by Jenna McDaniel
Indian society has a deeply rooted preference for sons. In recent years, incidents of gender-based violence such as the New Delhi gang rape have proven that strong women speaking out could be most beneficial now more than ever. Women are generally regarded by Indian society as weak and submissive, and treated unfairly without any claim to equality under the law. Misogyny, or the dislike, hatred, mistrust of women, or prejudice against women, is deeply woven throughout India’s history and culture, so much that it is seen as a part of life. The article Misogyny in India: We Are All Guilty describes how violence against women is often minimized:
“The Hindi phrase most commonly used to describe sexual violence or rape against women is “izzat lootna,” which means, “to steal the honor of.” Why should a rapist be given so much credit? Rape is a criminal act of force and perverse subjugation. When a woman is raped, her most fundamental rights as a human being are violated.”
Misogyny manifests in many ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women. In India, sexual violence is committed almost entirely by men. Universally, shouldn’t men be concerned that their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters constantly feel unsafe, or feel they have to dress and behave in a particular way to avoid getting raped? Since the much-publicized protests following the New Delhi gang rape, public dialogue on sexual violence has started to grow. The Indian government has taken several steps to establish legal protections for women. For instance, the Criminal Law Ordinance was passed in 2013 to strengthen law enforcement against sexual offenses, and several fast-track courts were established solely to hear sex crimes. However, despite these positive steps forward, this year India was ranked 114th of 142 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report:
“The rankings are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them. The methodology and quantitative analysis behind the rankings are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps. The index continues to track the strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness. Because women account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s competitiveness in the long term depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its women.”
Looking at the bigger picture of India’s many social struggles, gender inequality and the lack of women’s safety stand out as the most salient. Women in India, like many women all over the world, feel unsafe simply going about their daily business, as they live under continual fear of being attacked. The lack of gender equality in India has led to unprecedented levels of sexual harassment and assault.
However, strong forces for women’s empowerment in India do exist. Vandana Shiva, a global leader in the Ecofeminist movement, links the story of women with ecology, emphasizing the historical connection between women and nature. Shiva strongly believes that a more stable and effective approach to agriculture could be achieved through establishing a farming method in India that is centered on the engagement and equal inclusion of women. Shiva stands resolute against the exclusion of women, promoting a women-focused method of farming that would change the patriarchal dynamics of the current system in a positive manner.
Shiva’s approach is only one of many that focus on a greater level of inclusion of women in Indian society. With voices like hers, feminism can perhaps gain a stronger hold in not only India, but many other developing countries around the world.