The issue of Gender discrimination is something that haunts our communities. National Crime Records inform us that in the year 2006 two women were reported as being raped every hour, of course we are well aware of the number of cases that do not go reported and the number of cases that cannot be reported. Sure numbers such as these should perhaps suggest to us the scale of the issue. Rape and sexual assault are crimes that are not about sex but are really about power and domination. Rape and the threat of rape therefore are really about the reinforcement of patriarchal values and the control of women through the use of violence and its threat. Sexual assault against women also engages and interconnects with other factors such as class, caste, communalism and ethnicity so that the locations of violence caused by these other factors are on the body of the woman. Even further we find that it is often the woman who is blamed for rape itself. Statements like ‘she invited it’ or ‘it was the clothes she was wearing’ only serve to blame the victim for her victimization and shift the attention away from the aggressor. Even in situations where there is no overt blaming of the victim, society organizes itself in such a way that it directs its attention to women when we deal with the issue of rape, so we ‘over protect’ our daughters rather than train our sons into healthy sexualities. In fact the only time we speak to our men about rape and sexual assault is in terms of their ‘protection’ of women and girls. Though rape is an issue that is extremely relevant and pertinent to our communities and society it is not one that finds its place in the context of our educational institutions and working places. We seldom hear of any discussion on this issue in our places of work or study.
And while we cannot deny that rape and a culture of rape is very much prevalent in our contexts, we should be equally aware that sexual harassment is rampant. Sexual harassment, is intimidation, bullying, teasing or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. It involves the telling of lewd jokes to women or the showing of pornography to women, or the passing of comments. The question is how are we addressing this issue? It would do us well to remind ourselves that by government regulations we need to have a sexual harassment committees on our campuses and work places that offer rights and means of redressal to the victims of these offences.
But Gender discrimination at the work place and educational institution works beyond the active violence of women and is embedded into the structure itself. It is found in the subtle discouragement of women in education and employment. It is found in the feminization of certain subjects and the overt masculinization of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths streams, or what has come to be called STEM. It is found in the policing of women’s bodies through rules restricting their movement and the way that they choose to dress themselves, suggesting that controlling their sexuality is more important than their education. It is further found in the idea that women can only find their salvation through marriage and child birth and that right from the birth of a girl efforts are taken to prepare her for marriage and family life.
So what are we to do? I am just going to restrict myself to three things I am going to suggest. The first is that we must commit to being feminist and to looking at the world through a feminist gaze. But what is a feminist gaze? I believe that it is necessarily two things, firstly it is the revealing of the strenuous, complex of power equations which goes on below the surface of what looks normal, smooth and complete.
What we need to do is to occupy a feminist gaze which would expose the dominant male forces and would challenge that which we perceive as natural and normal. A second thing that a feminist gaze would do is to call us to occupy the margins of every situation, that we look at and analyze what is happening from the perspective of those who are left out, those who do not speak and those who are crushed into silence. In this sense what we must realize is that just because a strong critique is not emerging is not evidence we are in a just space, but it just may mean that voices are not allowed to emerge at all.
The second is that we must actively commit to enabling the women of our institutions is to be able to form a collective which will regularly meet where it is hoped that issues pertaining to them will emerged. One of the ways of strengthening patriarchy is through resisting the organization of women, We must buck this trend and we need to have an active and perhaps also politically engaged, women’s organization. And we need to listen to the voices that emerge out of this collective of women. Perhaps this is our sin, that we do not just allow women not to speak, but when they speak we refuse to listen, believing that we know what is best for them. A collective women’s voice can work to drown this enforced silence and will perhaps work towards women’s voices being listened to.
Thirdly we must begin to engage men and boys with questions of gender justice. We have to begin to see how we can re-socialize men into redemptive masculinities, how men can contribute to gender justice. What we must understand is that patriarchy is not just and if we are to have full and just participation of all, then we must dismantle patriarchy.
By Philip Vinod Peacock
Philip Vinod Peacock is the Acting General Secretary for Programmes of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and is based in Hannover, Germany. Previously he served as Associate Professor for Theology, Ethics and Social Analysis at Bishop’s College, Kolkata.