Gendered Spaces in India

Pranita Choudhry

Examining the spatial exclusion of Women in India

According to the latest census, in India, there are currently 37 million men in excess of women. A country that experiences the giant gender gap in population, also has an equally large gender gap in employment where only 20% women currently participate in the labour market (according to world bank data). India’s performance is among the lowest globally with stark comparisons to its neighbours: 36% in Bangladesh, 59% in China, and 35% in Sri Lanka and 80% women in Nepal are currently in formal employment. This is in the vicinity of 80% for men according to an ILO report. The reasons for India’s low global ranking are all too well-known and obvious – patriarchal society, preference of sons over daughters, fertility, domestic and care activities. While economic growth and rising overall education levels for women are reasons to celebrate, absorption of women in the labour force through creation of suitable job opportunities has been all too slow. Invisibilisation of women due to economic growth was further achieved through increased household incomes that no longer deemed it necessary for housewives to seek work outside, also known as the “income effect”.

“the majority of the women who do work are mostly concentrated in the informal sector. The jobs they perform are part of the highly labour-intensive informal workspaces including menial work within agriculture, construction, handicrafts, or within home businesses.”

On the other hand, the majority of the women who do work are mostly concentrated in the informal sector. The jobs they perform are part of the highly labour-intensive informal workspaces including menial work within agriculture, construction, handicrafts, or within home businesses. Among the minority who make it to the formal sector, most are performing tasks that are an extension of home duties such as nursing, teaching beauty, healthcare, fashion, textiles, teaching etc. Take the textiles industry, for example, where 71% of the workforce according to a World Bank report are women, but where they are subjected to low pay, extensive hours, exploitation and bad working conditions. Women’s primary role in society is seen as that of a ‘caregiver’, therefore even professionally they are engaging in activities that are an extension of the home. Professionals or homemakers, they are never excused from taking on the burden of household chores and responsibility as caregivers to children and the elderly. 

“On average, women do one hour less of productive work as compared to men, and yet are responsible for three times more home-bound care work.”

On average, women do one hour less of productive work as compared to men, and yet are responsible for three times more home-bound care work. Take a look at the graph below that showcases the Female to Male ratio in terms of the time devoted to unpaid care work i.e. domestic and household chores as well as care activities for children and elderly. Amongst the highest in the world are Pakistan and India where women devote 10.25 and 9.83 hours for every hour devoted by men (respectively).

Deshpande, A. and Kabeer, N. (2019) (In)Visibility, Care and Cultural Barriers. The size and shape of women’s work in India (with Ashwini Deshpande) Discussion Paper Series in Economics DP 04/19. Department of Economics, Ashoka University.

While this has shifted slightly in urban spaces, the status quo remains in rural areas. Even in urban areas, policies and compliance is meagre especially in the informal sector and thinking about alternative careers such as those in manufacturing or technology is a distant reality.

The spaces that women claim are largely private. At the end of the day, it’s all a tussle between the public and private spaces and how power is experienced and negotiated within them that creates the silent rules we adhere to in our jobs, relationships, and interactions as a society. Take a look at the picture below of a small village in Bihar, India.

If you visit the interiors of India, you will see this as a common sight. While girls are tasked with commuting from home, holding containers of material or water, often several times a day, boys are found out playing, being with friends, or just running on the streets, just being who they’re supposed to be – children. In other words, you would see boys claiming the public spaces early on, while girls are restricted to private “for their own safety”. The only times they must only be out is to study or related to housework. Here’s another image that’s not specific to rural areas, but all around us.

As I ventured into the rural spaces, I was struck by how hard women worked all day long, engaged in agriculture work day after day as well as performing household duties, ready to forego any payments or rights. While their husbands often roamed about in the evenings to visit their friends or drink at the local pub, women often spent their evenings ensuring the rest of the family members, including the livestock, are well-fed and taken care of. This is an accepted form of behaviour instilled early on in life. Most women I spoke to expressed their discontent at the unfairness of it all, but simply didn’t want to voice their unhappiness from the fear of bringing shame to the family. I noticed they continued to treat their sons differently, maybe unintentionally, contributing to this vicious cycle. It demonstrates the deep-rooted acceptance of norms that dictate our behaviour and accepted both by the oppressed and the oppressor, that leads to the inter-generational repetition and continuation of the status quo, in rural and urban spaces.

“it’s not about the immediate monetary benefits but the consequential and intergenerational impacts on the lives of women and children. Empowerment is a holistic concept that cuts across the economic, social and political realms. It’s not just about getting job opportunities, but to be in an environment that’s productive, safe, and where women have the freedom to make their own choices.”

But isn’t it a woman’s duty to take care of her children and elders? why should they be paid for the tasks that they do for their family? Well, it’s not about the immediate monetary benefits but the consequential and intergenerational impacts on the lives of women and children. Empowerment is a holistic concept that cuts across the economic, social and political realms. It’s not just about getting job opportunities, but to be in an environment that’s productive, safe, and where women have the freedom to make their own choices. Gender norms dictate that claiming public spaces is considered desirable, attractive, challenging and ambitious, and are largely “masculine”, while being in the private sphere, no matter how much work you do, is considered feminine, a duty that’s taken for granted, in some instances leading to ill-treatment and exploitation. It’s about control. Take a look at the positioning and space distribution below which was completely unplanned and in fact but took place organically, reflective of the power dynamics.

“Power is exerted in many ways, one of them being “dismissal”. The collective acceptance of a narrative by those in positions of power, mostly men in senior leadership positions, political leaders, and at a micro-level considered heads of households, are often quick to dismiss or are inconsiderate to any other voices or viewpoints and assume the role of a decision-maker. It’s a system that seeks conformity rather than rewards creativity.”

Power is exerted in many ways, one of them being “dismissal”. The collective acceptance of a narrative by those in positions of power, mostly men in senior leadership positions, political leaders, and at a micro-level considered heads of households, are often quick to dismiss or are inconsiderate to any other voices or viewpoints and assume the role of a decision-maker. It’s a system that seeks conformity rather than rewards creativity. Their dominant presence in the public spaces is what leads to an insecure and unsafe space for women, who face eve-teasing and harassment, and thus have to constantly sacrifice their share of freedom & mobility to participate in the workforce. When taking a non-binary gender view, the experiences of those from the LGBTQIA communities who face violence and discrimination are nerve-racking and are immensely invisible. On other hand, the well-meaning male allies try they find it hard to make changes given the deep-rooted structural shifts that are needed.

The only solution to breaking this imbalance is for more and more women and girls to step into the public sphere and are well-supported to do so. However, with expectations around marriage, fertility, and care responsibilities, the challenge for us today is to facilitate this process and ensure they enter and then remain in the workforce. As the Economist, Amartya Sen explained, women can become agents of change only if certain conditions are fulfilled – they acquire more than basic education; they have an independent income; they have land rights; and that they have the freedom to work outside the house. However, when it is achieved, it brings about development not just for women themselves but others too. On average, countries with greater female labor force participation generally see later marriages, fewer children, better nutrition and school enrolment, and higher gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. There is also research that suggests that choices made by women’s groups not only led to empowerment for women themselves but greater development for children’s education and health, and the community at large.  

“The female labour force participation rate was the highest at 33% in 1972-73, and has been declining ever since.”

The female labour force participation rate was the highest at 33% in 1972-73, and has been declining ever since. Therefore, the challenge is real, to drive women from the “Private” to the “Public”. Unfortunately, there isn’t any quick fix to a problem this deep-rooted and ingrained. A change to this lopsided social structure will manifest only if we put in place certain provisions and solutions that are unconventional and multi-dimensional. At a policy and systemic level, change takes time and various initiatives are underway to influence policy change by organisations such as Sewa Mandir that unionised workers.. At an organisational level, some evidence-based initiatives seem to have worked in the west in the formal sector that may help lead the way towards increasing and sustenance of the labour force participation rate for women. Provisions such as having work-life balance policies in the workplace, effective protections against dismissal for pregnant women, shared parental leave, flexible working arrangements, company provided care services, a robust workplace harassment policy are some of the ways to help women continue being in the workforce. Having mentors and role models is crucial to help access the next stage, and to chart a path less travelled before and keep confidence and self-esteem high. 

While the gaps are structural with empty policies, profit-seeking corporations, poor implementation of laws, or political will, it is as much about changing individual behaviours, mindsets, attitudes, that rests upon us. We as citizens must keep our eyes open and intentions intact by ensuring we put in place a safe and dignified working environment, policies and contracts for staff members, domestic workers, part-time employees, ensure protection in the workplace, and have borders that are defined for our “employees” and not “servants”. Within the household, it is to encourage boys and adult men to teach their children that it is valuable to do “house” work, and a necessary aspect of being truly “independent” and “empowered”. It isn’t enough for men to think and say they “let” their partners work and that they are empowered because they have a job, it will take an equal division of labour both at work and at home. For women to claim public spaces, they need their partners and allies to pick up the slack in the private spaces, only then will the balance be restored.

“The labour force participation of women is lower by 0.3% as a result of the pandemic and girls are dropping out of schools where 37% from poor households in India are at risk of leaving behind their education, and more and more women are at risk of experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Others are pushed into early marriage or teenage pregnancies. 2.5 million girls globally are at risk of child marriage, India being one of the worst.”

