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Not just a better half

Education and financial inclusion for women hold the key to gender equality, writes Archana Dalmia.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2013 22:57 IST
Archana Dalmia
Archana Dalmia

From time immemorial, women have been reminded of their position in society vis-à-vis men. We are either somebody’s daughter, sister, wife, or mother.

We are told to make this plea to those who torment us, hoping they would be jolted out of their beastliness. Instead of continuing with this status quo, we must demand to be treated normally minus any ‘relationship’ tag.

That said, how can we achieve empowerment and what are the challenges?

First, empowerment has to be financial. The pay for any work has to be gender-neutral. That fight has been universal, a case in point is the Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968 in Britain: the women who manned the sewing machines went on a strike demanding equal pay and brought the corporation to its knees. Their protest led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

Financial empowerment will come only through one door: education. Society has to put pressure on parents of girls that they must educate them.

The gossip at nukkads should not be “Do you hear their daughter has turned 18 and is still unmarried?” to “Do you know that so and so is not educating his daughter?” Families that discriminate against daughters should be shamed publicly.

The government had a brilliant idea to spread formal banking and encourage financial inclusion through self-help groups (SHG).

The concept has been a success with a low percentage of bad loans. That happened because of peer pressure. If one woman defaults, the SHG suffers.

The same system can work out for social change too. It’s about how much pressure can be mounted to influence behaviour. Once that pressure is applied, families will start treating daughters on a par with sons.

Empowerment of women begins at home. The harshest truth is that unless it is desirable for her to exist, families will try to eliminate a woman at every stage. If the patriarchal system that runs our society can’t foil her birth, it will do all it can to spoil her life.

The people who run our formal education systems like schools and colleges and the people who run the informal education systems like the media must understand that men need to be sensitised too.

Television shows, films, newspapers, magazines, advertisements and other forms of the media must make sure that what does appear before the public does not harm the cause of women in the country.

Archana Dalmia is chairperson, Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee
The views expressed by the author are personal