â€œWomen are still lagging far behind if you are talking about gender parityâ€
Educator and feminist NandiniSardesai talks to KetanTanna about feminism and what it takes to be a woman in a manâ€™s world.
FPJ:â€ˆWhat does feminism mean?
NandiniSardesai: Itâ€™s a very contextual term and again it would vary from community to community. Sometimes it may even vary from region to region. But basic essence of feminism for me is that it is empowerment of women, both in public and private and lack of gender bias.
I donâ€™t say equality because equality is not possible. There are biological and cultural differences. But instead of saying gender equality I would like to say there should be gender parity. That is within each context whether culturally or regionally, there should not be any prejudices or any sort of barriers which hamper the women from having same opportunities and options like the male in that particular context.
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Do you think feminism has evolved in the last two decades?
A: If you are taking my definitions in terms opportunity, empowerment and options, I donâ€™t think in India, we are anywhere even half way through. On paper, we have fantastic, very progressive Constitution as compared to other countries. But a lot of itâ€™s only on paper and they will talk of equal wages or you talk of opportunities and we just find out that itâ€™s not happening. When you look around you so many incidents where women are being treated, maltreated .The discrimination that you see around, you just wonder we are referring to only more very very 0.1 percent of the total Indian population, really experiencing this sort of empowerment but by and large in this country, in urban and rural areas, women are still lagging far behind if you are talking about gender parity.
How can feminism move forward?
A: Well you know the Constitution has been laid down a lot of things but education is very important and yet I would like to redefine the term education because education doesnâ€™t always lead to enlightenment. You can have all the knowledge from the book but it doesnâ€™t make you think differently, if it doesnâ€™t makes you look at a woman from neutral perspective, I donâ€™t think education is really making a difference becauseâ€¦and here we are talking about education for both women and men. Both of them have to learn to think differently. Sometimes I feel women are their worst enemy. They themselves still internalise in certain stereotypical role and they are not prepare to change and men around them are happy that this is not happening.
So the education that we give in our schools and colleges should be of different type.
It should be based on awareness among women, their rights their privileges, about what they are able to do and this has to be done for both the men as well as the women because ultimately they have to work together. Feminism cannot be anti men. It should be working with men. Equal participants. We can have betibachao, betikopadhao and all these slogans. But if the mindset of the people does not change and if the perception of a woman remains same, I think itâ€™s not going to happen.
So how do you think itâ€™s going to pan out in the next decade?
A: Decade is too short. We have been free from now over 60 years and of course there have been changes and itâ€™s very obvious when we see more women are working and you know, those things are there. We are not where we were in 1947. We have come long way from then but again we have to see howâ€™s the woman are treated at their workplace, if she is a working woman is she expected to carry out as her primary responsibility. Though she had hard day at workplace does she still have to come home and then tend to do the domestic duties? Few people say men must help; I never say men must help. They should share the work. If woman is late then man must cook the food.
There is one criticism against feminism that itâ€™s been misused and overused in the current scenario. Do you agree with that?
A: That notion is because Feminism is not properly understood. If you keep on thinking this is anti male or aggressive women, no thatâ€™s not what Feminism means. Feminism means sharing equal responsibility and where the woman and the man work together side by side and the male is equivalent to the female. They both have to be in this together. Itâ€™s not anti male, thatâ€™s what they say if youâ€™re being feminist you are being aggressive and difficult.
You know, we keep on thinking that women should be gentle and tender, why canâ€™t the man also be gentle and tender and why canâ€™t the woman also be aggressive ?. We can have the same qualities. These are the way itâ€™s constructed, these are masculine and feminine. I would like to use the word masculine and feminine. Male and female are biological whereas masculine and feminine are gender based.
So you may say these are masculine qualities and these are feminine qualities. No nothingâ€™s like that. There can be aggressive men and gentle loving men. If I am a male and I am going to be a doctor I will have to be soft and caring and if as a woman I am joining the armed force, I will have to be aggressive. Unfortunately as you very rightly said the word Feminism is banded around for all the wrong reasons and it has been given very stereotypical. They are just asking for equality and not just on the paper, but equality which is obvious and same chances that are given to males
Does womenâ€™s day really matter?
A: No, itâ€™s like why do we have to celebrate birthday anyways we are going to get a day older. Why do we celebrate Independence Day? To spread the awareness. I am not saying to celebrate but observing a day and focusing on certain issues which are important to the women. Itâ€™s a nice thing itâ€™s like initiating a thought process. I am not saying that observing the day will change things around me. My maid asked me â€˜kalyehmahila divas hey yehkya he?â€™ so I told her. This way, I reached out to one person. I have seen the change so may be working for me she has become quite empowered. It all depends on how you interpret it.
Popular culture such as movies, plays, books, etc., affect feminism movement?Â Â
A: Again it differs to films to films or media. Some films do show that and some films donâ€™t show it. Again the people working in the media play a very very important role. What they depict in films and write is going to have far reaching effects. So media is a very powerful. It can bring out the change we are talking about can it happen in next decade. May be if the media takes it upon itself.
Transcribed by MinalSancheti