Thursday, March 05, 2015

Tackling Gender Disparity: A Third Eye Perspective & Role of Emerging Mothers!

This is a topic that has been very close to my heart. As I grow older, the perspective that I had about this global issue and its origin kept changing. Until recently, like most of my peers, my views always inclined towards blaming society / cultural differences at large and the offenders (mostly men !). There comes a point in our life when we start seeing things differently. One of my uncles, defines reaching adulthood as a stage, where one is capable enough to take full responsibility for his/her actions and the things that happen in their life, make the required course corrections and move forward from there on. Personally, I am thankful to have come from a family where such gender differentiation was almost non-existent and we were free to share different viewpoints and pursue our dreams, without being challenged on your gender.

So do I view this gender disparity only in an "Indian" context or issues in the under-developed or developing nations? Thanks to the extensive globe-trotting (not just as a tourist but having lived  in US and Europe), I can quite confidently say and see that, such gender disparity is there every where. Of course, the origin, degree of manifestation and how each country copes with this topic may vary. Fundamentally, it is this gender disparity that is the underlying reason for most of the violent crimes we read in the media every day! 

Let me start with the classic Indian scenarios (as I have spent significant part of my life here, which shaped most of my thought process) - gender discrimination starts very early - right from the time when a married woman is expecting her child. There a lot of speculation about the sex of the unborn child. The difference comes when the family comes to know that it is not a boy! To avoid discrimination even before birth and to ensure safe birth of the child and the safety of the mother, there is a law in place in India that you cannot determine the sex of the child when you go for ultrasound test. So who endangers this girl even before she is born? Who is more happy to prefer a male child? If your guess was the expectant Father, or the Grandfather or any other male members of the family that creates this bias, then let me tell you, that is usually not the case. In 90% of the cases, it would be the expectant Grandmother (and in some cases even the mother herself), who feels that bringing up a girl is a huge responsibility and insecurity, where as having a boy is a sign of pride!

When you visit their homes, typically, when they introduce their male child they are very proud where as that pride vanishes to nothing (or sometimes changes to fear or some other such negative reaction) when they introduce their female child. As the children grow older, the mothers tell their daughters that they need to learn how to be good daughters ( cleaning up after their family meals), to be good sisters (e.g. by tolerating all the tantrums by their brothers), to be good daughter-in-laws (e.g. by not going against the wishes or decisions of their in-laws even if they may not be right), to be a good wife (e.g. by always agreeing with their husbands views and be resilient to any abuses), by being a good mother (e.g. by giving birth to a boy who will carry the family name to the next generation). In all this, they forget to tell their sons how to be a good son, brother, son-in-law, husband, and father. 

When a girl wants to choose a career of being a pilot, armed forces, mechanical, construction, and such kinds of profession, they are told that it is a man's job and that they should try to stick to "softer" careers like teaching, home science or simple administrative functions. When we buy toys there are boy toys and girl toys. For example, trucks and Lego are not for girls and Barbie and tea sets are not for a boy. Who makes such baseless rules in toys? My Boy loves Barbie movies and loves to play pretend tea party with his sister. My girl loves planes and cars to play with her brother and enjoys seeing Toy Story and wants to be a cow girl like Jesse and loves constructing buildings with Lego. When a boy cries, we tell him do not cry like a girl! Who said crying is only a girl thing? Anyone has the right to let tears out when the pain (emotional or physical) is intolerable and they want to let it out in less violent manner than head banging or smashing something down or hurting themselves or others around them. And who is the first one to make such discrimination in the early years of the child?

Similarly, if a man is jobless, then he is unfit to even be called a man. This creates undue pressure on boys (especially in their final year of college) to secure a job offer (at least one) before the final semester ends. They are stressed out if they do not get selected in the first few companies that come for campus recruitment. Whereas a girl with a similar qualification but jobless is considered ready for marriage and not even given a chance to pursue other opportunities or higher studies (especially outside their hometown). 