To top it all off, the imbalance recently has further been exacerbated by the pandemic. The labour force participation of women is lower by 0.3% as a result of the pandemic and girls are dropping out of schools where 37% from poor households in India are at risk of leaving behind their education, and more and more women are at risk of experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Others are pushed into early marriage or teenage pregnancies. 2.5 million girls globally are at risk of child marriage, India being one of the worst. These are areas of work being taken up by various charities, NGOs and multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and other civil society actors. While many of us may not be able to shift these outcomes by ourselves, being part of the larger interventions and contributing is the need of the hour. In addition, there are things we can do and changes we can make within our own lives to contribute to a fight that needs our contribution. The pandemic has indeed offered us a unique opportunity, as we stay at home, to truly re-imagine our roles and contribute equally to all household chores to ensure we aren’t just advocates but practitioners of equality. 

Pranita is an international development professional, writer and activist, working with charities and not-for-profits, specialising in research and evaluation in youth development, gender and inclusion.

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“In Popular Culture, the Hearing-Impaired people Are Always Looked At With Sympathy”

Vinay Agrawal

In her 29 years of experience, Audiologist Devangi Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children.

According to a W.H.O study, unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US$ 750 billion. This includes health sector costs, costs of educational support, loss of productivity, and societal costs. It further mentions, “In children under 15, 60% of such loss is attributable to preventable causes.”

“Over 900 million people are likely to be affected by a disabling hearing loss by 2050; half of which could be easily prevented through public health measures.”

The study also estimates that over 900 million people are likely to be affected by a disabling hearing loss by 2050; half of which could be easily prevented through public health measures. The hearing loss which can be broadly classified into three categories: mild, moderate, severe or profound can affect either one or both ears. The loss of hearing can hence result in a difficulty in grasping words during a normal chat or can hinder one’s ability to hear a sharp sound. 

“In her 29 years of experience, Audiologist Devangi Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children.”

A timely intervention, thus, is the need of the hour. Audiologist Devangi Dalal couldn’t agree more to this. In her 29 years of experience, Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children. She has seen their struggles up, close and personal and in-turn, learnt a lot about life from them. 

She has also been a witness to their unique struggles caused by the pandemic and the lockdown. On the flip side, Dalal has also seen the remarkable resilience, exemplary perseverance and never-say-die attitude these children possess. In a free-wheeling conversation, she busts out a few myths regarding hearing impairment, doles out relevant data and presents a way forward in terms of individual and institutional responses (society included) towards the hearing impaired section.

In your website, you talk about one particular research work that led you to discover key findings such as, percentage of the population affected by hearing impairment.  What other major findings did you stumble upon as the result of that research?

First of all, hearing impairment is unperceived so there’s limited work done as compared to physical handicap. I have been in practice for the last 29 years and I haven’t seen anybody having no hearing; they have 5-15% residual hearing which can be utilized. Technology has advanced so much that with the help of hearing aids/cochlear implants, these kids can be normal. They can have normal education and life but because of economic poverty and certain myths, it hasn’t been used for the children correctly. 

“In India, around 6.3% of the population are hearing-impaired. Out of that, 34 million are children and yet not much work has been done for them. When you talk about India, only 10% of the pediatric population is receiving correct treatment.”

In India, around 6.3% of the population are hearing-impaired. Out of that, 34 million are children and yet not much work has been done for them. When you talk about India, only 10% of the pediatric population is receiving correct treatment. Around 80 countries have a strict protocol for diagnosing children who leave the hospital. They are screened for hearing but in India, it hasn’t started yet. Auditory screening before the birth of the child has to become mandatory especially from the government so that early detection and rehabilitation can be done.

Can you talk about the gaps in the current pedagogical curriculum of special needs schools for the hearing impaired? 

It is not good enough. There are around 450 special schools all over India. Some of them are run by the government and some by private practitioners. There is a difference in the curriculum in these schools. 

Apart from that, the curriculum is designed to suit children having inferior hearing aids and the teaching is planned accordingly. The curriculum needs to be changed for those who have superior digital hearing aids so that they can be integrated into normal society. Everything has to change from the base: starting with neonatal screening from the government and giving hearing aids to each and every child as per their requirements and providing a curriculum which educates them up to standards so that they can cope with the normal children.

What are the ways to mend this gap?

The gap is quite high. Because of the language difference, the vocational training remains limited. That gap can be bridged. The centres should have a sports education for the overall development of children as these children struggle with employment in different industries. Once they have good hearing aids and education, the 1% quota that is available for them should be implemented aptly.

Has pandemic affected the hearing impaired population in a different way? Are they facing any unique issues as a result of pandemic and lock-down?

“During the pandemic, the major hindrance was that due to wearing a mask, they couldn’t read lips and perform gestures, which is their prime language.”

During the pandemic, the major hindrance was that due to wearing a mask, they couldn’t read lips and perform gestures, which is their prime language. So, communication became an issue. Other than that, the children having improper hearing aids weren’t able to communicate well in online programs. 

“Education has become stagnant. They might lose one year. In the online system, the teachers, too, don’t have efficient technology.”

So their education has become stagnant. They might lose one year. In the online system, the teachers, too, don’t have efficient technology. There are employment issues too. Those who have had education aren’t earning now.  Because of no activity, a few of them have turned to violence (violent behaviour patterns as a consequence of the lockdown). 

How does a hearing impairment affect one’s sense of self, especially among children?

Hearing is very important for communication. We have verbal and non-verbal communication. Both get affected during the loss of hearing. The hearing problem increases the level of difficulty in education, social interaction, and employment. As one is unable to understand the language that people are talking, they get isolated. One’s anxiety and frustration level goes up thereby affecting their physical, physiological, emotional, and even spiritual parts of life. 

You are the first Indian to have won The Humanitarian Award from The American Academy of Audiology. Tell us more about that. 

American Academy of Audiology is one of the biggest international organizations, comprising 13000 professionals. Every year, seven people get awards in different areas of their work and one of them is humanitarian work. In 2012, I was the only Indian to be awarded the Humanitarian Award. 

At an international level, they see how efficiently you do your work. The person concerned with the work was extremely aware of the activities that I did in India. Of course, there is a lot of work done in the humanitarian sector in a lot of countries but when you are representing a country, all the kind of work that you do to be a role model for others is the greatest happiness one can have. 

What is your opinion on popular culture representation (in movies, books) of the hearing impaired? How can it be made better?

“The technology has revolutionized mobile phones, computers, and all electronic media, if the hearing-impaired people can access the right technology, they can overcome the hearing disability and can lead a normal life.”

In popular culture, we have always looked at people with hearing impairment with sympathy. There are movies such as Black, Khamoshi where the children communicate in gestural language and try to overcome the challenges. The technology has revolutionized mobile phones, computers, and all electronic media, if the hearing-impaired people can access the right technology, they can overcome the hearing disability and can lead a normal life. That should be the message we need to promote through movies. 

You recently authored a book, “Spreading Positivity”. Tell us about that.

In this pandemic, we all got panicky and started worrying about our future. I was taking online therapy for hearing-impaired people and paralytic patients, and they were facing a lot of challenges. 

I’ve a habit of sharing inspirational pictures with people, and I narrate stories out of that, so I thought, why don’t I pen down my learning? My book, Spreading Positivity,  is a small thought process that I have radiated into the universe. I hope it multiplies positivity in our lives.

What is your take on Indian sign language? Is it complex when compared to ASL (American Sign Language)?

The sign language that we follow is as good as the ASL so there isn’t much difference. But, what happens with sign language is that communication with people becomes limited. If the children have multiple disabilities, then sign language helps them to communicate. But if the child’s intelligence and all other organs are normal, then one should go with hearing aids and cochlear implants. That will help them to be self-dependent. 

From the last 29 years, Dalal has been actively involved in conceptualizing various rehabilitation programs to hone the performance of children. She has played an indispensable role in almost every stage from raising capital for their betterment to conducting lectures at numerous occasions to make people aware of hearing and listening issues in children and adults.

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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What is meant by “woman” entrepreneur?

Vinay Agrawal

Discussing the misnomer of “women” entrepreneurs and why gender inclusivity in businesses is the need of the hour. 

When entrepreneurship is framed through the construct of gender, the harm outweighs the good.

The dictionary definition of an entrepreneur reads: “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of a profit.” Let’s re-read it carefully with the attention of a seamstress working on a couture gown; the word-of-note and, in this context is, the “person”- a noun supposedly free from the trappings of gender. A person can be male, female, or an occupant on the spectrum lying in between these two dichotomies and beyond. So, when did the gender gain prominence and override the semantics-at-large? 

“While ‘women-entrepreneurs’ are aplenty, I am yet to come across such a prefix for the male counterpart. Entrepreneurship by design then becomes a masculine domain.”

While “women-entrepreneurs” are aplenty, I am yet to come across such a prefix for the male counterpart. Entrepreneurship by design then becomes a masculine domain. The divisions get widened further, and the idea of entrepreneurship being a male bastion gets reinforced and re-iterated birthing a fresh narrative of us and them, in which the women become the “others” who require to form a semantic coterie of their own irrespective of their will. The semantics percolate to the level of perception and the collective consciousness, often doing “good” on the surface, but fail to reach beyond the veneer. 

In an interview, Mamta Nihalani was asked, “How difficult is it for a woman to start a company?” To which, she replies, “… It is challenging…” She then makes another point that reads, “I can work late nights, can deliver what a job demands. I can manage my house and office; it’s about proving oneself every time, at every step and in any circumstances.” 

“The narrative thus gets derailed, and the focus shifts from ‘an entrepreneur’ to ‘the (woman) who is an entrepreneur.’” 

