A reality check on equality: Are we there yet?
The numbers don't lie but we do
I read an interesting study from 2017 done by Statista and IPSOS that asked adults between ages 16-64 from 25 different countries the following question: “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: I define myself as a feminist--someone who advocates and supports equal opportunities for women”. The response options were “Very much agreed”, “Somewhat agreed”, “Neutral”, “Somewhat disagree” and “Very much disagree”. The study was recorded and a column graph showing the agreement of adults from all the countries surveyed showed that India had the highest proportion of participants who identified as being feminists at 83% while Germany recording the lowest agreement with 39% identifying as feminists. The global average stood at 58% with India and China leading ahead of the curve with 83% and 74% respondents identifying as feminists.
Source: (Statista - IPSOS, 2017)
Does this mean India and China far exceed the United States, Germany, and many other Women-lead countries in the world in effects of public policies that foster equality and importantly women empowerment? Well, I can’t speak for China, but I think I may be able to speak for India with a fair amount of credibility.
Let’s begin by understanding some widely accepted definitions of Feminism.
The two main definitions given by Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia are as follows,
1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests
Now, this means that we who representative of 80% of the respondents in the survey are in strong agreement to the principles of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. But we know that that is not the case in India: India has not achieved equality in any of the above 3 mentioned aspects of gender equality. Allow me to demonstrate.
Equality in political representation
An article written by Polstrat in Medium showed that women made up only 14% of the Parliament as of 2019, the highest since 1947, but considering the fact they make up around 50% of India’s population it does not go well . State assemblies see a further decline to a mere 9% representation.
The 2019 elections resulted in the appointment of 78 women-Members of Parliament (MPs) but that number translates to one woman representative per 85 lakh women (in cardinal numbers 1 for every 8500000 women).
Some of the key reasons quoted for underrepresentation by men and women are as follows,
1. “Women are not interested in politics”
2. “Women are not independent, they are made to contest as proxies for their male counterparts – husband, brother, father, son, etc “
3. “Women aren’t competent enough to govern and lead a nation”
4. “Women will leave with their responsibilities hanging when they get married and have kids”
5. “Women are weak, too soft and cannot be authoritative”
And many more reasons have been quoted by men and women themselves as a reason why there is very less representation of women in politics.
Before we move on to debate against each point on its validity, I think we can safely assume at this point that we are far from achieving political equality.
In simple terms, Think Big (Start Small) defines economic equality as a level playing field where everyone has the same access to the wealth regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, and skin colour.
India’s population and cultural diversity poses a challenge and forms a major roadblock to achieving economic equality. A closer introspection into various inequality measures shows that the percentage of women who hold an account in a formal financial institution (commonly a bank) is 26.5% compared to almost 43.7% for men despite the relatively small difference in proportion employed in the industry (only 5.4%). This goes on add validity to the results of the 2020 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) putting India at a rank of 112 among the 153 countries surveyed.
This is in no way to bring India’s inequality to spotlight; I agree that this is a global issue indeed but it surely highlights our ignorance and failure to acknowledge the presence of such an issue.
We will not make progress if we do not accept that we have a problem. Acknowledgement is always the first step.
Let us again start with a Wikipedia definition of Social Equality,
“Social equality is a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in possibly all respects, possibly including civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights and equal access to certain social goods and social services”
Social equality by far would be the weakest of the 3 equality aspects discussed.
Politics and economics aside, gender roles are perverse throughout the country. Any man, woman or a transgender person speaking against what is considered a “cultural norm” or a “family practice” is guilt-tripped into thinking they bring shame to the family while the real shame is thinking that these vertical family structures ill-treating members of their own family can justify their suppression without any societal repercussions. This is highly indicative of a faulty, pseudo-egalitarian society synonymous to the wolf in a sheep’s clothing.
More specifically, women get the shorter end of the stick in not all but most of society’s cis-heteropatriarchal norms that are designed to keep the 50% supressed. Any person irrespective of their gender dares to challenge any of these collective norms, they are shunned to eternal shame and disapproval further leading to the guilt game until the person concedes defeat.
The streets of India were never and likely not in the near future will become safe for women (and girls too!) after 6:00 pm. In 2018, reports revealed that a stalking case is reported every 55 minutes and this does not include the lakhs of unreported cases of stalking, pestering, secretly taking photographs or videotaping someone without consent and so many more that people of all ages have been known to be doing. It is not a coincidence that most victims are women and girls (as young as even 10).
Let me quickly talk about an article I read earlier scroll. Isha Arora (then aged 13, class VII) speaks about the first time she had experienced stalking on her way to a tuition close to her home in Ghaziabad in the NCR.
Her account was that a man stopped her and told her he had been following her for months and that he was “in love” with a 13-year old girl. She describes “He told me that he knows where I stay, the school I go to and what time I leave home for tuition,” and further remembers that he even knew that she is usually accompanied with her brother but was alone that day. Her exact words were “I started shivering when the man gave me his number and threatened to pester over my home landline if she did not call ”
Turned out she went home shaken and wept for hours and told her father and he had to warn the guy that he would take it to the police to stop him from harassing the little girl.
It is important to note that the man would not change his ways because of his father’s supposed threat, he would simply change his victim and it likely continued.
This again does not mean its all rainbows and bells for men victims. Laws related to men victims in stalking need a thorough reform too, there are no systems in place to protect men who are unduly harassed or victimized by other men, women or all genders.
Overall, social justice for all genders needs improvement and reform. I will not argue on what genders need it the most because a preference there would create an inequality but it will be safe to say that a larger proportion of the female population experiences social injustice on a daily basis. The family-centric views that prevail in India simply exacerbate and hinder any solutions offered by bringing societal shame, family pride, caste, religion, and other avoidable factors into the social injustice equation.
Clearly, there is a long and winding road ahead of us to reach equality. Any person irrespective of their gender has a responsibility to speak up against injustices happening around them. The least they can do is to teach the right things to their families, friends, and children and hold people accountable for their mistakes. Many Indian parents spoil their children by either covering up their mistakes in the name of love or silencing their voices against injustices happening to them to uphold the family pride.
DO NOT blatantly campaign against feminism or any gender rights movement without actually learning about it, if you do not support it, at least do not attempt to go against it to bring it down.
We may not be there yet but doesn’t mean we have to stop now. Join the movement, speak against inequality for all genders and empathize with the victims rather than calling them names.
About the Author
Vasanthan Ramakrishnan is an engineer, researcher, statistician, entrepreneur, teacher and a philanthropist who writes occasionally. He founded Feminist Pen, a non-profit organization centring intersectional feminism and equal rights advocacy for women and other minority genders. His non-profit headquartered in New York is now expanding into India and UK. Vasanthan is a strong advocate for feminism and equal rights for all genders including the LGTBQ+ community. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions or if you just want to chat.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.