“Respect for Women”: The New Slogan in a Maligned City

The other day when I was traveling, I saw a taxi with a slogan “This taxi respects women.” I have seen this “respect for women” signs in many places in and around Delhi now. This seems to be the new mantra in a place which continues to see high level of rapes and physical violence against women and children. I applaud the effort and the heightened consciousness, but respect for women needs to be more than a slogan, women’s safety need to be a priority and things have to fundamentally change on the ground. This means stronger law enforcement and educational efforts for longterm attitude shift. Female feticide still continues; women continue to take unknown harmful substances hoping that would help them deliver a boy child, and young girls as young as two continue to get raped. It is a sad state of affairs, which unfortunately a slogan cannot fix. 

 

The “Unisex” Washing Machine: Easing Indian Men into Doing Domestic Chores

Cooking, cleaning, laundry and other household chores are mostly done my women in India. Traditionally Indian men have not engaged in these “feminine chores”. In patriarchal society like India, masculinity is linked to work outside the home and femininity to domestic work.  Advertisers are helping men feel comfortable doing domestic chores through positioning of products such as washing machines as “unisex.” Several washing machine and washing detergent ads in India now show men doing the laundry with a message that it is easy to do. Women are often shown helping and instructing men how to operate the washing machine to resolve a stain crisis.

Blaming the Victim and the West

After the brutal rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012 and many subsequent cases of rape and sexual violence against women and children in India there has been quite a bit of uproar but there hasn't been enough soul searching. There is a culture that ignores violence against women and normalizes everyday sexual harassment.  Things cannot change without strong government actions and enforcement of laws. Consequences for actions are important for deterrence.

In the wake of these tragic incidents of sexual violence against women, it has been particularly disturbing to hear comments made by some prominent people including politicians and celebrities who seem to be blaming westernization of women, women clothes, and other western influences for such incidents instead of blaming men who engage in such heinous acts.

In a recent incident of rape of a woman who took a Uber cab, Indian media have been constantly highlighting Uber as the problem, not the man, who is secondary in the story. Externalizing and blaming others will not solve India’s rape crisis; actions have to come from within to ensure women’s safety. Women need to be safe and feel safe in order to be productive members of Indian society and reach their full potential as human beings. Cultural attitudes towards women and their worth in society need to change. Early gender education is absolutely necessary in homes and in schools for long-term changes in a society where sexes remain segregated in everyday life and activities.

Disciplining the Westernized Indian Women

The struggle between modernity and traditions has been playing out in many arenas of Indian life, particularly in the lives of women. More Indian women are occupying spaces dominated by men and challenging patriarchal norms than ever before. This is causing great discomfort among traditional men, some of whom are reacting by attacking women in the public arena.  These attacks, which are both verbal and physical, are meant to “keep women in their place” and confine them to homes and domestic roles.

In recent years, nationalist fervor combined with patriarchal ideas have embolden some men to such an extent that they have taken it upon themselves to discipline not just their wives and sisters but any woman who they perceive as “becoming western.” This can be witnessed is beating of women in bars in Mumbai and Mangalore, slapping of an actress for wearing a short dress, a move towards labeling actresses who do “item number” (songs in movies which serve the purpose of titillating the public through music and sexually suggestive dance moves) as prostitutes, and everyday sexual harassment of women who wear jeans and western clothes.