Women Empowerment and the Hidden Bias

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Since times immemorial, women have been victims of oppression and suppression. They have been victims of all forms of violence – structural or programmed. It is not that there has been no resistance on their part. History bears testimony to a number of movements and campaigns intended for liberation, freedom and equality of women. The means and methods adopted by these movements and campaigns not only determined the fate and outcome of these movements but also the future of women empowerment in the society. There have been numerous movements and campaigns for women liberation and empowerment throughout history. However, these movements later proved to be mere garbs for hidden agendas. Schooling is one of the examples. Schooling, not education, in our context is counted as a broad spectrum remedy to all issues related to women. However, observations reveal otherwise. The facts and figures show that education has itself been used as a tool of oppression and exploitation. For instance, capitalist and industrial societies replaced unskilled and traditional workers with skilled wage earners only with the help of schooling. Schools proved to be important institutions to not only produce required labour in capitalist societies but also to avail cheap work force.

The movement of mass schooling propagated as a liberating force for women has been proven to be a process of ‘domestication’. Paul Fierier termed schooling as a false promise of salvation for women. Schooling by itself is not responsible for the reproduction and reinforcement of social inequalities. But the way it is used determines the outcome which reinforces social divides. Observations and interactions reveal that in our context, schooling itself is determined and decided by socio-economic status of an individual and gender is one of the profound factors. In a study in 2015, I observed that the very enrollment of a child in school is determined by the gender of the child. The gender of a child determines the type of school he or she will attend. Private schools, which are considered symbols of excellence and quality, are generally preferred for boys while as girls are mostly enrolled in government schools which are poor in both human as well as physical resources. The influence and impact of gender does not stop here, it is carried inside the class rooms as well. In one of my studies in 2005, I found that teacher student interaction is greatly influenced by the gender of a child. Whether it is inside or outside the classroom, gender plays a decisive role. Front rows inside classrooms are mostly reserved for boys, games in schools are gender oriented etc. These subtle discriminations are faced by women throughout their life. The selection of courses and programmes at university level is determined by gender as well.

Gender bias and discrimination is not only an Indian phenomenon. The countries which pretend to be models of women liberation and empowerment too carry forward subtle sexism but under a screen of equality, democracy etc. The new forms of women powerlessness and impotency are even dangerous than the traditional forms. Women in the west have been objectified. Their bodies and soul are now not in their control. Melisa Sue, Ouagadougou and Fasco, maintain that women have no right over their own bodies. The highest gender pay gap, 29.9%, has been observed in Europe. More women in Europe and the West are infected with HIV than men. In Germany, it has been found that women workers often become victims of sexual harassment and violence at work places. America, which is seen an ideal model in democracy, justice, equality and freedom ranks 81st in the world with regards to representation of women in government.  Women lead 40 percent of small businesses in the United States but get less than 10 percent of venture capital funding, 1 in 4 women in colleges become victims of some form of molestation. Thousands of untested rape kits are said to be languishing in police departments across the US, allowing thousands of sexual predators to go unprosecuted.

Where is education? Where is empowerment? Had “education” been a guardian and guarantor of women emancipation and empowerment, we would not have such figures from Europe and the West. Mere schooling is not a remedy for gender bias and discrimination, education is. What schools presently carry on is subtle sexism with an apt ideology of three E’s i.e. education, equality and empowerment. 

The blind following of the west and western model of women empowerment has only worsened the condition of women in our society. Most women are losing space both at structural and agency levels by irrationally following the west. The control and power which women enjoyed before is weakening. The strong bond of matrilineal relations gave women a certain power in the society. Though women in traditional society were apparently powerless, the fact is that they controlled many things secretly. Apparently women had no say in family issues and it was the man who dominated the scene. However, the thinking or decisions of men were often steered by the women. 

I do not want to give an impression that in a traditional and simple society women had no issue and there was no gender bias and discrimination. However, my point is that modern western ideologies are not free from gender bias and discrimination and blindly following them may cause more harm than good. 

 

 

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