A group of school girls were working on a class project on ‘inequality’ and it was very interesting to watch them in action. It became more interesting for me for they were 11 year old girls from Std 6! They had to present their ideas to the class in any form they wanted to whether by role play / drama, or skits, interviews, or workshops etc. They discussed the inequality among people from dark skinned and fair skinned races. They presented girl dolls of varying shades of skin colour and ask the class to react to them by identifying which one was more good looking and why. This activity was carried out to generate awareness amongst the class that beauty is more than skin deep and should not be defined by skin colour.
Another theme studied by the girls was wage discrimination between workers on jobs. Their main question was why one worker should get more wages for doing the same amount of work as another. I asked them with curiosity as to why they did not take gender inequality as a subject, to which they replied that it did not exist in their school as it is an international school (in Dubai) with children from several nationalities studying there. Majority of enrolled students were from the European countries where gender inequality did not exist.
This takes us to another level of understanding that unlike India, where gender discrimination starts from the womb and ends in the grave, such is not the case in other European countries. There we believe that children are exempt from these tortures as children of both sexes are treated and loved equally. They are allowed to grow up in a positive atmosphere in the safety of their homes. The problem starts somewhere later when they start attaining puberty and demanding more freedom and autonomy to venture out of home on their own or with their friends. The forces are plenty then which begin to operate and affect the sexes differently. It is unfortunate that in India there is a general attitude of disrespect for women and hence a strong feeling of hate for girls which leads to barbaric practices of female foeticide and infanticide. This does not exist in the European countries we believe. At the level of the child both boys and girls are equal. Something changes at the teenage level.
Why I can say this with conviction is that crimes against women and domestic violence is pretty rampant in the Western countries. There are numerous centres in the West for women victims of violence in marriages. So as a child, she does not feel the pinch of inequality which begins to manifest as she grows up. The most common cultural restrictions begin when teens want to go out and have late nights with friends. Although the boys may be allowed by parents, the girls are restricted. The story is the same when it comes to visiting pubs in the late evening. Parental expectations coloured by societal norms and hence their reluctance begin to come into force. During their childhood, kids are dependent and protected and no inequality occurs. The societal expectations of primary feminine characteristics start operating, such as, the type of clothes she should wear, how she should walk and sit down, how she should talk or only sit with a dumb smile on her face! The advertising media has its own agenda of promoting sales through women’s bodies. The cosmetic industry also has its primary objective in selling products by spreading fear about living up to their self styled norms of how women should look sexy!
A couple of years ago, we heard of the practice called ‘Ochobo’ (means a small and modest mouth) in Japan where women are not allowed to open their mouths wide enough while eating. This led most women to avoid the eating of burgers in restaurants for it required a big mouthful bite! A burger company called Freshness Burgers smartly introduced something called the ‘liberation wrapper’ for women which came along with the burger. This wrapper would hide their mouth while taking a bite and women could safely eat it in public places. The sales shot up by a whopping 213 percentage!
There is a huge gap in gender equality at the adult level at the global level. Statistics on women in all spheres show it blaringly whether it is in the field of education, representation in business houses, political engagement, wage discrimination, ownership of property and land, crimes against them at home and on the streets etc.
It was heartening to know from the group of 11 year old girls from different countries that they never experienced gender discrepancy and firmly believed that it did not exist now! In one of the interviews with a teacher they learnt from her about discriminatory practices that existed during her time such as not having voting rights, not being allowed to play hard sports like cricket, football and were allowed soft sports only. The girls agreed that they lived in modern times and such practices were outdated and no longer existed. I prayed for them that God would keep them untouched forever from the malaise.