Advocacy for women empowerment has been going on for a long time now. We participate in rallies; organize awareness programs, and hold seminars and workshops to discuss women’s rights in expensive hotels.
Every time I read and hear about these things, the one thing that strikes my mind is; are these efforts really making any difference in our society? Are the slogans chanted during rallies in cities being heard in places of the country where the condition of women is much worse? Chapters on gender equality and women’s rights are included in the school’s curriculum, too.
But who can assure that the teacher who takes classes on gender equality does not discriminate between his/her son and daughter? Who can guarantee that male activists who campaign for the rights of women have not violated their rights themselves? Who can confirm that the politician who talks about the importance of women’s role in nation building respects the female members of his home and believes they have the freedom of choice? What if the lawyer who has just won a case against dowry actually expects good gifts from the family of his/her would-be daughter-in-law? What if a brother who enjoys late night parties with his girlfriend but does not allow his sister to even talk to her male friends?
From a very young age, girls are somehow taught that being pretty is more important than being smart; they are encouraged to learn cooking and cleaning, and taught to be soft-spoken and submissive. They are told that women are supposed to be compassionate, not courageous. In majority of films, advertisements and story books, women are presented as someone whose sole purpose in life is to be beautiful, love and nurture the family.
Hardly a day passes by without a case of gender violence making headline. No matter how far we’ve come in terms of time, violence against women continues to remain one of the worst social evils. While uneducated women in rural areas are still being accused of being witches, or being burnt alive for bringing in ‘insufficient dowry,’ educated women still need to fight for equal pay.
Both men and women must recognize their individual identity and learn to respect that of others.
What can be done to stop it? Or at least minimize it?
Both men and women must recognize their individual identity and learn to respect that of others. When the focus is on bringing women at par with men, the first step must be taken by women themselves. They need to believe in themselves and ignore those who say they are weak and incapable to do many things.
A woman must realize that she has all the freedom to choose a life for herself and make her decisions independently. This can be done when gender roles are not stereotyped and women are provided with opportunities right from their birth. Proper socialization can contribute largely to this.
From early age girls should be taught that they can live independently and do not need to rely on their father or husband for survival. Everyone must realize that a society can only go so far if both its male and female members work hand in hand. Women share more than half of the population in our country and thus, they have all the rights to be an active part of society.
All in all, what is most needed at present is for all of us to believe that men and women are actually equal. Only with this mindset can we really work towards ending discrimination against women.
Manjushwori is an undergraduate student of Development Studies at National College in Baluwatar, Kathmandu.