‘You are not a boy, speak in a low tone’: Gender equality, a distant dream

Representative Image. [FPK Photo/Sajad Rafeeq]

On International Day of the Girl Child, the 2020 theme “My Voice, Our Equal Future”, to recognise the power, potential and rights of the girl child, seems inaccessible 

“My parents often tell me that I am ‘not a boy’, that I am supposed to ‘speak in a low tone’,” says grade nine student, Sheikh Tabeen while disclosing the reason behind her speaking softly to her teacher at a private tuition in one of the suburbs of Srinagar.

In an era, where women are supposed, and expected, to compete in all aspects of life, the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ take different meanings for the girl child.

13-year-old Hafsa from North Kashmir’s Sonawari seconds Tabeen’s thoughts.

”My mother never allows me to play cricket with my younger sister in the playground adjacent to my house. Even when there are no boys in the field, my sister and I are kept longing,” complains Hafsa.

A research Scholar of Gender Development from Indra Gandhi National Open University, Ruksar, says, “even when there are appropriate laws to safeguard the future and freedom of a girl, the mindset of this patriarchal society has not changed fully, as required for the overall empowerment of a girl. Male domination in whatever form, in both urban and rural parts , still wears a status-quo look. Women are still considered a weak entity in many aspects. Roles for boys and girls, conceived ages ago are yet to change. And this happnes from a very early age.”

Agreeing to the thoughts put forth by Ruksar, a girl from central Kashmir’s Budgam, says that she often faces rebuttals from family members, even in ‘everyday things like handling the TV remote’ to switch between channels, an act, her two brothers can do unquestionably.

“Even though ours is an educated family, still, discrimination exists,” acknowledges the girl in her late teens.

Ruheena Ali, President SAHELI, Kashmir Chapter, a Delhi based NGO working for the girl child and women empowerment says, “in many instances, boys are a preferred progeny for parents.”

“A girl is often denied the space in decision-making processes, even at home. There are cases, where I have seen girls doing daily household chores and their counterparts from the same family are glued to their palm top screens. Until discrimination at grass root level, which begins at homes, is not done away with, the gender equality in the society remains a distant dream,” says Ruheena.

“Participation of women in decision making and economic activities are indispensable for the economic and overall development of the society. Keeping a girl away from economy is disastrous. In fact, even while managing the house chores, women form the engine of development,” says Professor Bashir Ahmad Joo, an expert on Economy, and a professor in the department of Management Studies, University of Kashmir.

“We should refrain from using the term house wives. House Manager is an appropriate term,” Professor Bashir adds.

“Holistic development of girls and women needs a two pronged strategy. Education in itself is a tool to bestow them with a sense of empowerment,” believes Dr Jehangeer Saleem, professor at the department of sociology in the University of Kashmir.

“Secondly, the curriculum , which is mostly market driven now, should posses a humane touch to inculcate the values that propagate gender equality,” he adds.

On International Day of the Girl Child, Grade 10 student, 16-year-old Asra from Srinagar, says that issues faced by the girl child are not deemed important, and hence take a back seat.

“We need our issues to be voiced and heard. There should be general awareness that not only ‘allows’ but encourages girls to speak up,” says Asra.

While there are Thunbergs, Malalas and many others, who have spread wings to achieve heights, there are scores of Hafsas and Tabeens, still craving equivalence.


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