Working in the space of women and rights, the biggest challenge I have faced is having to justify my “neutrality” when it comes to different genders. Some of the most common questions I am asked as a trainer for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) are: “What about male victims?” or “What do you think of the misuse of the women specific laws?”
As a trainer and awareness expert for the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace, I am often looked at as a crusader for women rights, and that is great because I am exactly that and much more, but the problem comes when the context of every spoken word is weighed and juxtaposed in light of false cases of rape, sexual harassment and other sexual crimes against women which entail male victimisation. It is here that I often end up justifying that I am all for the due process of law, against media trials and a thorough supporter of gender neutral laws around sexual crimes (which includes not only men but also transgender people and others). Shamefully, I begin my march of speaking up for all that I stand for, in order to justify my feminist ideology, trying to extrapolate why women need specific legislations in India, as if it is something to be apologetic for.
We live in a time where feminism and ‘feminazi’ are used as interchangeable terms. The use of terms that convert the movement for women’s empowerment into extreme militancy in order to reject the movement altogether is indeed a sombre example of diverting attention from the real problems that exist in society and projecting women’s protests against sexual crimes or standing up for their rights as one of “mob lynchings” or wrongly adducing the news of repealing “Adultery” as a move that allows women to have sexual relations outside of marriage. Women are speaking up, sure, but the voice is often ignored or referred to as being one of a “bra-burning feminist”. The debate has shifted from the violence against women by men, to the harassment faced by men at the hands of “conniving, vengeful and vindictive”women. This antithetical thought process continues to be justified in light of the “bra-burning feminists” who have, allegedly taken over our land of “values and traditions”. Apropos this, women are making a hue and cry about something as “little as being disallowed to enter a temple”. In this tug of war between the genders, the essence of the problem remains unaddressed and this seems to be the undercurrent in our country – to term everything and anything that involves “rights” as a mere hue and cry. Conveniently enough, people often forget to read the news of women getting raped every minute of the day and I do not even blame them because as a society, we have developed a defence mechanism against harrowing news stories and articles that describe acts of sexual violence against women, and we have become desensitised to them. The desensitisation of society towards this serious problem, which emanates from the daily news of violence against women, has indeed side-tracked issues of women-related crimes. What is new, “eye-catching” and “real news” is how a man was harassed by his wife, beaten by his wife’s family, wrongfully convicted of a rape charge or suffered under a frivolous domestic violence case.
There seems to be a thorough disregard for something as simple as this – Rights are NOT privileges. Rights are the means to an end. Rights entail sustenance. Women standing up for their rights is not a privilege. It is a necessity. It is a dire need for any society’s development. Indeed, there are lacunae in the laws which lead to many people using them to their own advantage, but isn’t that true for all laws? Aren’t loopholes found by those looking for them in order to achieve their means? Then what is so special about women-specific legislations?
Another question to ask is: would a man working in the space of women’s rights activism and empowerment be asked the same questions? Would he be questioned or ridiculed for supporting women’s rights? Would every word he speaks in favour of women be highlighted and challenged in light of “men’s rights”? I think not. The truth, as I am growing older (and maybe wiser), has begun to seep in. What we say as women is often worth two paisa and what men say is worth 10 (if not more) in our society (and that starts yet another debate about centuries old patriarchy!).
Cover Image Credit: Sanja Planinić /Creative Commons