We are all equal. It is a message children are or, at the very least, ought to be taught from the earliest age. The fault line of gender is an area where humanity consistently has fallen short as it pertains to equality. As it is with race, with religion, with sexual orientation, and so many other characteristics: gender is where we too often fall short. Affording women’s equality the vibrancy and vitality it deserves is a matter of great importance. That the world at large has failed to do so is a matter of great shame.
Today we mark Women’s Equality Day. The notion that a woman should be treated differently than she would were she a man, to many of us, is anathema. To many others, however, it is simply the norm.
Be it the man who has, for so much if not all of his life, felt enabled to discriminate against women. Be it the woman who has, for so much if not all of her life, felt as though this is rote and been conditioned to expect that sexual harassment or even assault is not only tolerated, but sanctioned and encouraged. That her healthcare rights matter less than those of her male peers. That educational attainment and professional advancement, for her, ought to be a secondary issue than what society conditions her to believe her role should be.
This op-ed I write as a man with no lived experience of what it is to be a woman. Health Issues India has reported multiple times of inequities in the healthcare system and society that fosters an environment that, for many women and girls, means that they receive lesser standards of healthcare, nutrition and education than they would if they were a boy or a man. We have reported of the scourge of misogynistic sex-selective abortion that has resulted in millions of ‘missing’ girls and women in the previous decades. We have also reported of reproductive rights legislation that, in many ways, has led to the unnecessary deaths of many women because an abortion was carried out in unsafe circumstances.
We have reported also of the crises of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The fact that women in India are sexually harassed every twelve minutes. The fact that, in 2013, 93 women were raped every day in India. And that that already-grim statistic represents only the tip of the iceberg given that the vast majority of rape cases in India are unreported.
International Women’s Day this year carried the theme of “an equal world is an enabled world.” As I wrote at the time, “this should not be taken as a mere platitude, but as a call to action. For India, International Women’s Day this year begs the question: will it heed this call?” On Women’s Equality Day today, the question is as relevant as it was then. Women’s equality and empowerment is the need of the hour. The question remains the same. Will India heed the call?