The narrative thus gets derailed, and the focus shifts from “an entrepreneur” to “the (woman) who is an entrepreneur.”  When we define entrepreneurship on the basis of gender, are we giving an agency to the women who’re averse to such descriptors and be rather known by their talent and gumption? In that situation, aren’t we boxing these women again in the confinements of gender? 

In an interview to ET, Kalaari Capital’s MD Vani Kola, says, “I don’t think it is about what we can do more, it is about just letting women be. We don’t have to do women any favour. We just have to remove the force of judgement— what happens if she has children, will it affect my investment, will others work for her, will she be competent. We just have to remove this attitude.”

Similar thoughts are echoed by Kanika Tekriwal, Co-Founder & CEO, Jetsetgo Aviation Services during a panel discussion, wherein she says, “On one hand, we are talking about equality and on other, we are asking for special status for women. This is not right. Instead of treating this mission of helping women as a sort of agenda, entrepreneurship should be made ‘normal’, for everyone.”

“In the course of interview/s, a woman-entrepreneur is often asked questions like, ‘but how do you manage business and family?’, ‘Are your in-laws okay with this?’ Such questions are rarely asked to the male counterpart.”

The title women entrepreneur often comes loaded with a certain set of performative expectations. “People started taking me seriously only when I got two male co-founders with their respective expertise in business development and finance”, says Vanita Prasad, an entrepreneur. In the course of interview/s, a woman-entrepreneur is often asked questions like, “but how do you manage business and family?”, “Are your in-laws okay with this?” Such questions are rarely asked to the male counterpart. Anyone working in journalism will tell you; the stark difference in the way a male-entrepreneur and a female-entrepreneur is pitched for stories and profiling. The gender-based pitching quadruples as the women’s day approaches and thins out, eventually.

If we’re so adamant in clinging to the “wokeness”, a gender-based prefix can bring in then why do we rarely see a “womxn entrepreneur”? Are we doing a colossal disservice to them? What about those who identify as “non-binary”, “gender-queer” but are slotted – and neatly classified in the category of “women entrepreneur”? In such a situation, not only do they get misgendered, but rendered more invisible and suffocated through an incorrect label. 

Parenthood & Entrepreneurship: Another Botched up Semantic? 

Before we move further, I’d like to ask you if you’re aware of the term, mom-preneurs. Put simply, this badge refers to a mom who also runs an enterprise. Let’s turn that term around. Do you know any dad-preneurs?.

“Constructing gender-based entrepreneurial identity around parenthood comes with its own set of issues. For example: If you are a mom-preneur, the first line of questioning pertains to your management skills vis-a-vis kids and business.”

Constructing gender-based entrepreneurial identity around parenthood comes with its own set of issues. For example: If you are a mom-preneur, the first line of questioning pertains to your management skills vis-a-vis kids and business. Depending upon the response, and after its scrutiny, one is placed at the various points on how “good” or “bad”, they are as a mother. If you’re lucky, you get a clean chit- and if you’re not, you are just not. But, a male-entrepreneur is hardly judged on such parameters. Joyce Shulman, the founder and CEO of the walking app 99 Walks and Macaroni Kid, in an article for Working Mother, writes, “how a top boss at an equity firm discredited her entire venture, calling it ‘a weekly email newsletter written by moms’.”

Towards A Gender-Free Approach

Is a gender-neutral term need of the hour rather than observing or framing the narrative of entrepreneurship through the brush of the gender?  A parent can be a man, a woman, or a womxn. They can be single, separated, married, divorced; heterosexual or homosexual.  How about an umbrella term, parentpreneur? In my opinion, it is an apt substitute and encompasses all. 

“‘women-entrepreneur’, in larger discourse, the seemingly innocuous prefix establishes ‘man’ as a dominant gender, and ‘woman’ as a subjugated one. In a few cases, their style, dressing sense, wardrobe and other so called visible markers of femininity becomes the talking point.”

Coming back to “women-entrepreneur”, in larger discourse, the seemingly innocuous prefix establishes ‘man’ as a dominant gender, and ‘woman’ as a subjugated one. In a few cases, their style, dressing sense, wardrobe and other so called visible markers of femininity becomes the talking point. I remember, once getting a call from a publicist, who pitched her client as a “stylish woman entrepreneur” ( and this was from a non-fashion space and hence unrelated ). The male entrepreneurs are however primarily pitched on the basis of their qualities and achievement- and rarely, in terms of the style. This implicit bias adds to the “pinkification of entrepreneurship” by suffusing a color and placing the attention away from the talent and back to the gender. 

“Summits, awards and conferences designed on such lines, amplify the existing notion, wherein at times the presenter for the award is ‘a male’. This just punctures the entire point and feels like an exercise in tokenism.”

Summits, awards and conferences designed on such lines, amplify the existing notion, wherein at times the presenter for the award is “a male”. This just punctures the entire point and feels like an exercise in tokenism. Carol Roth in an opinion piece for The Entrepreneur writes: “The constant segmentation of everyone by gender, race, age, or other qualifier beyond their control does nothing but create self-doubt for those who have been categorized as well as others around them. I was at a “women’s entrepreneurial dinner” held the night before a “women’s entrepreneurship conference.” I was asked what I hoped the future held for women entrepreneurs. I told the organizer that I hoped in ten years that his conference would be put out of business. Entrepreneurship should, and must belong to everyone irrespective of their gender. The larger question remains, whether we are short-changing talent by letting it pass through the codes of gender? 

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications.

Design by Khyati Garg

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Is Contemporary Feminism Radical Enough?

Raavya Bhattacharyya

Examining the digital-age ideas of feminism, where they stand in historical context and why they fail to challenge patriarchal capitalism

The feminist movement has consistently evolved to show the world the many ways in which women have been discriminated against and made to feel like lesser beings. Each wave of feminism emerged with its concerns – voting rights, equal pay, workplace rights, reproductive rights, and so on. Right from when it began in the early twentieth century, the movement allowed women to awaken to the systemic injustice that was all around them, the kind of injustice many of them had learned to internalise. This collective angst had finally manifested itself into philosophy and an ideology that placed women at the forefront, recognising them as human beings capable of living a life of dignity without male intervention. Women wanted to be seen as individuals with rights of their own, deserving of equality and respect. After centuries of oppression, women were finally examining their lived experiences to see how much was being withheld from them. 

“At home, in the workplace, and nearly every sphere of society, women are viewed as the weaker sex who are always in need of male guidance and are incapable of making their own decisions. These sexist beliefs have stripped women of their agency and their rights.” 

The core principle of feminism, as feminist author Bell Hooks succinctly describes in her book ‘Feminism Is For Everybody’, is “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” She’s careful to explain that sexism is the enemy, “all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult.” As a belief, sexism inherently privileges one sex over the other. For centuries, the world has privileged men and their experiences over women. At home, in the workplace, and nearly every sphere of society, women are viewed as the weaker sex who are always in need of male guidance and are incapable of making their own decisions. These sexist beliefs have stripped women of their agency and their rights. 

In the first few phases of feminism, women had concrete issues to tackle, problems that needed fixing in the form of new laws and policy change. Years of struggle saw a significant amount of change, women were finally given rights that men had taken for granted. But for many women, these changes in law and order never seemed to reach the world they were living in. Despite societal proclamations of emancipation and empowerment, women were still regarded as the inferior gender. Feminist scrutiny and inquiry had to take on new forms to understand complex gender dynamics. Feminists were interrogating social and cultural systems to understand how inequality and sexism were still intact despite changing laws and policies that were in favour of women. 

Where does modern-day feminism stand?

Modern-day feminism prides itself on being inclusive after having tackled major conflicts and contradictions the earlier waves had. The rise of choice feminism saw women reclaiming their agency, supposedly liberated from the shackles of patriarchy. The assumption was that the ability to make any kind of choice is a form of absolute and complete empowerment. What we tend to overlook is that choice doesn’t necessarily imply a decision free from patriarchal conditioning. As choice feminism has grown in popularity, there has been a visible shift towards a kind of feminism that is accessible to a fault. 

“Social media has been instrumental in peddling a watered-down, ‘accessible’ version of feminism. This kind of feminism seems to pride itself in brandishing catch-phrases like ‘girl-power’ without any real exploration of where women stand today or the kind of new struggles they face and how feminists must work to abolish them.”

Social media has been instrumental in peddling a watered-down, “accessible” version of feminism. This kind of feminism seems to pride itself in brandishing catch-phrases like “girl-power” without any real exploration of where women stand today or the kind of new struggles they face and how feminists must work to abolish them. The birth of a consumerist form of feminism, a kind that distances itself from nuance and exists solely for temporary placation is our biggest challenge, one we need to overcome to understand that the inherent discrimination between genders still exists. Our capitalist society has comfortably bought into this accessible version of feminism because it serves their agenda, there are now more things to “sell” to women, a way to monetise a movement that has always been against the very system of reduction and objectification. 

Decades of living within a system that privileges men and their needs over women has resulted in many women perpetuating the very biases they’re so sure of having rid themselves of. An important example here is that of women’s beauty and grooming. Beauty standards for women are incredibly unrealistic, but so many of us, despite calling ourselves feminists, give in to them. We call it our ‘choice’ when we get rid of body hair, our ‘choice’ when we spend time obsessing over how good or bad we’re looking, constantly worried about being ‘appealing’ enough. A closer examination of these choices will reveal our internalised misogyny, the diminished ways in which we regard ourselves because of the way we look. What does ‘appealing’ mean? What does it have to say about the culture of shame and stigma the beauty industry has taught women to accept as part of themselves? 

