Need men’s involvement to make India the best country for women: Deepa Narayan
After spending close to two decades on global solutions to fight poverty, Deepa Narayan turned her focus to pervasive gender violence in India and realised that a large chunk of the problem resided in people’s perception and entrenched stereotypes. In an interview with HT, she elaborates on the ways to fight this:
What did you find in your research?
I went to top colleges and institutions, particularly in Delhi, and conducted my study. One of the questions I would ask people was – “what were the first three words that came to their mind when they thought of women?” The most common words that even powerful women would say was: Mother, sacrifice, giving. These are still the defining words for womanhood among highly educated city women. There is nothing wrong with these aspects, but not a single woman used the word leader or powerful. To me, when you ask questions that are not direct, the real story starts emerging. Another word women used a lot was marriage. To change it, we have to first realise it is a problem. Women have adapted to an upbringing that trains them not to claim their power, an independent self. It is nobody’s fault; it is the way we are trained.
What are the possible solutions?
We need to have deep conversations about who we are and what unconscious definitions we carry about being a good man and a good woman. We need to listen to each other without blame and shame, and when this happens it is really transformational. Because we are all cultural creatures, we are all part of keeping the patriarchal system alive. In India, girls are unknowingly being trained by loving parents how to not exist, how to take up the least space. We teach girls to please everyone... So, there is a huge imbalance in power between girls and boys.
What do you think is the role of men in bringing about change?
Without men’s involvement, it will take another few centuries before our girls are safe. Such conversations need to happen among men because they are the power-holders even when they see themselves as ‘not so powerful’. Men hold power, they need to explore what power means, different types of power, including how to share power... Men should stop interrupting women and instead interrupt men’s bad behaviour when it happens. We need a men’s movement to make India the best country in the world for women.
In your work, you also mention how each person can contribute to gender equality.
Each one of us can wake up to our own power to change our personal habits. But this is much easier in groups, whether it is family groups, friends, colleagues or people who work together. If a girl or a woman speaks, everyone has to listen first without interruption. In our homes, fathers need to take the lead in listening. Even if the father and mother are equally educated...it is the father who the daughter looks up to and the son emulates.
Since the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang rape, there has been a lot of focus on violence against women but crime has not decreased. What more should be done?
I think punishment is always a deterrent. With 30 million cases pending, it is difficult to get justice. The court and legal process still makes it very difficult for a woman to get justice. Our world rank in ease of doing business has improved by over 50 ranks in one year but on gender equality, it has fallen. We have built 100 million toilets in a few years, but we haven’t uprooted violence. Since we are all part of the problem, we need to resolve it collectively, one aspect is creating self-organised conversational Chup Circles (an initiative by Narayan).
In your work, you mention the seven habits that hold women behind. Tell us more.
Let me repeat this is not women’s fault, they are deeply trained to behave in this way. These are everyday behaviours that we consider normal and virtuous...moral. Why would you want to change something you consider good and moral? That is what locks these behaviours in decade after decade...And if a woman speaks, disobeys, takes care of herself, the weight of the habits of millions of others breaks her, because the entire edifice is threatened.It is essential to build solidarity, support systems and change together.