Is it possible for a bird to fly only on one wing? This may sound like rhetoric. But that’s what we have been doing with regard to women- fifty percent of our human resource for the past seventy years.
Ask them what does it feel like to be stereotyped? Is it possible to move out of the female stereotype & be seen in a new light? What does it take to offer differing views, skills & competence while still holding one’s own? Addressing such questions place new demands on us to examine the content of our beliefs, attitudes & assumptions. For these are the filters that color our understanding. Although seeing is believing, we tend to see what we believe & also see things as who we are & not as they are.
As a result, good intentions do not get translated into good practices due to local cultural norms & societal attitudes. No wonder that Centre for Innovation in Public Systems (CIPS) have encountered & reported enormous inequities on gender issues when implementing the agenda on innovation in areas of education, health, workforce participation & governance. For instance, while offering Life Skills & Career Guidance Programs for high school students in three districts of Andhra Pradesh, girls are influenced not to have career ambitions since they will be forced to marry after completing Class X. Could it be that our biases are so deeply ingrained that our actions are not still caught up with our views on gender equality
In order to advance gender equality in India, we need to focus on one critical dimension -
Men as Agents of Change.
Recognizing that young boys & men are the seed-bearers of change, they have to be engaged early. Education is the vaccine for violence. If the idea of an equal relationship between the boys & girls is discussed at school level then the gender role attitudes become more egalitarian & the notion of masculinity will get more positive.
It is heartening to note that the younger generation of fathers want to be involved in their children’s upbringing & be active parents. In many ways, the role model of a young boy is his father. It will create a lasting impact on a growing child if he sees his father sharing household work. Until men are fully equal inside the home, women can never be equal outside of it.
We also need more role models from among influential men to speak up for women’s rights & dignity. They need to be invited to contribute to development of family-oriented policies – whether reproductive health, family planning or parenting- that are not only good for women but also for the entire family.
Achieving gender equality is a complex multidimensional journey with multiple partners who must work together to create an empowered ecosystem. Governments can act as catalyst & shape policies to create an enabling environment. Business enterprises need to invent & invest in new practices that help working mothers that are not only good for women but also good for business. A major challenge in ensuring equality of treatment for the girl child is getting men to be sensitive to the issue. NGOs need to engage men whether as gender champions to help improve the sex ratio across India or as key players to ensure gender parity. Women need to rethink their roles & careers & put the new attitudes to work. New age parents need to groom their children well. Young boys & girls need to be trained in homemaking just as they need to be trained in career making when the time is right. After all gender inequality in society gets reflected as gender inequality at work. However, equality alone is not the solution unless it is accompanied by a complete overhaul of mentalities of both men & women. It is basically a partnership orientation for including women & not excluding men in creating a more equal world.
Dr Anjali Hazarika’s book Walk the Talk recently won the 2nd prize in the prestigious DMA-NTPC management book awards. A must-read which suggests how together we can ensure equity with effectiveness. It provides ideas and agenda for action to create an ecosystem of empowerment.
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