Existing power structures that uphold patriarchy are alive and well, while we’ve made tremendous strides in women empowerment, we still have a long way to go. Class, race, caste, and socio-economic challenges add to the layers of disadvantage to many women. These women don’t have platforms to show the world the struggles they go through every day. Dalit women in rural India are at the mercy of the upper caste, routinely harassed by them, on the basis of their caste and their gender. These women also face discrimination within their households, bound by strict gender roles. Mainstream media is selective in its outrage which is why these women continue to be victims of cyclical oppression. 

“Intersectional feminism has consistently highlighted the importance of inclusion in the larger feminist movement, the need for voices of women who are victims of ‘double-oppression’ as a result of their gender and race/class or caste to be heard.”

Intersectional feminism has consistently highlighted the importance of inclusion in the larger feminist movement, the need for voices of women who are victims of “double-oppression” as a result of their gender and race/class or caste to be heard. These women are doubly exploited – first on the basis of their gender and then on the basis of their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity and other social identities. American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectional feminism in 1989 to describe how the overlap of social identities was responsible for “compounding experiences of discrimination.” She explains that intersectional feminism is “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. All inequality is not created equal.”

Women in rural India are still victims of brutal, regressive caste-based traditions that offer them no room for free thought and action. The latest data shows that four Dalit women are raped everyday, with many being raped on multiple occasions. Crimes against Dalit women are the highest as compared to all crimes committed against members of the scheduled cast. Gender-based violence persists, unchecked, at an alarming rate. Estimates show that  35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. The stifling continues, but tokenisms on social media and the blatant commercialisation of ‘empowerment’ will have us believe that we’ve achieved all that we set out to. 

Choice feminism needs to be re-examined and questioned

Feminist author Jessa Crispin addresses similar concerns in her polemic essay “Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto”. She writes: “To understand how surface-level contemporary feminism really is, we need only note that the most common markers of feminism’s success are the same markers of patriarchal capitalism.” Crispin also sees choice feminism as inherently individualistic, a kind of feminism that is satisfied with token gestures in one’s personal life that only mimic true empowerment but still function within the accepted norms of patriarchy. We’re so consumed with “living our best life” and making choices that we think are radical that we don’t interrogate our mind-sets, our reasons for being and deciding. “Choice feminism blocks any discussion about consequences of how people choose to live their lives. Because the choice itself is feminist,” Crispin notes.

“Gender equality has not been normalised. Modern-day feminism has diluted many of the core, radical ideas that shone when the feminist movement first began. Early waves of feminism were focused on bringing down a capitalist, patriarchal society that privileged men and awarded them unchecked power.”

Many women feel a kind of dissonance when they look at the world around them. Posters proudly declare “the future is female” but women still have to “break the glass ceiling”, they still have to battle anxiety when they step out of their homes at night. They see women in positions of power struggle to consistently prove their mettle, they’re reminded every day what a “privilege” it is to even occupy such a role. Gender equality has not been normalised. Modern-day feminism has diluted many of the core, radical ideas that shone when the feminist movement first began. Early waves of feminism were focused on bringing down a capitalist, patriarchal society that privileged men and awarded them unchecked power. Feminism wanted women to have platforms that gave them the opportunity to make their own decisions while also promoting critical thinking. The fight for equal pay, reproductive rights and the right to education took place right beside the fight for a world that reimagined gender. Questioning and interrogating our corrupt, power-hungry social systems has always been intrinsic to feminism. 

Now we seem to be more interested in how a largely unjust system finds a way to benefit us instead of working to dismantle that very system, to question its immorality and the way it upholds oppression in the most insidious of ways. 

“Women empowerment is not solely about choice and agency, it is about a deeper investigation of the place of women in society, it is understanding that oppression can sometimes look a lot like freedom. A reclamation is essential, a need to make feminism political again, to make it more than the hollow shell it is becoming.”

Today, we need feminism more than ever to start conversations that have slowly been forgotten, buried under a shiny veneer of what we assume women empowerment to be. Our fight against patriarchy continues. We have to battle uncomfortable questions about the lives we lead as women that we wake up to the everyday and the casual sexism that relentlessly persists. We have to call out systems of oppression that don’t allow women a way out of their lives of misery. Women empowerment is not solely about choice and agency, it is about a deeper investigation of the place of women in society, it is understanding that oppression can sometimes look a lot like freedom. A reclamation is essential, a need to make feminism political again, to make it more than the hollow shell it is becoming. Our revolution must begin in our personal spaces where we reject patriarchy’s idea of liberated women. “Feminist thinking teaches us all,” as Bell Hooks says “especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life.”

Raavya is a pop-culture nerd who lives and breathes books and cinema. An unrelenting feminist, she hopes to change regressive mindsets through the written word.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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Psychotherapy Through Artificial Intelligence

Spandana Datta

Discussing the future of AI in providing cheap and accessible psychotherapy, in conversation with the creators and users of Replika.

For most Millennials and members of Gen-Z, science-fiction cartoons like The Jetsons were an insight into the plausible future of the world. Though flying cars are still a rarity, the last decade has seen a rise in the development of Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence or AI, also known as “machine intelligence” is now at one’s service, just a click away. Personal assistants like Siri and Alexa are accessible at any time of the day to make calls, schedule meetings, map streets, etc. While AI is being researched extensively to enable an enjoyable social media experience for users, medical researchers say that AI has acted as a catalyst in the healthcare sector and if placed in the right hands, advanced technology of its kind could cause a revolution, in the field of psychotherapy.

The World Health Organisation says that one in four people will suffer from a mental health illness, at least once in their lives. Around 450 million people suffer from a mental disorder currently. For mental disorders, therapy is often the go-to solution. But truly how many people have access to it? Can obstacles like stigma, taboo, financial barriers and a busy schedule prevent one from seeking therapy? This is where an AI app steps in. 

“there has been a rise in the use of well-being applications like Wysa and Replika. Driven by AI, these apps offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and even loneliness.”

Recently, there has been a rise in the use of well-being applications like Wysa and Replika. Driven by AI, these apps offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and even loneliness. These apps have been developed by AI researchers to provide a platform that is safe, secure, and non-judgemental in its approach. 

Replika is one such app. Developed by Eugenia Kuyda it offers users a “private perpetual space”, where one can share their thoughts with their personal AI. Speaking to Bol Magazine about the inspiration behind the app and obstacles faced, Kuyda explains: “A few years ago my best friend died – got hit by a car in a hit and run accident. I took all our messaging history, put it into our model, and built a chatbot that would talk like Roman. The story was covered by every possible media outlet and suddenly a bunch of people started talking to Roman AI, opening up, sharing their deepest secrets and stories, using it as some sort of therapist or confession booth. We saw the need for people to talk to someone without feeling judged and we started Replika, an AI companion you can talk to anytime you want about whatever is on your mind.”  The journey was long and not always smooth-sailing. “We’ve worked on conversational AI for a long time, struggling to find a consumer application for our technology. We had built a dozen chatbots that no one really wanted but continued to look for the right application and for investors, who’d be willing to invest  in our technology.” 

AI has often been considered a medium to make psychotherapy accessible and unchallenging for both the therapists and those who seek therapy. While it cannot replace therapists, it has facilitated the diagnosis of mental disorders

Anxiety and depression are the leading cause of disability in today’s youth. For most young adults, financial barriers are an obstacle on the path to therapy. Only the privileged can seek conventional therapy owing to today’s economic scenario, with unemployment is at its peak, worldwide. Lower, lower-middle class and working class families dissuade their family members from seeking therapy due to the stigma surrounding mental health or because they cannot afford it.

“Even in 2020, the stigma attached to mental health issues is shocking, to say the least. Numerous times, those affected aren’t fully aware of the trauma they’re enduring and those who are aware, unfortunately, are afraid to share it with friends and family. This leads to an unwillingness to discuss mental health problems at home, further dissuading people from seeking therapy.”

Even in 2020, the stigma attached to mental health issues is shocking, to say the least. Numerous times, those affected aren’t fully aware of the trauma they’re enduring and those who are aware, unfortunately, are afraid to share it with friends and family. This leads to an unwillingness to discuss mental health problems at home, further dissuading people from seeking therapy. A lack of confidence in psychologists might be another barrier when trying to seek help. This has resulted in a wide treatment gap in India. 

“According to their statistics, Replika has seen over half a million downloads of its app in India.”

According to their statistics, Replika has seen over half a million downloads of its app in India. Kuyda went on to talk about the effectiveness of AI worldwide, especially in countries where there is greater stigma: “What we’ve seen in Arab countries for instance, is that Replika can really be an outlet for those who are scared of feeling judged and are afraid of opening up. Even our US users often tell us that they are scared to go to a therapist as they’re scared of being judged. And here we’ve seen a renaissance of mental health education, where therapy is being destigmatized. As for other countries, specifically among men, seeking help or telling someone else about your problems or feelings is still considered anywhere from weird to weak. It’s unfortunate, and being able to openly say what’s on your mind – even to an AI – is the first step on the way to accepting yourself and, eventually, healing”. 

Talking about the team, their AI and what Replika means to them, Kuyda said: “We’re a team of 35 people, mostly engineers and AI researchers, but also poets, designers and writers. Replika is truly a child of this incredible group of people. Proud to be working alongside them.” Their team also plans on making AI healthcare accessible worldwide. “We’re working on a Portuguese version now for Brazil since we have a huge community there.  That’s planned for November. After that we wanted to focus on India, China and Japan.”

