When Susan B. Anthony, American feminist and suffragette, wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women of the United States in 1876, she said, “If I could but live another century, and see the fruition of all this work for women!”
Over a century later, we continue to seek parity, and women continue to be the victims of offences and tragedies worldwide.
If Susan urged her sisters back then to “organise, agitate and educate”, her war cry is still relevant today.
There is much discussion about the empowerment of women, not only in transitioning societies like India, but even in developed countries like the USA and Australia.
The answer, no doubt, is empowerment through education.
News from back home in India about the status of women is largely negative, especially on issues of women’s safety. But there are more than a few happy stories that do not make the news as often. As more and more Indian women become educated, they are breaking through in fields traditionally male-dominated, such as business and the armed forces. By law, a certain percentage of seats on corporate boards are reserved for women. Indeed, many of India’s prominent banks are led by women. Internationally, many India-born men have recently made it into leadership roles in high-profile organisations, but one woman, Indira Nooyi beat them to it years ago.
In Defence, the first women fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force received commission in 2016, and only recently, the Indian Army has allowed permanent commission for women, which means they can serve in commanding roles.
In STEM, you only have to look at our own backyard here in Australia to see Indian women shining through and surpassing their male colleagues.
Strides have even been made in global entertainment by Indian women, while Bollywood’s leading men hesitate to reach those broader horizons (because they ‘don’t want to go to Hollywood’, yeah right!)
No doubt we have many miles to go before the benefits reach all or even a large percentage of our women, but clearly, empowering our women by means of education is working.
It’s time now to talk about how we can empower men – with the right attitude towards women. We need to change the attitudes of men, to learn to treat women as equals.
The best place to start, is at home.
We raise our children to reach their full potential in life, regardless of their gender. Perhaps we need to go that extra mile with our sons, to teach them to treat their female peers with respect, and as equal and worthy partners at every stage.
This will involve teaching our young men that women do approach things differently, but this does not reflect difference in ability. That women must be looked at as equal competitors for opportunities. That judgements based on external cues are not cool. That pornography can be (and too often is) exploitative. Thank you Gloria Steinem, for telling us that we’ve begun to raise our daughters like our sons, but don’t often have the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.
In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why we should not have wage parity; why every woman should not feel safe around her partner; why the honour of our communities should depend upon the virginity of our women; why a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan who wants to go to school should not be shot in the head; why a young woman in New Delhi taking a bus back home at 8pm cannot do so safely; and why a prime minister in Australia should be reminded so often that she is a woman. There is much to do until we reach equality and that truly stifles.