Not only this, it is un-manly to do house hold chores. Men who help their wives with the house hold chores are called by various nick names one of which is "Hen Pecked" - (Joru ka gulam in Hindi and Pondaati Daasan in Tamil). And who do you think tells this? In most cases, it is the mother of the boy and the other ladies of the house! But the same men can help their mothers with the house hold chores. There is nothing wrong in that. They are just being a very faithful son. How can the same activity be right in one instance and wrong in the other? When a woman handles the finances of the house, deals with monthly payments, is more than willing to handle strangers or government officials when they come at the door step instead of turning them away saying their husband or father is not home so they should come at another time, is being too brash and dominating. She disrespects the man of the house. Really?

In India, I see most mothers sending very confusing messages to their children and setting a very bad example. This will only to lead to confused adults, who never take responsibility for their actions and always keep searching for someone or something to blame for the mistakes. These individuals potentially commit such violent crimes.

Now, with so much of discrimination that the child has seen from birth till the age of 25 or so, what kind of reaction do you expect when you talk about the perils faced by women in the society? What answer can you expect from a man who grew up in such a discriminating environment when you ask him about the safety of lone women in world outside? His only answer would be she has to remain indoors. Outdoor job is a man's job! In similar lines, he would only blame a woman for being a victim of gender crimes especially rape. 

Outside India, these stories are no different and statistics spread on the Internet can support this fact. Even in all developed countries, sexual violence (especially rape) is the most "under-reported" violent crime. How many of us know that rapes in developed countries like USA is 5 times that of India, when the population of America is 1/4th of India? In terms of ranking, countries with highest registered rape crime includes USA, South Africa, Sweden, India and guess what, the European countries incl. UK, Germany and France! More stories from United Nations on "International Statistics on Crime and Justice". 

Not just rape, most cases of violence (including honor killing, suicide cases...) that we see are a result of this disparity instilled in early years. Punishing the (wo)man who commits the act of violence is not the only step forward to eradicating this evil. Instead a paradigm shift in the thought process of every man and women is the need of the hour. This solution can easily be achieved in one generation - by the young and to-be Mothers across the globe. If we as Mothers can stop ourselves for a minute when our DNA induced reaction kicks in (which is to differentiate) and constantly keep reminding ourselves not to differentiate between our boy and girl child, teach both of them at par on how to be good human beings (not just a good man or woman), not set different standards of right and wrong, not have different DOs and DON'Ts, then we can remove the unwanted stress that we thrust upon them to be an ideal man or woman. We remove the gender disparity that creates stress and is the root cause of most cases of violence. We just create a common baseline which is to be model citizen/human being who is considerate of their fellow human beings, irrespective of gender, caste, creed, religion, nation, skin color, economic status ...(will the list ever end?)

Recently, the hue and cry to ban a documentary, that might in all truthfulness reveal this gender disparity that is so deep rooted in our culture, which is the real reason for such derogatory thoughts on women and various acts of violence and intolerance towards each other, shows how much we do not want to face the reality and would love living in a pseudo-contentment that our culture is the best in the world! Our culture was probably the best a long long time ago. Now we have a very confused view about lots of things due to our addiction to media and western (or should I say foreign) glam. Maybe it is time to step back and take a critical look at what we are all about and start changing for the better.

I am not sure how much of a change on online petition can bring about, but there is no harm in trying.. Those who think it is time to face reality and move ahead to create a change in our mindset, you can sign the below petition requesting to remove the ban on screening the documentary in India.

In fact, if what the people are protesting for the ban think is true, that this is a ploy to defame the country, banning it in India is not going to stop the defamation, it will only keep the Indians in the dark about what the documentary is all about. Instead, viewing it might influence our mentality in a positive way for change. Let us first understand what we are against. As an old Tamil saying implies a cat with its eyes closed always wonders why the world is dark- meaning, being ignorant of the facts only harms you, not the world around you!