Thursday, April 7, 2005
Women: The skills for survival
By R Akhileshwari
Women have to assert themselves if they are to stem the abuses heaped upon them by society
Since time immemorial, man has conquered people less powerful than himself, enslaved them, ruled over them, exploited them, used them and abused them. Through conquest man increased his power exponentially. Colonialism was one form of dominance; slavery another. When one considers himself superior by whatever criterion, by colour of skin, religion, wealth or gender, abuse is almost a natural outcome. History is full of the horrors of such abuse as in the abuse of the blacks and the native Americans in the US, of Jews in Europe in pre-World War II, the exclusion of Dalits from the mainstream in India and the practice of apartheid in large parts of Africa.
But much earlier, man enslaved woman and then built all the system— social, cultural, economic and legal, to support and sustain his superiority, or in other words, the inferior status of the women. The enslavement of woman has continued and it is total. She has been subjugated mentally, emotionally and even physically.
What happens when one is subjugated? That person is made weak, lacking in confidence and self-belief; such a person is insecure and fearful. This factor of fear makes and keeps the subjugated person dependent.
If we test any woman against these factors we will see that an average woman is unsure of herself, is afraid of taking the lead or even following of doing things on her own. She giggles all the time, fidgets or scratches her head while speaking, shuffles her feet nervously and hides behind other people. This behaviour smacks of lack of confidence, lack of self-worth, a lack of self-esteem. Women will not talk with conviction, will not laugh loudly or walk with a strong step. Fear and insecurity are her constant companions.
Another indicator of the woman’s enslavement is the fact that she has no rights. Just as the slaves in the US, the Jews under the Third Reich and the Dalits in India since aeons. She has no right over land although she cultivates it. She has no right over property although she contributes to it equally. She has no inheritance rights to her father’s property although she was born to him along with her brothers.
She has no access to credit. She cannot access markets. She gets very little education; even less justice. She has no voice politically. Nor does she have economic strength. When a woman is so weak and when she is considered powerless, abuse follows as a corollary. Violence against women has reached epidemic proportions world wide.
Nevertheless, the struggle is on. Mindsets don’t change so easily nor will man give up power so easily. Democracy is a tough call; equality is tougher. Democracy has to begin at home, starting with women folk, with mother, sister, wife and daughter. The change is a three-step process — education, emancipation and empowerment. Education helps in emancipation or liberation, breaking the shackles imposed by the society in our minds and hearts. This freedom in turn, will lead to empowerment, making us strong.
Home, I believe is the first and the most important place where the empowerment of women takes place. As mothers and fathers, we should bring up our girls to be confident. They should be taught to be independent. Being over-protective kills the girl’s confidence. Confining her to home and school or college will not equip her with the skills of survival.
Most important, we should teach our daughters to assert themselves, not obey blindly. Our girls should learn to say ‘no’.
The strength to say no gives them the strength to stand up for themselves, giving them the confidence to fight for themselves, against violence and injustice. Precisely because women don’t have this strength, they are beaten, abused mentally, burnt and killed.
Consequently, the women were subjected to injustice and their immense potential to make a difference to the world lay dormant, unrealised and unrecognised.
Not only do we need to applaud, recognise and reaffirm ourselves since nobody else thinks it fit to, we have to assert our rights to live as human beings, as an individual and not as a subordinate sex.
In conclusion, we have to recognise that in our struggle to live as individuals and not as the subordinate sex, we need the support of men. We need them to stand behind us. But if they don’t join us, it doesn’t mean we will give up. We will have to carry on without them.
Our struggle will be difficult undoubtedly. It will take us longer to reach our goal without men’s support. But, let’s assure our men, that we will make it. But we will regret that you will be missing an opportunity of a lifetime to set right the injustice heaped on women since the beginning of mankind.
So, please, without any ado, get behind us and fall in step . In the process, you will also get emancipated and empowered. The power of equality is far greater than the power of subjugation.