It’s been seventeen years since we have been living in the twenty first century, yet we have not been able to relieve ourselves of this burden we have been carrying around for centuries: the burden of not being able to fully establish women’s rights. Unfortunately, in the capacity of a country we happen to bear an even heavier share, at least when we analyse the situation from a comparative lens.
The most recent example of this deficiency can be noted in the incident of sexual harassment of a student of the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India, which led to the rise of a students’ protest. Sadly sexual harassment and eve teasing are not issues, the news’ of which comes about as much of a surprise in our country. What actually offers shock is the reaction that this cause and its protests have received from the authorities i.e., nothing but violence in the form of lathicharge against the protesters [source: FirstPost].
Instead of immediately following up on the reasonable demands of the students and making better provisions for something as important as security, the University focussed on proving how political the motives of these students seem to be. Now we do not know whether the actions of these students have a political motive or no, in fact that does not even matter, what matters is that a serious incident of sexual harassment did occur, which calls for due attention of the University irrespective of the alleged hidden motives behind the demand for the same. Whether the protest has a political inclination or not does not justify the indifference that the women of the University are being subjected to in terms of something as basic as security.
Talking of basic, I believe security is not the only issue where women are faced with incompetent provisions. A research from last year shows that the number of females who were able to complete five years of primary school education was merely 48 per cent which is absolutely nothing as compared to our neighboring countries. Nepal had a 92%, Pakistan had somewhere around 74% and Bangladesh had 54%, in the same area [Source: The Hindu].
When we look at the rural areas there are numerous impediments before the girls’ numbers to be good in schools- first of all, the female infanticide rates are so high; then, half the people believe in saving the money for dowry rather than sending their girls to school and the most problematic idea is that of the lack proper toilets for girls which makes it unsafe for them to attend schools. But in urban areas these problems become almost half in number yet the ratio of boys to girls in schools is not as much as it should be.
This inadequate representation in schools eventually leads to an inadequate representation in terms of employment, the female participation in labor force of India has gone down from 42.6% to 31.2% from 1993-94 to 2011-12, as per a research paper published by the World Bank in April 2017, titled “Precarious Drop Reassessing Patterns of Female Labour Force Participation in India.”
A lot of this also comes from the opinion of a major chunk of our society that women are not meant to not go out and work. And even if the women somehow make it to the offices, they are not able to continue after their marriage. Even if they continue they are faced with so many biases. One does generally judge a woman’s potential to have been affected once she has a husband and a child.
In the backdrop of only 11% of the 16th Lok Sabha being composed of women, as per the PRS Legislative Research, it is not hard to understand as to why the rights of women are still undermined. It is only when women are going to be a part of the law making institution in the right amount; only then will the issues of women be addressed as a primary concern.
It all eventually forms this one huge cycle. If a girl is not educated she cannot seek employment, she cannot recognize her political rights and eventually she cannot raise her voice against the problems associated with her security. When we see or hear about poor literacy rates for women, or poor representation of the females in various institutions, or consistent cases of eve teasing, violence and rapes against women then we perceive them as separate issues and separate problems. But all these problems when put together form this one huge reality which is very unfortunate. As fellow living beings to males women deserve the same degree of rights and freedom. The recognition of this fact is the only way to relieve ourselves of this burden that we are still carrying around.
-Contributed by Richa Bhatt
Picture Credits: one-europe.net