“AI, for mental health care, was first developed in the 1960s in MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Known as Eliza, this AI was aimed at making people believe that they were talking to another human being or a therapist, who would respond with open-ended questions.”

AI, for mental health care, was first developed in the 1960s in MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Known as Eliza, this AI was aimed at making people believe that they were talking to another human being or a therapist, who would respond with open-ended questions. Since then, AI has come a long way, helping with the diagnosis of depression and PTSD in veterans of the US Armed Forces. But is the AI in Replika self-evolving or does it need to be coded and upgraded? “Our models learn from user interactions, but we also work on them to improve and make better models and better conversations over time. Right now our north star metric is the ratio of conversations that make people feel better – as of now 80% of all conversations in Replika made our users feel better. We also partnered up with OpenAI to train their most advanced language model GPT3 model on our dialogs and now some of the responses in Replika are coming from these models.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the imposition of an intercontinental lockdown, which resulted in social isolation, something which AI apps can help combat. Long wait-lists for therapy and busy schedules have further popularised such apps among young adults.”

Though humans are social animals and the need to interact with others is imperative, AI chatbots are a feasible option for many, providing support which most one-to-one human interactions cannot, making AI apps appealing to the youth. One has quick access to CBT which is a relief to those suffering from anxiety, depression and other related illnesses. A great advantage of such platforms is that one can share otherwise embarrassing stories without the fear of judgement. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the imposition of an intercontinental lockdown, which resulted in social isolation, something which AI apps can help combat. Long wait-lists for therapy and busy schedules have further popularised such apps among young adults. Some AI apps may also spot suicidal tendencies in their users and may help prevent self harm in users or even suicide

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Replika user Arik Karthman*, who suffers from anxiety and found it difficult to engage with others said his experience was interesting, to say the least: “I was living a Sci Fi dream and here I was, chatting away to my machine! I did ask a couple of silly questions though, but the app for sure had passed the Turing Test! Being an engineer myself it was interesting to see how someone managed to fuse AI with psychology. Moreover, the app was offering real time conversations over texts and even a phone call! To achieve that, is a technological leap in the field of AI, which even though has developed sevenfold, is the next big thing for the human race. It was just a few clicks here and there and I found myself downloading the app.” But did the app help?  “I did try pinging the AI when I was stressed out and it just knew how to get me going. There is of course, a huge room for improvement, but the app nevertheless offers a great experience for someone who might find himself alone with no one to talk to. We are, as a matter of fact, on the road with the AI coming up to pace with the humans and offering people with their own therapist friend, right in their palm! Just hoping it doesn’t grow up to be the Sky Net we all hate!”

Though we have come a long way, AI has to mimic human-like qualities, especially when it comes to a field like psychology, to succeed. Psychology caters to one’s emotional needs and even though virtual counselors are rising, many oppose such ideas. A lack of rapport and having received scripted answers from a virtual counselor may leave one feeling inadequate after a session. Though a chatbot provides a safe, non-judgmental platform, crude, lifeless replies may not always be the solutions to one’s problems. Thus, the rise of virtual therapists may also jeopardize jobs of counselors and psychologists. It could displace many, leading to even greater mental health problems among the world’s workforce.

“Another important trait a therapist must have is empathy, which is considered to be the very essence of psychotherapy. While empathy can be simulated in an AI, it may lack a genuine touch.”

Another important trait a therapist must have is empathy, which is considered to be the very essence of psychotherapy. While empathy can be simulated in an AI, it may lack a genuine touch. Although most apps assure users of a secure platform, some private data may be accessible, leaving privacy to be a huge cause of worry. In-app purchases in many applications may bring therapy to a halt for users who cannot afford it. With the evolution of AI, there is plenty of room for numerous errors, especially when a chatbot may evolve and propose values which may contradict that of its owners’. Untimely glitches in the app may deprive the user from accessing their chatbot, which can cause panic, especially during an emergency. Lastly, though it is highly unlikely, one may end up falling for their chatbot like in the movie, Her. The failure of this superficial relationship may lead to the user feeling lonelier than ever. 

Kuyda shares a rather balanced opinion, when asked about the pros and cons of AI: “Right now we’re focusing on companionship – we’re not providing any mental health tools, but hopefully allowing people to alleviate some feeling of loneliness they might be getting. Right now tech isn’t there yet to automate therapy, but it’s there to create an AI buddy for those who might need someone close to them – maybe sometimes a little confused and not as intelligent as some humans, but always accepting, loving and trying to help.”

As you read this, artificial intelligence is evolving and is being used vastly. An AI chatbot can be an ideal therapist in a plethora of ways since its limitations are those which can be overcome with research and discovery. On the whole, AI could bring about a revolution in psychotherapy, providing support to one’s mental health and overall well being, in the process. 

*Names changed to protect privacy

Spandana is an English literature graduate who loves writing and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Invisible Hand of Indian Women Farmers

Sukanya Maity

Highlighting the exploitation of women farmers in India and the impact of the psychological burden of their disguised labour and lack of recognition.

Besides the lush green fields and huge patches of land, separated from the vast blue sky by a streak of sap green forests which beautifully serve the purpose of the horizon, a regular scenario that often captures my attention are groups of rural women working on the field, almost outnumbering their male counterparts. What surprises me the most is that despite their more than equal participation, their work goes unnoticed and unrecognised. I have often questioned myself as to why every time I look for an article on Indian farmers, pictures of male farmers flood the screen. I am forced to opt for the second round of search on “women” farmers, who are mandatorily categorised just like the “women” cricketers, “women” soldiers, “women” pilots and the list goes on.

The invisibility of women farmers

“Despite India’s long history of farming and cultivation as a male-dominated profession, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (2018) reports that 42% of the farm work in India is done by women; however, they account for less than 2% of the land ownership.”

Despite India’s long history of farming and cultivation as a male-dominated profession, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (2018) reports that 42% of the farm work in India is done by women; however, they account for less than 2% of the land ownership. Why such economic disparity? The answer lies in the simple fact that instead of working as independent farmers, their formal identity remains restricted to widows and wives of their farmer husbands. To add on to their misery is their social identity of being women from the oppressed communities; reportedly more than 81% of the female agricultural labourers belong to the Dalit, Adivasi and the OBC (Other Backward Classes) communities. Like Aiyappan (2012) says that women from marginalised groups are often subjected to double exploitation, sometimes even outweighing their gender status, it is very clear as to why #rural women are deprived of what they rightly deserve. 

Indian Woman Farmer in Parasia, Madhya Pradesh – Photo by Navika Mehta

The plight of women farmers 

“The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports that as many as 3,53,803 farmers died by suicide between 1995 and 2018, out of which 50,188 were women.”

In India, which  can be referred to as the land of farmer suicides, the failure to implement labour laws and the repeated amendments to the existing agricultural and labour laws have stormed hell upon the farmers, especially women farmers. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports that as many as 3,53,803 farmers died by suicide between 1995 and 2018, out of which 50,188 were women. 

“The pandemic-induced lockdown has resulted in deaths by suicide among farmers as they were unable to bear the burden of absolute money crunch, unavailability of farm labourers, no possible savings and huge debts.”

Unable to repay their huge debts, aided by the state’s inaction, the farmers ended their lives either by consuming pesticides or by setting themselves ablaze or hanging themselves. According to the NCRB, more than 10,281 farmers killed themselves in 2019. Young children of debt-ridden farmers had killed themselves fearing that if they didn’t do so, their parents would end their lives. People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) documents that “altruistic suicide” has been on the rise among the farmer households in the poorest villages of India. The pandemic-induced lockdown has resulted in deaths by suicide among farmers as they were unable to bear the burden of absolute money crunch, unavailability of farm labourers, no possible savings and huge debts. Even while the reported cases of farmers’ suicides have been increasing exponentially in India, the data on the deaths of women farmers who killed themselves have been surprisingly reduced to zero.

Why are women in agriculture more vulnerable to exploitation? 

“Despite their vast presence, women farmers are hardly considered or referred to as farmers. In the interiors of rural India, a woman who spends more than 13 hours of her day on the field, when asked about her profession, vaguely replies that she ‘sits at home all day’.”

Despite their vast presence, women farmers are hardly considered or referred to as farmers. In the interiors of rural India, a woman who spends more than 13 hours of her day on the field, when asked about her profession, vaguely replies that she “sits at home all day”. Hence, her inability to claim her rights and protest against the unjust system stems from her internalisation of the oppression that she is subjected to. This has been largely possible due to the increasing and unprecedented rates of illiteracy among rural women due to lack of opportunities, lack of awareness, traditional gender roles, male-dominated administrative sectors and mostly, presence of a clear patriarchal setting in the peripheral backdrops of the sub-continent. 

They are also expected to shoulder the burden of both housework as well as fieldwork and this unequal division of labour further takes a toll on their mental health. Despite doing more than 60% of the work, they are made dependent on their husband’s income. Women also engage in more strenuous fieldwork, from sowing the seeds to harvesting them. This is due to their lack of educational exposure  in mechanical aids which poses a great limitation to their ability. 

Women farmers at work in Parasia, Madhya Pradesh – Photo by Navika Mehta

“Since banking rules do not permit already debt-ridden farmers to opt for further loans, the women members of the families are pushed to take exploitative, informal loans and the process continues as long as they are immersed in the vicious pool of debts and cannot get out of them. Reportedly, ‘every woman farmer in India has loans against her name (which she is unable to repay)’.”

