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Like Able-bodied, Right-thinking People!

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By Roli S
There is a lot of debate and speculation these days about the inclusion of women in the National Defence Academy as combat soldiers. I have always thought deeply about the role of women in society and their rightful contribution towards not only their families but also to the development of the nation.

I have thought very intensely whether a woman’s role should be limited to being a dutiful wife and a loving mother because it is not appropriate to interfere with ‘nature’ and the wishes of the creator or she should make herself financially independent and join the mainstream workforce like men do.

After experiencing the world and its ways, I have understood that it is definitely not any ‘modern global movement’ or ‘social equality agenda’ that is driving girls and women out of their homes to become financially independent and compete with men in all areas of work aggressively, but it is the fact that to bear children and maintain and preserve the human race is no longer the responsibility of only women! The clear-cut agenda that women should bear children and raise them, and men should earn money to provide for those children, has not created very happy and fulfilling societies because ultimately it is not about ‘men’ and ‘women’ but about educated and skilled ‘people’ with dreams and ambitions. It is about the ‘feminine and masculine energies’ and how consciously these energies should contribute to making societies and nations wealthy and lives meaningful.

Throughout history, the central role of women in society has ensured the stability, progress, and long-term development of nations. When we look around globally, women comprise 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labour force – rising to 70 percent in some countries. For instance, across Africa, 80 percent of the agricultural production comes from small farmers, most of whom are rural women! “Rural women play a key role in supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security, generating income, and improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being.” Do we have any such data in our country about how many women are contributing to raising children as well as working as labourers in the agricultural fields and on the construction sites? If women can do that masculine work, why can’t they become soldiers? Why should we make our opinions and draw our conclusions by only looking at those privileged women who live comfortably and contented on the salaries brought home by their husbands or probably they have some inheritance so they can devote their time and energies to raising their children in the secure confines of homes? Is it the same case with every woman? Does every woman feel as safe and secure as a few privileged women feel all the time?

Today, the median female share of the global workforce is 45.4 percent. The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 was, “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” This theme was chosen to identify innovative ways to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, accelerating the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals. Of course, women’s opportunities still lag behind those of men worldwide. But the historic and current role of women is indisputable.

Women’s full and equal participation in all facets of society is a fundamental human right. Yet, around the world, from politics to entertainment to the workplace, women and girls are largely underrepresented.

In politics, women’s representation globally has doubled in the last 25 years. But, this only amounts to around 1 in 4 parliamentary seats held by women today. In October 2019, there were only 10 women Heads of State and 13 women Heads of Government across 22 countries, compared with four Heads of State and eight Prime Ministers across 12 countries in 1995.

In June 2019, the Fortune 500 hit a milestone with the most women CEOs on record. While there is a lot to cheer about but the overall picture is not very encouraging: Out of the 500 chief executives leading the highest-grossing firms, just under 7 per cent are women.

To recognise intellectual achievement and academic, cultural, and scientific advances, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to more than 900 individuals in the course of its history, but only 53 of the winners have been women, only 19 in the categories of physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine.

The equality of men and women in news media has virtually come to a halt. According to the largest study on the portrayal, and representation of women in the news media spanning 20 years, only 24 per cent of the persons heard, read about, or seen in newspaper, television and radio news are women.Among other factors, stereotypes, and the significant under-representation of women in the media play a significant role in shaping harmful attitudes of disrespect and violence towards women.

Yet, in another fact it is found that in the popular films across 11 countries only 31 per cent of all speaking characters were women and that only 23 per cent featured a female lead protagonist—a number that closely mirrored the percentage of women filmmakers (21 per cent).

Today, women are far more noticeable in sports than ever before: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is projected to have close to equal representation of women and men competing for the first time in its history. For comparison, only 22 women out of a total of 997 athletes competed in the modern Olympics for the first time in 1900. Despite progress, women still continue to be excluded in certain sports in parts of the world and are paid far less than men in wages and prize money globally.

We all agree that in our country and around the world, women are being prescribed stereotypical roles in the kitchen at home. Ironically the restaurant industry has remained relatively closed to female chefs. Paired with long and inflexible working hours, unfriendly family and childcare policies and lower salaries, women face enormous challenges when entering the catering and restaurant business. How conveniently the male superiority has been established in the Restaurant Industry, whereas women are considered experts to handle kitchens at home!

When we think about warfare, our attention turns to the men involved. Perhaps because it is “an invention of men”, and thus the two are inevitably associated. In reality, when I look through the history of India, I find that at different times in history, very conveniently, men have allowed women to adorn the combat gear whenever the situation so demanded. So, now, when a modern woman wants to join the combat wing, why is there so much speculation? There are a very large number of women populations with masculine energies, wanting to join the workforce, it is not any ‘movement’ or trend, it is the evolution of the human race!

I am of the opinion that the educated and right-thinking younger generation understands this changing need and they do not require any patronising from older generations! I also expect that the younger generation is more capable of deciding how, when, and where they should bring a ‘new life’ in this ever changing, complex world so that they can nurture and raise capable humans for future generations!

So, for the effective implementation of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, what we need is not distinctions, discrimination and judgement between the roles and capabilities of men and women, but to identify innovative ways to advance gender equality and consider them Like Able-bodied, Right-thinking ‘People’, willing to take the responsibility of taking the human race forward. ‘Together’.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)