What does it take to be a woman?
Here we will have to bring out the fact that the institution of patriarchy which is so deeply entrenched in society is actually the culprit. It is pointless to pit women against men. Both have to work together towards building an egalitarian society. Women are as patriarchal as men and when this happens it is wrongly said that women are the enemies of women. Actually both women and men are the victims of patriarchy and social norms. And together these norms need to be questioned and replaced with humane norms. Being a woman means realising from a young age that you are differently treated, differently perceived and also have more restrictions and rules to adhere to. Being a woman in our society means being imprisoned in the concept of a ‘good’ woman and paying a heavy societal price for being other than this good woman.
Why are we still addressing this question?
We are still addressing this question since the manifestation of gender discrimination is being seen in increasing violence and oppression in the name of honour, religion, family etc. Women and their right to live is being attacked from the time they are a foetus. They are seen for their instrumental value and not for their intrinsic value as human beings. It is about power hierarchies and it is in the interests of the powerful, here the men, older women, etc. to maintain the status quo. Like all power hierarchies the ones at the wrong end, here women, and particularly younger women, girl children, dalit and from marginalised groups, disabled, suffer compounded discrimination.
When did we lose sight of the respect that each gender solicits?
The historical debate of when the turnaroundhappened, is still on. Some say it is with the separation of the work place from ebbing within the home and farm for all, to home and factory being separate; some relate it to Vedic history. The danger lies in not glamorising women as Goddesses and idolising her. If this is done her qualities of what are ‘good’ get entrenched and that itself takes away her agency, her decision making powers and her free choice to act for herself. I think taking away anyone’s right to make mistakes is the worst kind of discrimination you can have. Women have been made the custodians of family, community and nations honour. Hence they are raped and killed in times of war and unrest since that is the one way vengeance can be taken.
Treating a woman as a human being is important. It is also necessary for women to get comfortable with their masculine side and for men to get comfortable with their feminine side. The future is for evolved souls who are balanced with both their sides and who do not see the other as separate and something to be made use of.
How do we deal with the way things stand or at least start to assess the way things stand today!
Behaviour change Communication (BCC) is the most needed today. However the first thing to remember about this is not to isolate the women in the name of empowerment. That makes her life more difficult. She has to live and face the same structures as before she was empowered. It is unfair to lay all the burden of change at her doorstep which is what a lot of policy does. Self-help groups and routing development interventions through them and then expecting society to change is a classic example.
Behaviour Change Communication is like eating a plateful of hot rice. The centre is the most difficult and hot. That is where the woman is located. The family, community, biradari, are like concentric circles around her. These are the ‘gate keepers’ and BCC has to deal with the circles moving from the outward to the inward. This strategy can be planned as a strategy for change in a selected area.
Joy Deshmukh-Ranadive is Director, Indian School of Microfinance for Women, Ahmedabad. She has 20 years of experience in the field of Gender and Development and has worked with premier research organisations like Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Mumbai, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi and International Center for Research on Women, New Delhi. She has several publications to her credit in the areas of structural adjustment; microfinance; women’s empowerment; violence against women; women and ageing; and economic, social and cultural human rights. She has particularly focused on conceptualising power and empowerment, linking together the micro, meso and macro into an analytical framework. She has also taught Economics at the postgraduate level at the Department of Economics, University of Mumbai and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Prior to joining the Indian School of Microfinance for Women, Joy Deshmukh-Ranadive was Country Director of the India office of the International Center for Research on Women, New Delhi.