- Gender equality is not just about justice, but development
By: Dr Rajkumar Singh
The issue of gender equality is closely related to law, equality and justice and its denial has led discrimination of women in almost all fields of human activity. Social equality and social justice is one of the most prized ideals of contemporary society but social inequality and injustice has been a feature of every known society – past and present. Different forms of atrocities are linked to one another and are manifestations of gender ideology. ‘The world which has always belonged to the men is still in their hands, the institutions and the values of the patriarchal civilization still survive in development. Under the circumstances, the status and role of women and related issues have attracted the attention of the academicians, political thinkers and social scientists both in developing as well as developed countries, because of the widely accepted truth that a society built on the inequality of men and women involves a waste of human resources which no country can afford.
Initial progress at global level: The process of the first phase of development in relation to the human societies commenced in the post–World War 11 period and the goal was rapid economic growth through rapid industrialisation in order to foster fast economic growth which would eventually hoped to benefit the entire population. After de-colonialisation during the 1950s and 1960s, only the economic role of women in reproduction as home makers, bearers and rearers of children and housewives was perceived by the development organisations, which was reflected in the inclusion of family planning, population, mother and child care policies in development planning in several developing countries like India. The initial development plans and their implementation were based on the separation of the public and the private spaces. The public space was designed on the model of the worker without any caring responsibilities and was the sphere of the breadwinner who was obviously the male. It placed women in the private space which gave her the care-giving and domestic role. The concept of development in a broader sense is related to improvement in the quality of life based on equality and social justice through such programmes and activities which consequently could alter the structure and culture and create self–generating continuous processes. However, gradually new openings came which were instrumental in breaking the traditional shackles not only for women but some other deprived sections also.
It is not enough to have the right laws and the institution of justice, but also a change in values is necessary for the right implementation of justice to women out of patriarchal biases
Phase of global consciousness: Meanwhile, the old role models and concepts began to change globally. In the 1950s and 1960s the women activists, who took active part in freedom movements of the newly independent states, took keen interest in raising the development questions in the UN and challenged the legalistic perspective of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which was formed by the world body in 1947 to monitor UN activities on behalf of women. The Commission observed, ‘Women who contribute half of the world’s population by virtue of an accident of birth, perform two–thirds of the world’s work, receive one–tenth of its income and own less than one hundredth of its property.’ Soon it was realised at the world level that because women comprise more than half of the human resources and are central to the economic as well as the social well–being of societies, development goals cannot be fully reached without their participation. The changing dimension of development and the international movement for the development of women have created a policy perspective for gender equality which recognises both women’s and men’s needs and, most importantly, their healthy interactions. Against this backdrop, Dreze and Sen expressed the view that gender equality and social justice are an urgent need not merely because of the fact that it is an ‘issue’ of the day. Rather, ‘the emancipation of women is an integral part of social progress, not just a women’s issue’.
Gender discrimination acts as slow poison for a society and it is a growing recognition that countries cannot reach their full potential as long as women’s potential to participate fully in their society is denied. Women’s participation has become a key factor in the success of all developmental programmes. In third world countries the concept of development has come to be identified with government programmes to be managed by government with or without involvement of the community. Institutions like panchayat have been associated and involved in execution of these plans. The social structure and cultural values determine consciousness. Consciousness raising shall help in greater participation in the women empowerment programmes. The term women empowerment has come to connote the processes by which the efforts of the women themselves are united with those of governmental authorities to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of women and to integrate these women into the life of the nation and to enable them to contribute fully to national progress. Thus, women with respect to development–have to be viewed as both the participants and beneficiaries.
In today’s situation women are getting to the top more than ever before and their knowledge and insights are being treated as significant, and the misconceptions about women are being dispelled. Further, there is a need for development for women as a specific category and their full integration in the total development process. N. Yavari-d’ Hellencourt, the coordinator for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNDFW), expressed the view in this regard, ‘If we do not empower women, there will be no peace and no way out of poverty’ because, women have more potentiality than men and they can play the role of silent developer in a family. Because, ‘a women gives first priority to her children; her second priority is the household.’ A man has different priorities; he does not give family the top position. Thus women, at large, hold key position in all round development of a nation–both developed and developing.
It is a time to rethink, regroup and move forward on the issue of gender equality. An essential step forward has been made in general discussion of the role of women in society. Mechanisms for change, such as women’s forums, citizens’ forums and issue-specific organisations and other supportive groups, should mobilise, establish goals and develop a plan of action. In fact, it is evident that gender development policies are formulated without understanding the ground realities of the situation faced by the women. The value-base of the society restricts women’s role and status, and the government programmes regulates women’s rights to access and control self and resources. Any sensitive issue occurring in the society affects women since they have limited control, power and choices over resources. It is not enough to have the right laws and the institution of justice, but also a change in values is necessary for the right implementation of justice to women out of patriarchal biases. It would be a significant contribution to women empowerment and justice in all societies in order to address the gender gaps and find a gender equality with sustainable human development.