Gender inequality has been prevalent ever since the rigid social system has been defined. Gender inequality is a social construct, much like the cursory gender, where men and women are treated differently solely because they align with different sexes. Gender inequality is discrimination against not only perceived gender but also against people who do not identify themselves with gender roles of male or female. India’s ranking remains low in gender equality measures by the World Economic Forum with poor scores on overall female to male literacy and health rankings. India in 2013 ranked 101 out of 136 countries with an overall score of 0.6551 (no gender gap would yield a score of 1.0). Gender inequalities impact India’s sex ratio, women’s health over their lifetimes, their educational attainment, and economic conditions. It is a multifaceted issue that should concern men and women alike.
Misogyny comes from the Greek word “misogunia”, which is contempt, prejudice, or hatred for women and girls. It enforces sexism by punishing those who reject substandard status for women and rewarding those who accept it. Misogyny manifests in numerous ways including (but not limited to) social exclusion, hostility, androcentric, patriarchy, male privilege, sexual discrimination, belittling of women, disenfranchisement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification. Misogyny has been prevalent in almost all the cultures of the world, throughout western and eastern civilizations and their history, and can be also found in works of thinkers like Aristotle. It was noted as a disease in Classical Greece.
In patriarchy, men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of the property. Patriarchy is associated with a set of ideologies that acts to explain and validate this ascendency and ascribes it to inherent differences between males and females. Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself into economical, religious, political, social, and legal aspects of different cultures. Even if not explicitly defined to be by their constitutions and laws, most contemporary societies are, in practice, patriarchal.
In the twentieth century, second-wave feminist theorists maintained that misogyny is both cause and result of patriarchal social structures. Economist Deniz Kandiyoti argued about the “patriarchal bargain” where the colonizers conquered armies of men under control by offering them complete power over women. The Men who were interested in accepting the bargain were promoted to leadership by colonial powers, causing the colonized societies to become more misogynistic.
Women in India are treated as the property of men. This is not merely reflected in our culture, but also enshrined in our laws. Just a few weeks back the Supreme Court of India’s verdict about two very brutal cases of violence against women posed a grave question about the deep misogyny is rooted in India and how it often protects the perpetrator rather than the victim. The Supreme Court’s latest query to a Maharashtra government employee asking whether he would marry a girl he was accused of raping repeatedly while she was a minor is insensitive to the core. By offering marriage as a solution to a rape victim, the judiciary failed to protect the rights of a girl. Instead of dealing out harsh punishment, the Court asked the lawyer representing the accused to find out whether his client would be willing to marry the victim or risk going to jail. In another case where the victim was promised marriage but instead was “brutally and sexually abused”, the Chief Justice of India asked the girl’s lawyer: “When two people are living as husband and wife, however brutal the husband is, can you call sexual intercourse between them ‘rape’”? The case of Ayesha Makrani from Ahmedabad who was forced to take her own life because her in-laws tortured and physically harassed her for “not bringing enough dowry”, is just another example of how India as a country in all its rich tradition and values has failed numerous women. With just two months past 2021, many such similar headlines have proved that India is still not a country for women.
For a country that glorifies making religion a person’s identity, it should come as no surprise that many justify the injustices faced by women as tradition and shame people who go stand against it. From working women who are also expected to be a “homemaker” to stay-at-home dads, to how a daughter-in-law is seen as a servant and subservient to her husband, sexism is ubiquitous in all aspects of Indian society. Marriage another hyped-up subject in Indian society also comes with immense baggage. Marriage should be a union of two souls who respect, trust and understand each other (regardless of gender, if I may say so), but as it seems consent seems to be a trifling factor in many Indian marriages especially those which are taking part in rural India. Marital rape isn’t yet considered a crime in its entirely and domestic violence and brutality become a part of the norm for many Indian wives. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) around 70% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. We don’t even have an accurate estimate for those who are the victims of marital rape yet and prominent figures in our justice system do not seem to think that it is a problem.
These are various instances even in the mundane of tasks that portray India’s superficiality and hypocrisy. Whether it is the norm that women, and only the women, has to wear symbols of marriage or social pressure where women have to stay in an abusive marriage and “try to make it work” to save face or the fact that women are expected to give up on their career for the sake of their children or else be judged for not wanting to have children, women face sexual discrimination and sometimes even harassment in her house, her workplace and even in the places she might choose to visit. For a country to like to proclaim how every girl is a goddess in her own right, we sure do like to recognize a women’s identity in life as someone’s mother or wife (so much for being her own Laxmi, right?). Even the topic of whether women were entitled to inherit property or an heirloom was debatable till 2005. But the prejudices don’t end with gender but it adds a spoonful of religious discrimination with only Hindu and Christian daughters entitled to inherit an equal share as a son by law. Muslim woman’s right to property asserts that a daughter can receive only half of the share of a son. Even economically the gender gap in India is huge. According to the Gender Gap Index in 2020, India has slipped to the 112th position from the previous 108th in 2018. According to the report, it will take India close to 100 years to bridge the gap in areas of politics, economy, health, and education. It ranks 149th in economic participation and opportunity, and 117th in wage equality for similar work.
It is high time now that we, as a conscious nation, start to speak up about these deluded concepts of what is considered “correct”. A change starts with you, it starts with me and it starts with all of us, so let us get our voices to scream, to shout not for them to remain a tiny sound. Let us then stand and speak for those of us who cannot and start leading this nation on a better path.
Written by: Aparna Singh