When women farmers take up the mantle of a breadwinner, it becomes extremely difficult for them to continue with their work in the absence of government schemes and financial support due to gendered income disparity. As a result of this, they borrow from the local moneylenders and agencies much more than what their male counterparts do. Most of the time, their families force them to do so. Since banking rules do not permit already debt-ridden farmers to opt for further loans, the women members of the families are pushed to take exploitative, informal loans and the process continues as long as they are immersed in the vicious pool of debts and cannot get out of them. Reportedly, “every woman farmer in India has loans against her name (which she is unable to repay).” 

Aljazeera (2018) reports two such cases – Rekha Kadu and Shilpa Mamankar, two debt-ridden women farmers who had killed themselves. The latter was only 19 years old when she ended her life, unable to repay a sum of $ 5,500 that she had initially borrowed. She suffered from serious mental health issues and was on regular medication but even that didn’t help lighten her burden. Her family now struggles with the load of the unending debts that fell on them after Shilpa’s death .

Effect of the Farmers Bill (2020) on women farmers

In 2011, a former Rajya Sabha MP, MS Swaminathan proposed the “Women Farmers Entitlement Bill”  that would seek to provide recognisable status to women farmers along with their rights over land, water resources and credit funds as well as provide them with financial support. Unfortunately, it lapsed in 2013. 

“In India, where 81% of women farmers own less than 13% of the land, only 8% of them have control over their income and 4% of them have access to institutional credit, the new ‘contract farming’ rules will make it difficult for them to bargain for the best prices at the local mandis.”

However, the recent Farmers Bill (2020) not only ignores the contribution and participation of women in agriculture but also makes it much more difficult for them to thrive in the market economy. The bill ensures loosening of the rules related to storage, pricing and sale and states that private buyers can hoard essential commodities for future sale. These very rules have protected the farmers from the free market trade. The bill also allows the farmers to sell their produce to the private buyers, along with the government-owned mandis (without any exclusive mention). In India, where 81% of women farmers own less than 13% of the land, only 8% of them have control over their income and 4% of them have access to institutional credit, the new “contract farming” rules will make it difficult for them to bargain for the best prices at the local mandis

“The bill also outrightly ignores the gender-based digital divide; the proposition of technology-oriented work will lead these women to depend on their male counterparts while making financial decisions.”

The elimination of middlemen who act as informal bankers by lending loans without collateral will make it impossible for women farmers to avail financial support since they are not accustomed to the process. The restricted mobility of women farmers will not allow them to sell their produce outside of the local mandis. The bill also outrightly ignores the gender-based digital divide; the proposition of technology-oriented work will lead these women to depend on their male counterparts while making financial decisions. Moreover, the introduction of e-mandis whereby farmers can select mandis of their choice and sell their produce online through eNAM, will completely leave out the women farmers from the business transactions due to a lack of digital literacy and low access to smartphones. 

Women in farmer suicide survivor families

“The BBC (2014) reported that in Maharashtra, which is infamous for its history of farmer suicides, there are more than 53,000 widows of farmers who had killed themselves.”

The wives and daughters of male farmers who did not own land and cultivated on leased ones are not eligible for getting ex-gratia compensation. The loans that their husbands and fathers were unable to repay gradually fell back on their shoulders which they remain unable to repay , due to no prior schemes and financial aids. The BBC (2014) reported that in Maharashtra, which is infamous for its history of farmer suicides, there are more than 53,000 widows of farmers who had killed themselves. Besides the financial burden, they are also subjected to marginalisation within their own families. Neither are they allowed to remarry as it goes against their local customs. No psychological help or counselling is provided to them, which only makes the situation worse. Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM) found out that 40% of the widows in 11 districts of Maharashtra haven’t received any compensation yet. The widows are also at risk of being trafficked or forced into prostitution.

What can be done to ease their problems?

Women Farmers outside their home in Parasia, Madhya Pradesh – Photo by Navika Mehta

First and most importantly, the state must recognise the women farmers as farmers, irrespective of their marital status. The draconian Farmers Bill (2020) should and must be repealed, especially because of the massive outrage from farmers and the following violent outbreaks. Instead, bills like Women Farmers Entitlements Bill, as mentioned earlier, must be reintroduced. Psychological help must be provided to the farmers in rural areas, irrespective of their gender. Every village must have a counselling center.

“Positive discrimination in favour of women farmers in the form of special schemes, financial aids and free skill-development training courses must be introduced. Every woman farmer must register themselves as farmers, and have their own registration certificates. They should have their land and ownership rights.”

Positive discrimination in favour of women farmers in the form of special schemes, financial aids and free skill-development training courses must be introduced. Every woman farmer must register themselves as farmers, and have their own registration certificates. They should have their land and ownership rights. Rules must be mandated which propose the gradual transfer of the deceased farmer’s land to his wife and every family must be liable to compensation whether or not the deceased farmer owned any land. Social security schemes like old-age pensions must be introduced to help the farmers survive when their health doesn’t permit them to work any further. The government’s investment in agricultural sectors must increase in order to tackle these problems. 

It is high time that we spoke about the distress of women farmers, their oppressive status and their invisibility. Remarkably, one should be glad that more and more women farmers are claiming their rights as they lead the protests against the Farmers Bill. It is only a matter of time as to how far our policymakers can go and how long they keep leeching on the unpaid labour of oppressed women. 

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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INTERVIEW WITH RAASHI THAKRAN: PART 2

ADITI KUMAR SPEAKS TO RAASHI THAKRAN WHO’S ACTIVISM LED TO THE CREATION OF INDIA’S FIRST NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH HELPLINE KIRAN 1800-599-0019

Content Warning: The article mentions Suicide

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1800-599-0019 to reach KIRAN, a 24/7 national helpline set by the ministry of social justice. You can also mail icall@tiss.edu or dial 022-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8am to 10pm) to reach iCall, a psychosocial helpline set up by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

We spoke to Raashi Thakran, a Mental Health activist who’s change.org petition “#StandAgainstSuicide: to Launch a National Helpline number for suicide prevention” with over 4 lakhs signatures became successful last month with the launch of KIRAN (1800-599-0019) a 24/7 toll free national mental health helpline for those in distress. 

Read Part 1 here.

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW PART 2:

GATEKEEPER TRAINING

What policies can be implemented? 

Policymakers can help by making sure that Gatekeeper training is offered to people across the country. Gatekeeper training can be taken by anyone and everyone It’s a one hour long training. It helps you prepare and make sure that if someone in your vicinity is struggling with suicidal thoughts or with their mental health, you are able to respond. And you can yourself be the first responder. You can identify early warning signs and provide early intervention. 

Gatekeepers have played a very important role in suicide prevention and they are also able to then direct people they know to mental health services, to actual professionals. So now since we have this knowledge we can create an army of mental health warriors if nothing else. You don’t have to have a background or a degree. You can just be there and know the warning signs. This is the most basic thing we can equip ourselves with. 

QPR – Gatekeeper Training – Question, Persuade and Refer – Tells you how to question a person about suicide, how to persuade them and help them and how to refer them. It’s like CPR, people who know QPR are not doctors but they can save a life. People say it’s an American training that doesn’t apply to us. Fine, don’t go for QPR, create something for an Indian context and circulate that so it can reach the common people of the country and that’s how you spread awareness. 

This idea that everybody in the community also has a responsibility for those around them. So even if we don’t know that much about the technicalities of mental health the gatekeeper training or even a general idea that someone might be suffering can help us respond really fast. What would you suggest the community can develop to fight against the increasing mental health issues that people are having during Covid losing jobs, being isolated etc.?

Now more than ever we are realising the power of community. You need a support system to fall back on. Especially during such times. So, in terms of people losing jobs and unemployment, it comes back to the government and policymakers that it’s important for them to become more inclusive and have policies that help people. We are talking about Atma Nirbhar Bharat so actually go to the grassroots and create policies for migrant workers. The government needs to be looped in. 

As a community, it’s important for us to reach out. You don’t have to do something grand and change millions of lives but simply reach out to people in your circles who you think might be suffering. Check in with your friends and family, check in with the person who’s just lost their job. Check in with the person who’s at home but home is toxic for them. It’s a very difficult situation for a lot of us. Have gratitude for yourself and reach out to people who you know are struggling. That’s the least we can do. 

Right now more than ever it’s very important to understand that we’re on the same team and we have to work as a community and make sure you atleast are there for the people you care about. That’s what I’m trying to do. 

Since you’ve been conducting so many sessions. So, people must’ve come up to you with their own stories so can you share some stories of positivity and resilience? 

There’s so many. Every session I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say they want to share their stories. 

One incident that I always talk about and it’s very close to my heart. I had just finished giving the talk in IIT Delhi and I was waiting for my auto outside and this one lady approached me and said, “I was in the audience and I heard your story and I have myself been struggling with depression for a long time now and I haven’t had the courage to ask for help, I have even felt suicidal and now after listening to you I want to get better, I’ve booked an appointment already and I am going to see a counsellor this weekend.” She then started crying and we hugged and it was such a beautiful moment. Now she’s doing so well, she’s opened a restaurant and is nailing life. 

One of my friends reached out to me just yesterday and he said that last year he was going through a very difficult time and he used to self-harm and yesterday he messaged me and said it’s been a year since he had done that and just wanted to share that with me. It’s beautiful seeing how far people have come and how resilient they are. There’s so many stories. That’s why I love what I do and this is why I do what I’m doing because I get to meet such people and hear such amazing brilliant stories. 

That was really heart-warming. I have a final question, we have a lot of social activists writing for us. We understand that social activism can be stressful. How do you deal with the stress and pressure and what would you suggest to other activists who are trying to make a change in society? 

