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27 Sept 2023.

This Women’s Day I remembered a question a student asked me a few years ago…” We have empowered women, but have we taught our men how to deal with empowered women?” This is a significant question, especially where India is concerned and no one really seems to have given it much thought. I tried looking for this on the internet without much success. There were individual accounts about how men supported women who were empowered and financially independent etc. But no details on how to go about trying to educate an entire generation of men on how to deal with “empowered women”. An empowered woman is a woman who is educated, financially independent and capable of living on her own.

Women’s empowerment, the process of educating women and making them financially independent, their participation in the freedom struggle, shoulder to shoulder with men; are all well documented and is a part of the history syllabus. We let our younger generations understand the struggles that women had to face in order to reach where they are today and the brave men and women who were instrumental in bringing about this change. This entire movement brought about tremendous amount of social change and turned around the lives of hundreds of women in India especially during the Freedom struggle.

Any kind of social change brings about a change in social relationships. All relationships are power relationships and change in relationships brings about change in the power equation. Therefore, the change in the status of women due to education and financial independence has required a change in the social relationships these women engage in. India is a patriarchal society; men are socialised to accept the privileges of a male dominated society as a given. And women are still socialised to be submissive and accept their secondary position in society. Even though women are educated and financially independent they are expected to take care of all household chores and child-care.

Household chores like cooking, cleaning, washing are not seen as life skills in India that any adult should be able to do but are seen as tasks to be done by a woman. Even men who live on their own due to employment and do these chores by themselves; do not help or engage in these activities once they return home or get married. Even today despite being educated and economically independent it is necessary for a girl to be able to do household chores especially cooking if she is to find a “suitable match”.

Entrenched ideas of patriarchy based on one set of rules for men and one set of rules for women are being questioned with the spread of westernization and globalization. With the empowerment of women gendered roles in the household are being challenged by women and are being shared by men. With women’s empowerment becoming widespread it is time that we started educating and creating awareness among men on interacting with empowered women. Gender equality, sharing household chores and sensitivity to gendered roles should be made part of the curriculum. Children must be made aware of the gender based discrimination present in our society and corrective measures must be taken. The easiest way to bring about changed idea is to introduce it into the education system.

The education system is the ideal way to bring about the desired change in attitude and behaviour of a generation. Sensitising children about gender discrimination and the various efforts being made to bring about equality will make them aware of the problem that exists. Patriarchy is so deep rooted in Indian society that more often than not we are unable to see gender discrimination as a problem; we simply accept it as something that is a part of life. Including it in the education system will ensure that the problem is addressed as such. And that all students who are part of the education system will be made aware of the problem and the solutions to it. It is only through such an extensive programme that the thinking and “mind set” of a generation can be changed. One of the problems is that nobody seems to have addressed the problem of empowering men to engage with empowered women, or think it to be significant. But addressing one aspect of the problem and overlooking another aspect will not solve the problem. There has to be a comprehensive way of doing it. Just empowering women is not enough if they are not treated with respect and equality in their personal relationships. We will have to empower men, their partners, to understand this empowerment and to deal with it. We have to have conversations about it, in classrooms and in our homes. We have to recognise that patriarchy is so deep rooted that we do not see the subtle ways in which we reinforce it in our day to day lives.

Including it in the syllabus as part of a life skill course or a gender sensitization course is the ideal way to ensure that this need is addressed. These courses have to be introduced from primary school so that correction in attitude and behaviour can be initiated at a young age itself. Gender stereotypes have to be challenged and texts books have to be changed suitably so that children unlearn these stereotypes and gender specific roles and relearn new roles that are not gender specific.

The changing work structure in India has also contributed to empowering women and allowed them to make a place for themselves in society. Organizations that employ as many or more women than men, empower women. These organizations too can play an important role in sensitising and educating men on how to deal with empowered women in a rapidly changing society. It is only when all sections of society realise that it is their responsibility to accept and change according to the times, only then will empowered women find their rightful place in society.

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