Half the population of the world is female. Families and households across the globe have, on an average, significant numbers of female members which is a reason good enough for women to be equal stakeholders in decision making and formulations of popular cultures. Unfortunately, the abundance of women in the world in terms of numbers is not proportional to the influence or the power that they wield, be it on society in general or on their own lives.
Women have since time immemorial been the ‘lesser halves’. The biological facts that they have the capability to bear children and usually have less physical strength than men have led to their marginalisation and exploitation since antiquity. Even celebrated playwright William Shakespeare penned in his masterpiece Hamlet that “frailty thy name is woman” even though the protagonist Hamlet, a man, is the weakest character in the play. Such mindsets continue to remain the reasons for females lagging behind their male counterparts across the world even in the twenty-first century.
Talking about our own culture, India has traditionally been a conservative country with the dominant culture revolving around the family. In conventional family systems, the roles played by men and women are well-defined and segregated; invasion into the structured role of the opposite sex is widely discouraged. This separation of duties and responsibilities of men and women in households has been the root cause of gender disparities and backwardness of women. Things may have changed with modernity and globalisation, but the pace of positive change is rather slow. We largely remain a patriarchal society where in most cases men are the decision makers and women are subjugated. The value system in our male-dominated culture is certainly lopsided against the feminine gender.
It is a matter of concern than archaic notions such as men being superior to women are still dominant in our country in today’s date and time even as we work towards progressing into a modern and prosperous future. The concepts of celebrating a boy’s birth and being dismayed at a girl’s are still prevalent not only in rural and semi-urban areas but in cosmopolitan cities as well. Sexual harassment, dowry deaths, female foeticide and forced marriages of daughters are still rampant in twenty-first century India. Increase in people’s levels of education and economic conditions have not necessarily changed their mindsets and gender prejudices prevail.
We at Tehelka are tired of gender discrimination. We believe that as a society we can never progress if half our population, or any section of it for that matter, is discriminated against. From now, Tehelka will dedicate the last page of every fortnightly issue to the cause of gender equality.
We would also like to insist that the notion of gender equality does not necessarily imply only equality of men and women, but that of all genders. The concept of gender today has been freed from the binary of male and female; gender identity can be based on personal choices which are influenced by not only biology but also by social, cultural and political aspects. Tehelka respects the personal choices made by people with regard to their gender identities and sexualities and abhors the harassment of sexual minorities.
Through this dedicated space, our endeavour will be to sensitise people about the basic causes of the deep-rooted malice of gender discrimination and what kind of efforts — big and small — can be made at the level of each individual to eradicate it. We hope that readers will enjoy our new series ‘Engender Revolution’ and will look forward to it in every subsequent issue. Your feedback is more than welcome.