This lesson unit is aimed at spreading awareness about gender inequality and violence against women (VAW) in India. It analyzes the possible reasons for such huge disparity and the solutions that can help close this gap. It is deeply influenced by Freire’s emancipatory education in making women free of the oppression they face in their everyday lives. The roles of women and men have been defined by the society. Because of the reproductive responsibilities of a woman, her priority according to the society is to be a caregiver to her children and also take care of domestic work. The discrimination starts from the childhood when girls are expected to help in the household chores, which in turn affects their performance at school. Boys on the other hand do not have this responsibility and they have the option to concentrate on their schoolwork. However, gender equality does not necessarily mean that there are equal number of men and women in a social arena. Subhramanian R. (2005) quotes “first step towards assessing progress towards substantive gender equality beyond formal equality, entails understanding the social construction of gender identity or what it means to be a woman or a man in a given context, which in turn is underpinned by prevailing ideas about (a) what roles are appropriate for men or women to perform in a given context; and (b) how what is done by women and men is valued, socially and economically.”
Gender equality cannot be measured in numerical terms. For example gender equality in education does not only mean that there are equal number of girls and boys going to school. It is also an indicator of how both genders are given fair and equal treatment by the teachers at the same time keeping the biological differences in mind. As Kabeer (1999, p.37) suggests ‘substantive equality requires the recognition of the ways in which women are different from men, in terms of their biological capacities and in terms of the socially constructed disadvantages women face relative to men.’ This reemphasizes that it also important to analyze that equality also means that both men and women achieve equal experience in education, equal opportunity in employment, equal kind of treatment in the society and equal rights to make decisions about their lives.
The path to achieving gender equality lies in realization of rights of men and women and belief in the fact that the rights are equal for both genders. Along with awareness programs and workshops, this understanding can be promoted with the help of education. Wilson (2003) explains the relationship of education and rights as a three-step process. First, ‘Rights to Education’ i.e. everyone has the right to be educated. Second, ‘Rights within Education’ i.e. everyone should have same quality of education under similar conditions and third, Rights through Education. The last one includes Peace and Human Rights Education through which one realizes their rights and is provided the tools with which to get those rights. This step-wise path ensures a sustainable approach to achieving equality. The education of the children makes them responsible human beings who grow up to respect both genders, whereas the education of adults helps them transform their lives and be ‘gender aware’ role models for their children.
In the case of India, the gender inequality stems from the fact that it is a patriarchal society and men believe in taking control over the opposite gender. They consider aggression as a determinant of their masculinity. So, empowering women without involving men will possibly result in more conflicts. The aim of peace and human rights education is to close this gap without creating rifts between families. The ideal solution to this would be to get men involved in the process and help them understand the benefits of having women treated as equals. There are two organizations in India working towards involving men and boys in removing gender inequality and VAW. They are Sahayog (www.sahayogindia.org) and MASVAW (http://www.chsj.org/masvaw.html). MASVAW (Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women) has two prime objectives: 'Increasing awareness among men about the different forms of VAW and that VAW is a larger social issue' and 'Motivating men to shun violence, protest against violence, support survivors and provide new role models' while Sahayog works on “capacity building through interventions with young men and boys in educational institutes”. Both these organizations conduct workshops and seminars in educational as well as non-educational settings where they involve men and young boys in activities that help them realize the importance of having gender equality.
World Health Organization (WHO) also reiterates the importance of involving men in closing the disparity. According to WHO (2007) report these interventions are categorized into: gender neutral, gender sensitive and gender transformative. The gender neutral programs do not distinguish between the genders, the gender sensitive ones identify the different needs of men and women and the gender transformative programs encourage equal role of both genders in all aspect of life. This is again a step-wise approach that starts with sensitizing men about the issue and then taking their help in getting results.
Achieving gender equality does not mean putting up a ‘fight’ for rights but to start a dialogue with both genders and make them aware about the issue in a way that they comply with it without being coerced into it. It requires an approach that can be summarized as follows:
1. Achieving equality through Education i.e. providing equal learning opportunities to all and promoting equal treatment.
2. Raising awareness about equality with the help of community outreach programs.
3. Empowering women by providing them options for financial independence.
4. Involving men and boys in empowerment.