Gulabi gang, gang rapes, higher rates of illiteracy among women, the daughter of an auto driver topping the CA exams: India is a study in contrasts and those contrasts have never been as stark as they are today. But even within these contrasts, the country has a definite bias towards the chauvinistic, the misogynistic and the traditional. As we hem and haw over anti-stalking laws, maternity periods and government incentives to have girl children, Smriti Lamech speaks to a few parents and asks them to play John Lennon and imagine a world that is fairer to their daughters. Here's what they came up with:
"Clean toilets with water supply!"
Rohini Haldea, 37, Hyderabad, mother to a 3.5-year-old
It's so simple, it's shameful that it's been neglected! Studies show that it is not poverty or even discrimination that makes girls drop out of school, but the lack of basic toilet facilities, and water in them. A shocking 46% of schools in rural India have no toilets and 17% have no water supply, explaining a lot about the unequal gender pattern in education. "Even as educated adult women, the toilet issue is a big one. I've been a sales manager and spent hours in the field with no scope of going to the toilet. You cannot function fully when half your resources are devoted to planning your bladder movements," Rohini says. The Rural Development Ministry launched the School Sanitation and Hygiene Programme in 2012, the aim of which is to provide all village schools with separate toilets for girls and boys and water in the toilets. One hopes this will be implemented and that the density of toilets will go up across urban commercial areas, villages and highways, so that women no longer have to worry about that very basic requirement.
"What's with the ads?"
Anitha Ramkumar, 37, Hyderabad, mother to daughters aged 7 and 8
From padded bras to early skin care, advertising is pitching a new product everyday to a market that eagerly soaks it up. Anitha is not amused that there are advertisements urging little girls into early womanhood, and then advertisements that lead them to believe they are ageing at 25 and need help to reverse that process. She would like a ban on advertisements that define every part of a woman's body, regardless of whether it is visible or hidden under clothes. "Why must every body part be hair-free, blemish-free, wrinkle-free, oil-free, 'fair' and smell like a freshly plucked rose?" she asks. Anitha bucks the trend even as a study conducted at the Guru Nanak Dev University in 2005 showed that compared to Japanese and American mothers, Indian mothers had the least negative attitude towards advertising. Time for a fresh study!
"Talk about something other than weight and skin colour."
Namita Sharma, 43, Delhi, mother to a 12-year-old girl
Connected to the pressure via various social mediums is societal pressure to look a certain way and people have absolutely no qualms in expressing their view. Someone suggested to Namita's 12-year-old that she remove the hair from her limbs. "Luckily, I have a kid who has her head screwed on right So far, she has simply laughed at the suggestion," she says. Namita hopes for an India where it is no longer socially acceptable to open a conversation with comments on weight, health and colour. "I wish people would not comment arbitrarily on a girl's hair thickness and skin colour, even if they think they are giving compliments. The girls are more than just thin or thick or long or short hair."
"Girls should also be able to be anyone and do anything"
Sunita Venkatachalam, 35, Bangalore, mother to a 4 and 7-year-old
Careers for women are still largely seen as optional in our country. Sunita hopes for a change in the attitude to aim lower for girls because the ultimate goal continues to be marriage. "Parents tend to encourage their girls to take up 'creative' career options because they pay less and are 'softer' careers, reinforcing the belief that a girl's career does not matter much while skills like cooking and crafts will be appreciated in the marital home. It rises from a presumption that women will not want to make as much or more money than their male peers." This also manifests itself in other ways such as not allowing girls to move away from their home for further studies. Either because they feel it is pointless, or because they worry about safety. Neither reason is acceptable.
"A safer world"
Rohini Haldea and Namita Sharma
In light of the increasing number of instances of violence against women, it would be remiss not to mention safety for women. The National Crime Records Bureau report shows that a woman got raped every 20 minutes in 2012 with 24,923 cases being registered across the country in 2012. And safety definitely makes it to the top of the list for both Rohini and Namita. "I'd like a world where we can collectively knock down this belief that keeping our girls locked up and covered up is the way to keep them safe. Because the only way to make them truly safe is for more and more of them to be out there until it becomes an accepted fact and not something that invites harassment or even attention. I wish for security and infrastructure to improve to an extent where driving/walking at night or finding a toilet, etc. are not things she has to worry about," says Rohini.