Nothing could have been more devastating than losing one’s child – the anguish of the mother who lost her eight-year-old daughter to a child molester who sexually assaulted and killed her child, drew a sad picture for those of us wanting to hear more on women’s rights.
The girl child in Sri Lanka is not aborted as a foetus; nevertheless, seems to command little or no respect from the community, especially the men at large. Just a few weeks ago, a four-year-old girl was abducted but was lucky enough to be found without any harm done. For all our jaw jaw on ensuring rights of women and children, it seems a lot needs to be done in making sure women can and will feel safe in their environs and in the community.
It isn’t everyday that Hollywood movie stars are applauded for their stand on gender equality but when Emma Watson, the young Hollywood actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador, took the podium at the UN Women HeForShe launch, her speech was hailed and critiqued by feminists and the Internet trolls alike.
HeForShe is aimed at striving for equal rights and opportunities for men and women, covering the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. It seeks to go beyond a mere feminist agenda, aiming to repackage the concept without emphasis on oppression by the male sex. In her simple but eloquent speech, Emma formally invited men, particularly those who could not relate to the feminist movement - to play a greater role in ending gender inequality.
Which brings us to the point this article is trying to make – until and unless men and women change the way women are viewed and perceived, very little can be achieved on the gender equality front. From a favourable viewpoint, it is refreshing to see younger men come forward to condemn gender-based violence and wholeheartedly accept the need for gender equality, as has been seen among men taking part in the protests against rape in India. For the younger generation, it is easier to make the connections through gender lines.
Yet, the bottlenecks remain with attitudes and beliefs that crop up against vulnerable women and girls. The culprits in sexual crimes are often those who have been the closest to victims, either in the vicinity or the family’s trusted or close circle. Is the predator attitude on part of men engaging in such crimes more to do with prying on vulnerable women? Or is it a social issue, one we see manifest itself whether in rubbing suggestively against a hapless woman in public transport, much against her will or thinking little of brutally raping an eight-year-old girl before strangling her to death?
How do we see these attitudes and opinions played out in the community, the business and the corporate world and of course, in our personal lives? Have we as mothers taken seriously enough the mantle of teaching our sons to respect the women in their lives and the women out there – or are we not doing enough on that front as women ourselves?
Bring about change
Gender equality is not worth the paper it is written on if we, as women and men, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, colleagues and friends, fail in our collective responsibility to start at the basics. And those basics are the fundamentals on which the gender balance hangs. To pay lip service to gender equality in the work place is one thing and to treat the spouse at home as a child of a lesser god is another.
Clearly, much needs to be done to ensure that the true meaning of gender inclusion takes place not on a dais whenever the International Women’s Day comes around but every day. Including women in a broader social, political, business and a national context is possible; it just has to carry more weight, more involvement and more action. And often enough, that push must come from each and every one of us.
Announcing the HeForShe campaign way back in March this year Mlambo Ngcuka called on the sons, fathers, husbands and brothers of the world to stand up and support equality for women. She also said that going by current estimates, it would take 95 years for gender equality to prevail; by 2020, she also estimated that 140,000 girls would be forced into child marriages. UN Women has some heavy weights behind the campaign - actors Matt Damon, Patrick Stewart, Antonio Banderas and Kiefer Sutherland and South African Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu are its ardent supporters.
In her speech at the UN, Emma Watson talked about experiencing sexism, when she was deemed too bossy for wanting to direct school plays. She mentioned how her friends dropped out of sports team for fear of being seen as too masculine. She invited the boys and encouraged today’s generation to relate to the campaign – receiving a standing ovation for her speech, she did not forget to include the fact that she too was vulnerable, her celebrity status notwithstanding.
As often is the case, it doesn’t always take an Emma Watson to bring about change. We can start with just you and I.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at email@example.com)