As the world is celebrating Women's Day, many around the world are questioning how much there really is to celebrate. While no one can deny the huge leaps many societies have taken in ensuring gender equality, sadly they seem to be in the minority.
Currently, India is in the throes of a heated controversy surrounding a documentary made by a British filmmaker, which was aired on BBC about the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a female student in New Delhi. The BBC aired the film despite a court order in India preventing it, and now the government has served a legal notice to the BBC.
It is crucial that the discussions that surround the documentary are not narrow, but instead are located in the context of the national and global position of women. Violence against women has become a global pandemic. It rears its ugly head in countless different ways. Female foeticide, child marriage, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking, to name a few. Accordingly to a survey by UN Women, 39% of men and women in India think that it is sometimes or always justifiable for a man to beat his wife.
I co-founded an NGO, the Centre for Equity and Inclusion (CEQUIN), in 2009, and regularly interact with people who believe it is "natural" for a man to be violent towards his wife. It is this mindset that needs to be changed. The reason that the BBC documentary has sparked off such controversy is because it hits us all where it hurts. It demands that we look at this mirror and admit that we are all a part of this culture. The men that committed this crime are not the anomalies; they are not some rare monsters, but very much a product of the values of society that we continue to perpetuate. That is embarrassing, and we do not want to face up to it. However, this is exactly what we have to do. We must be brave and address it head on. What is required is a massive movement against patriarchy, not a shameful silence and certainly not more pretence.
Ultimately the only way that change will ever take place is if there is a radical shift in the mindset for both men and women. Recently CEQUIN recognised 7 men at the WowMen awards for doing exceptional work towards women's empowerment, whether as activists, or as supportive husbands and fathers. One of our awardees was Ziauddin Yousafzai. He has been internationally recognised for supporting his daughter Malala who spoke out against the Taliban and was shot by them for doing so. When we interviewed him he told us how he tells fathers in patriarchal societies "if you let them (girls and women) be free, you will be free... we should find new meanings for honour, dignity, respect, obedience--then change will come".
Rahul Bose, an actor and social activist, who was also awarded for being a WowMan, echoes this view and believes that "there can be no gender justice without the active, intensive and persistent effort of men... [who] need to practise a new masculinity... which rejects the notion of power and patriarchy".
Changing these deep-seated mindsets is not just the responsibility of social activists and educators; it is the responsibility of us all. As the mother of two young boys, I am aware that they are being shaped by everything they see and hear. This means that my husband and I are raising them in a very conscious way. They are only 7 and 5, yet discussions about the differences and similarities between boys and girls are common. We ensure they treat girls as their equals, and rather than viewing them as objects to be protected, we constantly remind then that girls can do anything the boys can do, just as well (if not better!).