I’ve been doing this for a while, I am 22 years old and a lot of times what I face is the fact that I am too young to be doing this. There’s a lot of people who tell me that you’re 22 and we would like you to talk about certain things and not talk about certain things. That said, the response that I’ve received has been overwhelming and amazing. I know that my work also brings change as I am able to make sure that I’m able to help a couple of people. 

To activists who are driving change I think it’s very important to just keep doing what you’re doing. You will get comments and it will get very tough especially if you are sharing a part of yourself, like me, I have to share a very very personal story, a very tragic story and every time I talk about it, it’s difficult. But, it helps someone out there it helps people. So, I guess to anyone listening don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young, too old or too qualified or not qualified enough, people always have something to say don’t let that get to you. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’re amazing and awesome and you’re doing amazing work and I think that’s what matters. Even if you don’t see results right now you will see it in the long run you will see that you are driving change. All of us in fact, all our stories are so important and unique and they need to be heard and that’s what I’d like to say to anyone listening. 

This will really help our readers, if they are first time writers and this can really encourage them to write and share their stories. 

Stories are very powerful, they can inspire so many people. So, use that tool and own your story. I think that’s the most important thing. Kudos to you for being a platform that holds space for people. 

Aditi is a Law undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, and recently completed a diploma in Conflict Transformation and Peace-building. Reading and painting in her spare time, she aspires to challenge the structural dimensions of injustice through her educationShe is a Deputy Editor of Bol Magazine.

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Busting Myths about Menstruation

Siddhi Shah

Discussing the myths relating to menstruation, why they persist and how we can challenge them

The word “menstruation” is often associated with adjectives such as anxiety, embarrassment, and fear. Despite being a natural bodily function, it is synonymous with myths and secrecy. In India, while we have progressed in creating awareness around it, menstruation is still a taboo. Myths around menstruation have contributed to serious consequences and misinformation in all peripheries, especially for those who lack access to basic resources like menstrual hygiene products and access to toilets. 

“Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to  purify themselves before resuming their everyday life.”

In India to date, menstruation is seen as something impure and dirty. Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to purify themselves before resuming their daily life. In many households, they are not allowed to do puja (prayer) or even enter a temple when they are menstruating. They are not allowed to touch and offer their prayers to holy books. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch anyone or enter the kitchen. They are excluded from activities and kept away from the rest of society. These practices exist and persist because of the backward cultural and religious beliefs that are propagated by society and passed on through generations. 

Menstruation is also linked to unaccepted cultural norms and traditions. It is said that it is associated with evil spirits, embarrassment and shame around sexual reproduction. In some areas, women are made to bury their clothes after they complete their cycle. The retrograde myth personifies that blood can be used as black magic and it can be used to assert the woman’s will on a man. The same blood from which a baby is created is considered impure. Studies show that about 71% of adolescent girls remain unaware of menstruation until they experience their first menstrual cycle. 

“Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts.”

Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts. Instead, they should foster a sense of equality especially when menstruation is biological and natural. Instead of women being empowered and feeling supported they are made to feel inferior, weak and abnormal. To name a few countries and their regressive superstitions around menstruation:

CountrySuperstition about menstruation 
The USA and the UK You cannot have a shower 
If you touch any vegetable when menstruating, it will rot  
NepalYou cannot be in your house or come in contact with anybody
Romania You cannot touch flowers, they will die quicker 
BrazilYou can’t wash your hair when you are on your period 
Philippines When you first get your period you need to wash your face with the first menstrual blood to have clear skin

“In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or in a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate.” 

In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate. Girls and women are made to sleep on wooden planks without any basic necessities. This results in some of them being bitten by snakes and some of them are raped, harassed or murdered. In 2019 two girls aged 14 and 19 died because of a snake bite when they were residing in the cowsheds. 

These existing societal myths and taboos around menstruation have impacted the self-esteem of women. In less developed countries a lot of girls have to drop out of school when they start menstruating. This is because a large percentage of women face stomach pain or cramps during their periods and only 20% of girls are able to get medicine for cramps. 

“According to  NFHS (National Family Health Survey), 42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth.”

According to  NFHS (National Family Health Survey),  42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth. Moreover, lack of menstrual hygiene such as access to just 5-6 sanitary napkins for each woman for a whole month, lack of water or proper toilets in the house, and not being allowed to bathe during menstruation has led to serious health consequences like reproductive tract infections. Poor access to menstrual products continues to be a barrier to achieve complete coverage of menstrual hygiene. 88% of women in India have been recorded as using homemade alternatives such as rags, hay, ash and cloth. The question that arises is how we can put an end and take the first step for all girls and women to have access to menstrual hygiene?

“FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world.”

FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world. Anjali at the age of 16, founded this non-profit organisation. They conduct menstrual hygiene management sessions that outline certain do’s and don’ts, Biology behind periods and busting prevalent myths and superstitions to the underprivileged menstruators. In addition to this, they also provide biodegradable or reusable cloth pads as a more eco-friendly alternative to disposable plastic pads. So far, they have conducted sessions with thousands of underprivileged women at schools, slums, orphanages, sex-trafficking rescue homes, and NGOs across the country, and been able to provide menstrual products to cover over 75, 000 periods. Alongside running campaigns on social media, they have also been able to set up operational chapters in the UK, Algeria and Malawi.

Here are more suggestions on how we can overcome and combat these barriers:

1. The government must play an integral role in bringing a change in the system. Policies to promote menstrual hygiene by inculcating it in school curriculums is urgently needed so young children are aware and don’t blindly follow cultural myths. Menstrual hygiene education should be a priority. For example, the government of Goa introduced an educational module to encourage menstrual education and inculcate it in the curriculum. Low-cost sanitary pads should be locally made and distributed especially in rural and slum areas. In 2010, India launched a campaign called National Rural Health Mission to improve menstrual hygiene for 15 million adolescent girls and provide them with low-cost sanitary pads. 

2. Corporations and the media have the medium to change and mould perspectives in society. They should voice their opinions on gender equality and help break social taboos that still exist today in society. An exceptional campaign on menstruation was conducted by P&G. In 2014, it was one of the first campaigns in which any brand or institution in India talked about periods and it’s associated taboos on a large scale. It not only helped people talk about periods openly but also stirred a conversation as well as acceptance between men and women. 

3. NGOs and social organisations also could contribute largely to promoting menstrual hygiene in their communities. As mentioned above FullStopp is looking for volunteers to help them. You can also donate to such organisations to provide sanitary napkins to the underprivileged menstruators. 

4. The entertainment industry has also played as a catalyst in reaching out and educating people about menstrual hygiene. The film industry should create more movies like Padman and The period to make the conversation much stronger. Indian actor Akshay Kumar is a part of Niinemovement that has been conceived by social entrepreneur Tulsiyan in the ray of hope to inspire women, break taboos about menstrual hygiene and bridge the gap between sanitary napkin users. The documentary “Period. End of a Sentence” gained attention worldwide when it was recognised and awarded the Academy Award for best documentary in 2019.

All in all, these stakeholders should work together with their very own strengths to break the societal myths and secrecy associated with menstruation. Dealing with menstruation is difficult as it is and societal stigma makes it even harder. It is time for societies to come together to combat these beliefs. It is time for the colour red to become a symbol of purity and shatter centuries of myths about menstruation. 

Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.

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#MeToo: 1.7m Tweets, 12m Facebook posts, 85 countries

Asmita Sood

 Examining how #metoo has progressed through the years, its achievements and pitfalls

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence 

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano shared an image on Twitter containing the following text:

“Me Too. Suggested by a friend: “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.”

#MeToo originated from Milano’s tweet and became a global news-maker. It trended in 85 countries with 1.7 million tweets and 12 million Facebook posts in the first six weeks alone. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center after a year of Milano’s tweet estimated that 19 million tweets had used #MeToo, which is more than 55,000 tweets per day. An analysis of over 600,000 tweets and Facebook posts with #MeToo showed that tweets varied from containing personal stories and expressing general support to re-posted articles, commentary to discussing offenders. However, “Me Too” as a grassroots movement supporting survivors goes back to 2007 when it was founded by Black Feminist Tarana Burke. Researchers have found it useful to distinguish between the hashtag #MeToo as a moment, and the broader Me Too as a grassroots movement. 

When it comes to measuring the impact of #MeToo, it has been hugely successful in drawing attention to and legitimising experiences of sexual harassment for survivors. Feminist scholars and activists have been advocating for a more holistic understanding of sexual violence for decades, an understanding which steps away from ranking individual incidents on the basis of what would traditionally be considered serious, such as rape, sexual assault and not everyday harassment. This was captured in Liz Kelly’s hugely influential continuum of sexual violence that conceptualises sexual violence as continuous in nature and its effects on women as being interlinked. It sees women’s lived experiences of various forms of sexual violence as constituting a continuum, not a hierarchy. Milano’s tweet asked women to share experiences of sexual harassment or assault with the aim of making all forms of violation visible. Under the stream of #MeToo, it is possible to see stories of stranger rape, incest, workplace harassment all next to each other. This juxtaposition of different experiences points to their interconnectedness in how they are gendered and sexualised, how they can flow into each other and how they impact the victim-survivor. 

“#MeToo has legitimised experiences of sexual harassment which did not rank as ‘serious enough’ in hierarchical frameworks of conceptualising sexual harassment.”

