It was just another day in one of the villages of South Madhya Pradesh. A colleague and I were passing through the half-broken muddy roads, to reach our destination. As part of our project, the agenda was to talk to women collectively and motivate them to save a certain amount of money every month, which could later be utilized for their personal or communal purposes. We had experienced much reluctance in the behavior of women in last few days. Not only towards savings but even to speak, to get out of their homes, to try anything new or to take the ghoonghat off their heads.
“Ladki, ladki” An excited four-year old screamed, “wo dekh, scooter pe ladki” looking back and forth at me and his friends, in amazement.
It was disturbing for me in an outlandish way. In a way, that I wouldn’t put the blame on child, or even his parents for that matter. From whatever 0.1% I know of parenting, I’m sure they wouldn’t have walked up to him and said, “Women don’t drive scooters.” Did he overhear men making fun of women doing it? Did he observe practices where women weren’t allowed to do certain things? Did he never saw such a sight earlier, and it was just something new? Like, how some city kids call out their friends when they see a ‘firang-in-a-bikini’ for the first time. Whatever be the reason, it was strange for him to spot two females, on two-wheels. We were probably ‘Wonder-women’ for those kids, except in a negative way. They’d be wondering why the hell these women are wandering here.
Writing about this incident makes me recall another instance where we were talking to a group of women at one of the ladies’ homes. The conversation was around benefits of regular savings and how it could help them financially as well as socially. Suddenly, a 13-year-old boy barged in, looked sternly towards one of the women and said, “Koi zarurat nahi hai ye sab karne ki”. She smiled looking down as if affirming. It took me almost half a minute to try to make sense of what just happened. Turns out he was her son who was eavesdropping all this while. He had the audacity to interrupt and take decision on his mother’s behalf because he knew she’d be okay with it. He knew she doesn’t have a say. At that moment, I could think of only two options – slap him or leave. There was no mid-way. I chose the latter and exited quietly. A numerous such village visits later, currently sitting in a posh apartment at Indore, I still fail to make sense of it.
‘Hence, have signed up for an emotional intelligence course online, so that in such situations, I can think of a mid-way next time.’
Who’s responsible for such behavior in two occurrences described above? Is it the children, their families or the entire community? Such disparities are prevalent not just in rural but in urban India as well. While movies like ‘Pink’ and ‘Parched’ usually talk only to those who are already conscious, they (we) in turn need to communicate to the ones (millions) who are still ignorant. Did you know gender and sex are not the same? I didn’t, until last week, when we had a session on ‘Gender equity’ in my organization and we were enlightened about the difference. While ‘sex’ is biological or natural, for example, a woman can bear a child while a man cannot. ‘Gender’, on the other hand, is socio-cultural, more of a power game. For example, in many countries, while husbands can divorce their spouses easily (often instantly through verbal repudiation), wives’ access to divorce is often extremely limited, and they frequently confront legal and financial obstacles. Read more such examples, here.
This unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals based on gender is known as ‘Gender Inequity’. Now that we have learnt a new term, can we consciously try to let others know about it and/or use it effectively. The space of unwillingness (by choice or by force), as mentioned in the beginning of this post needs to be intervened into. Be it through literacy, skill development, micro-credit or personal conversations. We, at ‘Chaitanya‘, are in process of forming a separate department for the concern and have already pledged to start talking about the issue directly, once we spend a considerable amount of time with a community, say 6-8 months. And you? Start from your home, if you must. The kind of people mentioned in this post, ones we need to work with, will never read it. So, you and I, those who resonate, and are still a part of the society, can we take charge? ‘God won’t !’