Alejandra Aponte | March 10, 2015
Responding To: Week 7: Gender Issues
“Empowered” Women? Still Marginalized
In 2013, a twenty-three year old woman in Delhi was brutally assaulted and gang-raped on board a moving bus by the driver and five other men. She died a few weeks later, fighting to her last breath. Delhi erupted into mass protests. Laws were changed; perpetrators were convicted, arrested and sentenced to death. The young woman became a symbol of courage, of public outrage against the patriarchal system, and most importantly, of the change the Indian society so desperately needed.
Mukesh Singh, one of the charged and convicted rapists, said in an interview last week, "a decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy". In the aftermath of the mass outcry and outrage that followed the rape, the sheer audacity of this statement is indeed shocking. Unfortunately, Mukesh Singh is not the exception, but the rule. Following the incident in 2013, the Delhi Police Chief’s proposed solution to the issue of women’s safety was that “women should not go out late at night”.
When those who protect the laws are so quick to point their fingers at the victims of gender-based violence, it should come as little surprise that the Mukesh Singhs of the world think it acceptable to say that when women step out of the confines of their homes and their defined gender roles, people have “a right to teach them a lesson”.
This is still the reality for many women in developing countries. Undeniably, women’s rights movements around the world have made significant strides in redefining gender norms, allowing women to break the shackles of patriarchy and pursue roles outside their domestic realms. However, these developments have frequently been at odds with the deep-rooted patriarchal perceptions and attitudes that still prevail in these societies. Pardon the generalization, but while women’s perception of their own capacity and rights have progressed and changed drastically over the decades, the mindsets and attitudes of men have not changed to keep up with it. A woman who steps into territory previously dominated by men continues to be marginalized with her reputation being questioned, her safety compromised, and the threat of violence from men who want to “put her in her place”.
The marginalization of the “modern” woman is no less harrowing than it was before. As more and more women join the workforce, pursue higher education, become small and large entrepreneurs, the perceptions of society, particularly those of men, need to change to adapt and accept the new status quo. Real progress can come only with fundamental shifts in both the system and perceptions so that women have equal rights of protection and the freedom to choose their own lifestyles without having their characters doubted and their lives threatened. Laws alone cannot change this. This also needs softer interventions. The development community should aim more of its gender-focused interventions at both men and women but especially men.
Tasmia Rahman is a first year Master of International Development Policy student at Georgetown's McCourt School of Public Policy, where she also works as a research assistant for Gui2de. Previously, Rahman worked with BRAC in Bangladesh for two years.
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