Think, feel, live like a woman

More than three weeks after the December 16 gangrape in Delhi, the nation continues to be outraged over incidents of sexual assault against women. Even those who have never heard anything about either feminism or gender justice are aghast by the utter insensitivity betrayed by some individuals.

A large section of the media and some self-proclaimed champions of women’s cause chose to ignore the utterances of CPI(M) leader Anisur Rahman that were an outright insult to womanhood. On the other hand the lure of scoring brownie points made many wantonly misinterpret what RSS chief had observed. In the ensuing cacophony the fundamental issue of how and why the traditional male mindset needs to change never came to the discussion table. Thus one can understandably be afraid that at the end of the day even all this noise on issues concerning women’s security and safety may not result in any real public education.
It must be noted that gender occupies prime position in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Apart from gender equality, ending poverty and hunger, universal education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are the other four goals where the role of women is critical and needs universal recognition.
Over the last over 25 years, societal perspective towards gender issues has undergone transformation. This has happened due to two principal reasons. First, large-scale self-realisation on the part of women has led to greater awareness about gender issues all over the world. And second, thanks to sound theorisation of gender equality by social scientists, thinkers and opinion makers, gender issues have acquired an element of political correctness. As a consequence, nobody dares to challenge the logic behind gender equality, especially in public. However, sadly but certainly, this pressure of political correctness has masked the mindsets of men — and at times even women — majority of whom continue to believe that men and women are naturally unequal and any effort to bring equality is bound to fail. This thinking prevails not only in the educationally or socially backward societies but also in the most advanced, economically affluent sections, the so-called progressive people.
This makes one realise that women empowerment hinges, among other things, primarily on changing the traditional mindset of men. If men continue to not understand the meaning of women’s rmpowerment, or if they wantonly ignore the applied gender-justice principals, it often adds to the agony of women, already under the burden of changing expectations in the midst of unchanged social climate.
Decades ago, Acharya Dada Dharmadhikari, a well-known Gandhian and Sarvodaya leader, had advocated what can be described as “reverse discrimination” within the four-walls of our homes. In traditional societies, when women started occupying all those spaces that were traditionally considered the sole reserves of men, family-centric societies started experiencing upheavals. It also created a picture of apparent imbalance. To correct this, as prescribed by Dada Dharmadhikari, what was needed was men’s entry into and occupation of those areas that were and are traditionally considered women’s-only.
What he meant was something very practicable and yet very difficult. If women are flying airplanes, why can’t men babysit and cook a meal, was his question. But majority of men are not inclined to do this and this is what has added further to the already stretched relationship between men and women. No wonder many male politicians find it hard to digest the proposed quota for women in political representation.
To correct this, building capacities of men through change-mindset training is the only effective way. We, at Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, which is South Asia’s only training institute for elected representatives, has been doing this for a decade, right after quotas for women at the local government level were implemented in Maharashtra. Our experience in the context of a structured training aimed at changing the male mindset has been very interesting and the results very insightful.
After conducting a series of interactive training workshops for municipal councillors and other elected representatives, we have drawn four main conclusions. First, it is a must that men take extra effort towards understanding a woman’s world: women, their life-approach, their role in the family, their expectations and revisiting the typicality of the male view about these issues. Second, there is a need for men to empathise with women: understanding the psychological-emotional process that women go through and then developing an intellectual understanding of it. Third, men need to recognise that gender equality is integral to the concept of social justice. And last, understanding and pro-actively utilising the inherent leadership qualities of women while ungrudgingly accepting the fact that women are better managers. At the practical level, one may also think of introducing a set of behavioural norms or do’s and don’ts to ensure that gender justice gets translated in our day to day lives.
All this again makes us revisit the question of quota for women in Parliament and also Legislative Assemblies. Quotas are nothing more than accepting the fact that women need to be given the space which is due to them. But much before that, they need their legitimate share in our mind-space, in our thinking world. Changed mindset of men alone will make way for that space.
For women to be able to walk freely and fearlessly, the one small but powerful step needed is to create enabling environs for them to gain a firm foothold, be it in politics or governance. Sadly but truly, empowering men with the ability to think in this way has become the precondition of genuine and effective women empowerment. The sooner both men and women understand this, the better.

The writer is the director-general of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini

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