New Delhi,Harshika Gupta: In the 18th century, Mary Ann Evans penned the timeless classics Middlemarch and Silas Marner under the male pseudonym George Eliot so that her writing would be taken seriously. A hundred and fifty years later, not much has changed. Joanne Rowling was compelled not to disclose her first name because “young boys would not read something written by a woman”. Prejudice and bias have shadowed women world over – a burden that every woman continues to unwillingly bear.
Anthropologically, women are nurturers and men are hunter-gatherers. Men are physically larger and stronger. Women are socially and aesthetically more perceptive. Does that make men better, or women? Neither type trumps the other – they’re both meant to symbiotically co-exist. But as much as this logic seems obvious, sadly, our society is still devoid of gender equity. Women are exploited, under-represented and even ridiculed for demanding equality. So much so that feminism has become a bad word.
And it isn’t as though gender bias is present only among the uneducated or the older generation, either. It is at all levels of society, including the well-educated and the young. An HBR survey of Harvard MBA graduates revealed that half of the millennial men expected their spouses’ careers to take a backseat as compared to their own. Even today, women are expected to compromise on their careers or their aspirations because family and child care is considered to be a woman’s primary responsibility. In the Forbes 2014 list of the 72 Most Powerful People in the world, only nine are women (none of them is Indian). This lack of representation isn’t because men are better leaders. It is simply because the society allowed for more male leaders to thrive while delegating domestic chores to women. In fact, a 2011 HBR survey clearly gives the better leader award to women. The global women’s empowerment movement has only gained momentum in the last hundred years or so. Hundred years is insufficient time to change the deep-rooted perceptions of a society that is millions of years old and continues to be strongly patriarchal following the “cult of domesticity” which dictates that a woman’s proper place is at home.
As long as the power balance remains tilted, the world will need an International Women’s Day – a day to remind each one of us that women are different from men, but they are equal nonetheless. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of women who are role models to all the young girls looking for inspiration. A day to reinforce the power of women.
Geetaben Waghri has a broom-making business
There are people all around us who are doing the best they can to balance the power scales. Milaap.org, a community-driven initiative, has empowered close to 23,000 women across rural India, ranging from politically unstable, militancy-prone areas to financially-excluded villages and extremely disconnected geographies. This is achieved by engaging people globally to lend as little as Rs 500 to these deserving women. It ensures visibility to the good work of localised not-for-profits that provide such women a dignified life through interventions in sanitation and health, educating them of their rights and by lending them support to take care of their families. These inspiring women have not only changed their lives, but also their communities. Like the Triveni Mahasangh – a cluster of self-help groups in Odisha.
The real-estate developers of Mahavir Basti, Bhubaneswar
Nayana Sethi, a smart young woman, together with her group of 60 women, has transformed the landscape of her entire basti (part of a village). Individually, these women run their own businesses ranging from running small tiffin stalls and shops to tailoring, weaving and making products such as bathroom cleaners and incense sticks. Collectively, as the Triveni Mahasangh, they are improving their basti’s infrastructure, solving one problem at a time. They began with filling up ugly swamps that had caused the deaths of children in the village. The next problem they approached was one they recognised as an opportunity – housing. They reckoned that many youngsters seeking employment in the nearby urban area and many families within the basti required proper and cheap accommodation. With a little help and with some of their own resources, the Mahasangh of enterprising women employed a contractor to build four concrete houses, each with an attached bathroom and toilet. The houses sold like hot cakes (needless to say, at considerable profit!), the locality became more appealing and the women now own yet another successful business.
These are women who run their households. These are women who run their village. Look around – you will find women, just like Nayana, who are deftly running the world. Quite like Beyoncé sang – “Who run the world? Girls!” Happy Women’s Day, folks!
Aparna Biswas runs an incence sitck making business
Support an awesome woman today by lending to her on Milaap.org.
Editor’s Note: The author Harshika Gupta is an impact assessment fellow with Milaap.org. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org