It really surprises me how the term ‘woman’, even today seems to be synonymous with ‘domesticity’. I agree that there has been significant emancipation of women in our part of the world. But there still exists a school of thought which, in the garb of asserting the importance of motherhood and marital/household obligations of a woman, actually tries to project that career and family are contradictory terms as far as women are concerned. So those women who are career oriented and those who would want to control their reproductive power are deemed to be anti-family. They are looked upon as women for whom money, career and power are the only measures of success. I wonder if ever such a labelling would be done on our male counterparts.
Lord Denning in his book Due Process of Law wrote: “A woman in her sphere does work as useful as a man in his. She has as much right to her freedom, to develop her personality to the full as a man. When she marries she does not become the husband’s servant but his equal partner. If his work is more important in the life of the community, hers is more important in the life of the family. Neither can do without the other. Neither is above the other or under the other. They are equals.”
Lord Denning did a marvellous job by playing the part of a judge being an “essential equaliser” in a pluralist and patriarchal society but his stand suffers from an inherent flaw. No doubt, it is extremely important to prove the equal worth of a ‘Stay-at-home-Mom’s’ work which she performs within the framework of the household, including giving birth to and rearing children when compared with the work of her male counterpart. But, I believe, it is also the easier argument. But this argument of ‘equality’ advances with a presumption that the ‘home’ belongs exclusively to the female and the ‘world’ is the exclusive dominion of the male. The real argument should be in terms of gender ‘equity’ and not just ‘equality’.
Gender equity would demand the dilution of the ‘public’ and ‘private’ divide. But the actual problem lies with the fact that, while women have started occupying their place in the traditional sphere of male dominion and are trying to adapt to the demands and responsibilities of the surroundings, a similar transition has not taken place as far as men are concerned. Men are still reluctant to fill up the space in the home left by their working counterparts. Women have to either take up the dual responsibility or have to give up one for the other. Societal grooming over the years has been such that women feel proud to do away with their dreams, aspirations and ambitions on this sacrificial altar.
One of my professors, Shri. K.D. Singh, gives an example of presumed gender neutrality which if scratched on the surface reveals blatant disadvantage for the ‘weaker ‘sex. Nobody, not even female students generally feel that the attendance rules of Delhi University which make it mandatory to have 66.6 per cent attendance to sit in examinations are gender biased, until and unless one comes across female students who were short of attendance due to pregnancy. No relaxation is given on this count. For gender equity to be instituted in our society, we have to see through parochial patriarchal mind sets and values and men and women share equal responsibility of the home and the world.
(The writer is national general secretary, NSUI.)