The Women’s Day messages of the AAP leaders are an image spoiler that clearly smack of a half-baked understanding of women’s rights and gender equality. More importantly, they also expose some of the faultiness in the ideology-less thinking that can lead to wrong policies.
First up, Manish Sisodia, the all powerful number two man and the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi. Speaking in the capital on Sunday, he said all schools should ensure that children, when they pass out, do not turn into rapists. “Our schools will have to guarantee that when they accept a four-year-old child and when he gets out of school at 16 or 17, he will not turn into a rapist. We will guarantee that he will respect women and commit no crime against them. It may seem impossible today but we will have to build an education system like that,” he said.
Sisodia does have a point when he refers to the role of education in reducing violence against women, but assuming that education alone can be responsible for bringing about a crucial social transformation is too simplistic because the values and behaviour of the same students are also shaped by society and households which are much more influential than schools. Schools can be a catalyst, but they cannot be the sole change-agents. Therefore, asking them to “guarantee” that school children, when they become adults, don’t rape is both unreasonable and incomplete thinking.
That he focussed on rape alone on the Women’s Day itself shows that Sisodia missed the big picture of gender-based violence - the grossly inferior status of women in society that foments such behaviour. Rape is one of the manifestations of the ever prevailing violence against women in the country, which in turn arise out of their inequality and lack of power. Even if he wanted to send out a message to schools, he could have asked them to ensure that boys and girls are inculcated a sense of equality so that they grow up with the right values and become the change agents in society.
Catching them young is fine, but close to 1.5 million children are of school in India and the drop out rates are as high as 40 per cent. How does one reach out to those out-of-school children?
Many national and international agencies have long been imparting life-skills to school children to prevent sexual exploitation. How does it work when the values and attitudes remain stubborn in society and home? Sisodia needs to coordinate various ministries in his government and think multi-sectoral. And the aim should not be just stopping rapes, but making men and women believe that they are equal. Each ministry has to have appropriate policies and budgets to back them.
Second, and perhaps even worse, was the number one, Arvind Kejriwal. He wants women to live freely and happily in Delhi, but for that, he wants men to learn from women - “how they fulfil their responsibilities honestly and without making any fuss.” Poor man is acutely unaware that he just dropped a bomb of patriarchy and subjugation. He sounded like a classic patriarch who wants his women to be safe because they take care of him and his household. He goes on to add: ”Two women are behind whatever I am today. They are my wife and mother. During my fight against corruption, my wife ran the house while my mother supported me.” .
On her Facebook page, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association decoded what Kejriwal’s message denotes: “the Delhi CM has chosen not to give a message of solidarity to the women's movement fighting for justice, equality and freedom for women. Instead he has chosen to give a paternalistic message that reinforces the stereotype of women in family roles, supportive and nurturing of men.”
“Mr Kejriwal cited the role of his wife and mother in running the house and supporting him while he fought against corruption. This sounds ominously like 'Men will lead, women will run the house and support men who lead'. Is it because he sees this as the only fit role for women that he has no women in his Cabinet and his party's PAC?”
Kejriwal, like his trusted lieutenant , has a problem - that he really doesn’t understand the causes and consequences of gender inequality and that his apparently benign concern for women’s equality begets more inequality because what he proffers through his message is patriarchy. Safety of women is not a man’s responsibility, but should be a way of life that a society needs to believe in. Protecting women is not being gender-sensitive.
Although it is considered to be different, AAP too appears to be short on its understanding of issues such as gender, rights, equality, race and various types of structural violence. Last time they were in power in Delhi, they behaved like ill-informed vigilantes on issues such as sex-work, drug use and ethnicity. It wouldn’t hurt if AAP sought advice from wise people to ensure that before it goes into making policies, its fundamentals are strong.
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2015 18:50:18 IST