The concept of a woman being equal to man in society, in exercising choice, agency, and rights has never been more challenged than today. In the middle of a global pandemic with struggling health systems, failing economies, and myopic leadership across the globe, females are facing gender-based violence around the world. Politicians and other public figures are subject to everyday sexism (the phrase itself portrays the prevalence and normalization of gender norms and their imposition) in houses of justice while at the same time, women in minority groups are further being marginalized. But, 2019 was not a great year for gender equality either.
The State of Women in Telangana and the Nation
The SDG India Index report by the UN evaluated the state of women in the country during the year 2019. Taking a look at the state of Telangana alongside a view of the national statistics, it is crucial to note that close to 95% of women have been victims of some form of gender-based violence. Another metric reveals that one in three women in India faces abuse from their spouses/partners. This is a clear indication of the correlation between gender and the power it yields within homes and familial structures, where gender norms dictate authority and create ‘the woman’s place’ for conformity and compliance. The statistic, therefore, urges us to think about normative spaces that have been cultivating a culture of silencing women. It challenges one to break these silences and more importantly, listen to them. It also pleads society to reflect on gender norms, stereotypes, and act on eliminating toxic masculinity. Deep-rooted patriarchy in India normalizes violence by men, isolates sensitive and empathetic men, fetishizes the idea of all females to nurture and attach themselves to males, imposes the same toxicity on young boys, and thus impacts the spacemen share with women. Female children aren’t spared either. A shocking 90% of child sexual abuse victims in Telangana are female. This means, if a child is sexually abused in Telangana, it is most likely a female child–a repulsive conclusion to arrive at. The number for the same in India is 59.97% thus throwing light on this issue as one that is jarringly prevalent.
The Narrative of Oppression and Power
Power has never been a singular force–it is a force that is forged with the strength of societal conditioning and systemic oppression. Women face oppression in public and private spaces from birth to death: in fighting for rights over their own bodies, having to be ‘heard’ and not ‘overlooked’ at work by “wearing the pants”, and facing the brunt of unaccounted domestic labor at home, among other things. It has been 94 years since the first woman competed for the post of a Congress member. Today, women occupy only 8.32% of the seats in the State Legislative Assemblies, with women in Telangana holding only 5% of the seats, thus making the number of women who can represent other females, an astonishingly small number given that the UN’s target is equal representation, which is 50% of each assembly should be female.
One of the main drivers for ‘power’ in society is holding the earning card. The wage gap is widely debated in India. While there are many naysayers to this issue, the income inequality gap is a complex problem. Overall, the female to male ratio of average wage salary is 0.78 in India (target being 1), while Telangana is only halfway there having a ratio of 0.59. Indian men are getting paid twice as much as Indian women. Coming to the labor force, only 26% of the force is female in Telangana. The question of domestic labor, of course, is not considered. The complexity in this debate arises right from the basic definition of “what is work” and “who does work”. Women and mothers are often clubbed in one category–right from trial rooms in malls to public policy schemes when being a ‘woman’ and being a ‘mother’ need to be separately understood. Mothers suffer the worst of income inequalities despite maternal leave policies as ‘returning mothers’ face a gap that most men never have to face in their professional lives.
Gender-based discrimination at work leads one to wonder about women’s ownership of capital in general. Women’s right to money and property has been historically exploited. It is therefore no surprise that the lowest recorded numbers in the SDG-5 Index Score are in occupational landholding. Not even 1% of women in Telangana are landholders. It is no secret that women’s earnings or money are sometimes withheld by their partners or other family members in India, especially in lower-income households. The battle for women of all classes to be able to own their property with full control is a long and trying one but women all over the country are fighting it.
The funny thing is, for women, it is always a fight, a battle, ‘an extra mile’. How can women think of “equal rights” while continuing to stretch themselves little by little in every sphere of life, to finally fit into the spaces that have always been occupied by men? Even the most progressive woman today thinks of ‘earning her place’ without once thinking of the fact that she is entitled to equality. Women in sexual, ethnic, or racial minority groups have even harder battles to fight. Even the United Nations which urges 193 countries to achieve gender equality, has excluded transgender women from its data. Gender equality can only be achieved when we begin with recognizing and humanizing all genders and so, people of genders can exist in a liberated space where choice and agency are a reality. To quote Paulo Freire, “Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanization of all people. Or to put it another way, the solution of this contradiction is born in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer oppressor nor longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom.”
Women’s Commission Matters is aligned with SDG #5 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
SDG #5 Targets:
5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure, and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic, and public life
5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
5.A Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance, and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
5.B Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
5.C Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
Abhinaya is a writer, poet, and a graphic designer with a keen appreciation for art as a revolutionary medium of political and personal expression. Apart from poetry and color, Abhinaya refills her energy to smash patriarchy every day with coffee and some rock n' roll.