By Zakia Soman
June 29, 2018
A recent survey by Thomson Reuters
Foundation found that India is the most dangerous country for women. In this
poll, India ranks below Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Saudi Arabia on the six
issues surveyed. These were healthcare, access to economic resources and
discrimination, customary practices, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and
human trafficking. The government has rejected the findings. In reality, these
are issues that every woman has faced directly or indirectly. Despite all the
talk about development and superpower dreams, we continue to deny our girls and
women their share at home, in the community, in society and in public life.
We must accept that we are a patriarchal
society with intrinsic structures of discrimination against girls and women.
Over the centuries, we have evolved elaborate systems governing all spheres of
life which discriminate on account of gender. Despite social reform movements
and legal provisions, patriarchy rules the roost in our society and polity. The
journey of a female is marked by discrimination from birth to death. Besides,
patriarchal mindsets and norms are blatantly coming to the fore with the rise
of the political right.
Discrimination against girls begins even
before birth. The Census of 2011 highlights the sex ratio at 940 with states
like Haryana at a shocking 877 girls to 1000 boys. The PCPNDT law has made
little impact on the preference for a male child in our society and girls
continue to be killed in the womb. Although primary education enrolment figures
have improved, dropout of girl children remains an issue. Male privilege norms
ensure that families prefer to spend on boys’ education rather than on girls.
There is a high incidence of under-age
girls being pushed into marriage owing to poverty, lack of income avenues and
sometimes conservative mindsets. A large number of girls are caught up in the
vicious cycle of no education, early marriage, early motherhood, domestic
violence, drudgery of family and low paying work. The experience can be far
worse for girls from Dalit, minority, tribal or poor backgrounds.
The state mechanism has failed to check the
rising incidence of sexual violence in society. Our capital city has come to
acquire a reputation on rape. There are regular instances of politically
connected persons indulging in sexual violence which is condoned by the ruling
class. The hypocrisy of the political class is evident in the way the women’s
reservation bill has been kept pending for decades.
In recent years, there have been instances
where elected representatives and religious leaders have openly espoused
patriarchal and misogynist views. An elected representative in UP exhorted
Hindu women to give birth to more number of children to counter the Muslim
population growth. Another Hindutva leader in that state suggested that Muslim
women can overcome the issue of triple Talaq by becoming Hindu. Such utterances
undermine the Muslim women’s movement for justice and strengthen the
conservatives in the community.
There is a clear view in the present
cabinet against a law on marital rape. This can be owing to the political
ideology that considers marriage a sacred bond or “Janam Janam Ka Bandhan”.
The close relationship with religious figures being cultivated by different
state institutions cannot be good for women’s equality. The harassment of
inter-faith couples must stop forthwith and society must respect the choices of
Our cities have become increasingly unsafe
for women despite the Smart Cities campaign. Unsafe buses and trains have made
the dream of education for girls that much more distant. Sexual violence during
communal riots and violence against Dalit women goes largely unpunished.
Various surveys suggest that work participation of women has gone down during
the last decade in India. This is besides the discrimination in wages for women
as well as sexual harassment at the workplace. Most employers are not aware of
the law prohibiting harassment of women at workplaces. Women across economic
backgrounds do not have autonomy over how to spend their earnings. Apart from
these, there are issues like trafficking of girls, criminalisation of sexual
minorities, denial of women’s share in property.
There are many issues that we face as a
country such as poverty, jobs, education, caste, diversity, health, housing
etc. Any discussion on how to fight patriarchy has to account for the fact that
the perpetrator is often within. She or he can be inside the home, inside the
family, within the religion, within cultural practices, within ourselves. The
struggle for women’s equality is made more difficult by the fact that women are
not a political block. The few women who make it to influential positions
against all odds get outweighed by the omnipresent and dominant patriarchal
The present survey should be an occasion
for serious reflection and the joining of voices for women’s equality. There is
a need to go beyond the country rankings and focus on how to build a society
where women are equal citizens. It is a task that demands sustained action at
multiple levels, governmental as well as civil society.
Zakia Soman is a women’s rights activist and one of the founding members
of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan