative ways in which to resolve conflict other than through violence or abuse.
Be aware of abuse via digitial media
Abuse doesn't stop on the streets today; it has entered our homes through digital technology. For our kids, it may be an extension of their everyday lives and their intimate relationships, but the same technologies have created a new channel of abuse, one that can be difficult to control. Youngsters may not realise it, but digital abuse can include unwanted, repeated calls or text messages, privacy violations such as breaking into email or social networking accounts, and pressure to send nude or private pictures or videos. Make your child aware of the consequences of these actions and of the fine line between fun and abuse.
Let's make a start - by talking about what is acceptable and what is not.