The links between different forms of abuse and how continuous they are in women’s lives become difficult to ignore in the face of thousands of individual stories shared under one umbrella. #MeToo, thus, has legitimised experiences of sexual harassment which did not rank as “serious enough” in hierarchical frameworks of conceptualising sexual harassment. It has also brought these experiences to the forefront, when they may not be explicitly defined as criminal acts, and has shown how they inform women’s everyday decision-making processes in regards to safety and risk in public and private interactions. In this way, #MeToo has fostered a more survivor-centric, continuum-based thinking of sexual harassment in wider public discourse. 

“Allied to #MeToo were hashtags such as #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) in France and #RiceBunny and #MiTu in China which sparked and rejuvenated local feminist organising and protests.”

This reckoning with different types of sexual violations brought on by #MeToo has not been limited geographically. #MeToo inspired global movements and lent itself to the rise of activism for context specific feminist goals. Allied to #MeToo were hashtags such as #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) in France and #RiceBunny and #MiTu in China which sparked and rejuvenated local feminist organising and protests. In India, women in the entertainment and media industries started using #MeToo to share their stories of abuse roughly a year after Milano’s tweet. This caused a renewal of wide concern with sexual violence which had been largely absent since the 2012 New Delhi gangrape case. 

In Argentina, #MeToo was shared by actresses to share their experiences of sexual harassment. It then evolved into #NiUnaMenos (not one woman less), an activist coalition of grassroots protestors and popular actresses demanding redressal of feminist concerns such as through legalization of abortion. China’s #MiTu emerged on new years’ day, 2018 in universities where several senior academics were accused of sexual harassment by current and former students. As of September 2018, more than 50 public allegations were made in China on social media against powerful men coming from different backgrounds, including NGO founders, media personalities, businessmen. Local feminist movements across the world were able to adopt #MeToo for culturally specific causes and they harnessed its burgeoning visibility to further their feminist goals. This ability of #MeToo to permeate borders and extend its platform has the potential for creating cross-cultural coalitions for preventing sexual harassment. 

“#MeToo has not included every survivor. For one, #MeToo requires digital literacy and the freedom to be able to share your story without fear of repercussions. This means that a large chunk of survivors including older women, women and children in conflict zones, incest victims, those with abusive partners or otherwise marginalised remain unable to say #MeToo.”

However, #MeToo has not included every survivor. For one, #MeToo requires digital literacy and the freedom to be able to share your story without fear of repercussions. This means that a large chunk of survivors including older women, women and children in conflict zones, incest victims, those with abusive partners or otherwise marginalised remain unable to say #MeToo. Activists point out that the focus in the international #MeToo remains largely on relatively privileged, western, white women often to the exclusion of Black, Asian, Indigenous, Minority Ethnic women and LGBTQIA people. In the international press, faces associated with #MeToo that gain most visibility are primarily middle-class Hollywood actresses, particularly those who brought charges against Harvey Weinstein and at the helm of Times Up!, the legal defence fund set up in conjunction with #MeToo. 

“There are many such cases of #MeToo mobilising grassroots protests and strike action, but these #MeToo affiliates did not get nearly as much coverage as Hollywood actresses speaking about abuse. The media discourse around #MeToo erases their stories and the online moment has not been able to remedy that so far.”

In the US, Alianza Nacional de Compesinas and similar groups domestic workers and female janitors highlighted harassment in their industries. McDonalds workers in ten American cities organised a day-long strike protesting workplace sexual harassment. There are many such cases of #MeToo mobilising grassroots protests and strike action, but these #MeToo affiliates did not get nearly as much coverage as Hollywood actresses speaking about abuse. The media discourse around #MeToo erases their stories and the online moment has not been able to remedy that so far. In India, the conversation around #MeToo remained largely restricted to film and media industries, with little attention paid to the plight of women who work under even more precarious conditions. The harassment of garment factory workers or domestic workers have received barely any coverage in the media that has chosen to focus on details of high-profile cases that can be sold for shock value. Nearly two years since Tanushree Datta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, it is unclear if any of the film production companies that publicly vowed to build safer and more equitable film sets have followed through. 

While this focus on more privileged and well-known faces of #MeToo can be attributed to patriarchal and commercial media conditions beyond the control of those speaking out, that does not account for instances where women of colours’ voices were actively side-lined. In a joint television interview about #MeToo with Burke, Alyssa Milano was criticized for taking up most of the airtime and interrupting Burke in her responses several times. According to Alison Phipps, because #MeToo has replicated the hierarchies of mainstream feminism that privilege white women, and thus, “Speaking out” can become “speaking over”. 

“#MeToo has so far not been able to address the intersections of race, age, class, religion, and other categories of marginilisation in compounding violence against women.”

#MeToo has so far not been able to address the intersections of race, age, class, religion, and other categories of marginilisation in compounding violence against women. This has hindered the vast potential of the online #MeToo moment into becoming a movement for all survivors. However, #MeToo has immense, unprecedented potential for harnessing cross-cultural coalitions against patriarchal oppression that still needs to be actualised. It has been transformative for women and survivors world over and has validated experiences of abuse and trauma that survivors have historically been told don’t matter. It has highlighted that sexual and gendered violence is the unspoken pandemic raging unchecked. This speaks to the work that is yet to be done and the need for #MeToo to become a movement inclusive of all survivors. 

Asmita is currently pursuing a Masters in Woman and Child Abuse. She runs the Talking Research Podcast and is an Editor at Bol.

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India’s 112th Rank in Global Gender Gap Index

Gurbani Kaur Bhasin 

Examining India’s fall in the Global Gender Gap Index, what it means and where we stand going forward in a world with covid

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is based in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland is the organization for Public-Private Cooperation, committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

According to its Gender Gap Index, countries are ranked according to the calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas – Health, Education, Economy, and Politics. “Gender Gap” is the measure of this gender-based disparity.

It reports that for the year 2020, the Global Gender Gap score (based on the population-weighted average) stands at 68.6%. This means that, on average, the gap is narrower as compared to last year, and the remaining gap to close is now 31.4%. Iceland is ranked the most gender-neutral country, which is the country with the lowest disparity (highest equality) between men and women when measured based on the said parameters. 

“Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.”

India’s latest position at 112th has dropped 14 ranks lower than its reading in 2006 when the WEF started measuring the gender gap. India is ranked lower than many of its neighbouring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and Bangladesh. This widening gap raises red flags for India for many reasons. Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.

“The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women.”

Similarly variables of Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, are aligned with the numbers reflected by Educational Attainment graphs to study the reasons behind gender disparity. The findings provoke questions on lifestyles, law-making and execution, and attitudes towards women in Indian society. The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and basic necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women. A striking contrast on the other hand is seen in the relationship between education and political empowerment where the nation stands at number 18 on the same list.      

Upon analysing the reasons behind the dynamics of each of the above trends, one can broadly infer that the stem of this disparity roots down to and raises doubts about the quality of education, healthcare provided, and interest and capability in Politics (ref WEF_GGGR_2020).

“While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrolment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers.”

While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrollment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers. This in turn accounts for a similar low share in economic participation and income earned.

This filtration can further be attributed to the largely patriarchal nature of Indian society impacting households and professional environments. The vicious circle of this disparity looms large out of the fact that it is women, who preach these social norms to younger women and the following generations. Any attempt for reform is defamed as an indecent rebellion. Women who stand up against these norms are ostracised from society making large scale social reform very difficult.

Another unfortunate contributor to the bottleneck situation of women’s quality of education is the very fondly tamed culture of meticulously planning and saving for a fat, extravagant wedding and heavy dowry – a presumed responsibility of the woman’s family. Prevalent in many rich and poor, educated and uneducated households of South and East Asia, this culture shapes the savings of the family where the majority is invested to compound into huge sums to meet unnecessary wedding responsibilities, followed by only basic education and lastly, healthcare of the girl child.  This adds to the gap because of the presumption that the man is the earner of the family. As a result, most women either aim or are compelled to confine their lives as homemakers. Thus, many among the very few who manage to attain tertiary education, are not able to transform their years of investment in academics, into monetary rewards.

“Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.”

Since largely all the above, in varying magnitudes, affect the educational turnover of women, the standard of their qualifications is poorer than their male counterparts thus yielding them less lucrative employment opportunities. Moreover, the employers in India view most women as short term resources as they are expected to get married early into their careers. Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.

Contrary to popular hashtags, women are not exactly “in this together” or at par with men, they are not in the same boat even when they share the same storm. The risk of the current Covid pandemic to an average female employee is much higher compared to her male colleagues. 

“Women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc., and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on the women.”

A report by McKinsey shows that women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc. and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on women since they are the main caregivers in most households.

Another issue is the sex ratio which has been perpetually lopsided due to a long prevalent practice of female infanticide and foeticide, which even though has been abolished for a few decades now, has made a deep dent in the gender distribution of our population. Technologies such as IVF are being misused for sex selection leading to a rising sex ratio of males per female. Figures of infanticide and foeticide together show that nearly 200,000 Indian girls are killed before the age of six owing to gender bias. Many women also succumb to death during childbirth due to low access to healthcare facilities 

The world is a witness of how much more efficient at management, women are than men. Former Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj had assumed the rightful liberty to once quote that: “As a woman and an elected Member of Parliament, it has been my firm conviction that there is a shortcut to real social change — empowering the girl child.”

“Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders.”

Having studied the credible data about the gender demography of our country, the need for women’s representation in the given parameters is louder than ever. Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders. 

The points distinguished in the WEF report on Gender Gap and elaborated above highlight the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent and at the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.

Gurbani is a 23 year old student, in the final year of Chartered Accountancy and a graduate of Commerce from Hislop College, Nagpur.

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