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“Pledge for parity”- 2 March 2016.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Thursday, 24 March 2016 19:08

The International Women’s campaign theme for the year 2016 is ‘pledge for parity’. It seems to be a wonderful concept to promote and campaign for. Women have achieved a lot in the last century but still have miles to go before we reach parity in all spheres in the true sense of the word. And hence, though we have much to celebrate about, the progress needs to be accelerated as it seems to have slowed down in many places. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that global gender parity would be achieved by 2095, when all of us would be dead but our children would benefit. But one year later in 2015 they surprisingly estimated that a slowdown in the pace of progress means that the gender gap would remain for some more time and would close only by 2133. Within a year it was pushed back 38 years! We are not new to such fluctuating estimates- it keeps happening all the time.

Women have been contributing to the social, economic, cultural and political progress in India and globally too. We see women in all spheres of work and rejoice as they become more visible in public life. Women have taken bold steps to come out of their homes challenging themselves as well as societal taboos and making their mark in the male world. But still, lots need to be done in implementing the policies and laws that have been framed so far. We have been striving for parity since 100 years and women have gained in terms of many rights such as voting rights, property rights, right to work and equal pay and so on to name a few. But yet the progress seems marginal and needs greater push by both men and women if we are to achieve the target by the year 2133.

The campaign ‘Pledging for Parity’ invites everyone, both men and women, to pledge to take a concrete steps to help achieve gender parity more quickly than the current pace. A few areas have been highlighted. One such area is- to help women and girls achieve their ambitions- as girls seek higher education and professional qualifications we need to encourage them to become productive members of the workforce and contribute economically. We need to motivate women to utilise their hidden potential and manifest it. Many women get bogged down by domestic duties and caring for the young and the old neglecting their own personal aspirations and ambitions. This important issue could be taken up seriously by men and women to facilitate young girls in achieving their ambitions by extending support and guidance actively. Of course the point is not only to boost economic growth of the country (which could be a by product) but her own personal and spiritual growth which is vital. She has immense potential which she must put to good use.

Another area identified is gender-balanced leadership where women should be encouraged up the ladder (on merit of course and by removing the glass-ceiling) and welcomed on company boards. Studies say productivity goes up significantly when women represent on boards. Another issue of focus is to respect and value difference between men and women. This is a psycho-social cultural issue where males have more value than women. If men and women are different biologically, psychologically and behaviourally, women are demeaned and devalued in comparison to men who are considered superior to women. We need to respect femininity and all that women constitute and treat it at par with men. Women should be accepted as being different than men and cherished as such.

One more issue being highlighted by the campaign for parity is -to develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace biases. Many behaviours and actions in the workplace reflect such biases towards women. One common instance that strikes the mind is the reaction of seniors and bosses towards women employees entering into motherhood. Strong negative bias prevails in the minds of men as it is seen as an obstacle, a hindrance and as a problem that women suffer from! There is reluctance in granting leave to the expectant mother-to-be. Another element worth noting is that as women enter workplaces in large numbers men feel constrained and restrained as they have to be careful in their speech and behaviour with women around. Their so called camaraderie goes for a toss as they cannot narrate women related jokes, or abuses and talks! Inclusivity means respecting all segments and categories of workers without prejudice and biases. A tall order indeed, but which calls for a drastic change in thinking and values.

Each one of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and can commit ourselves to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity. The campaign encourages people to move from talk to purposeful action, by joining forces, to collectively help women advance and progress in all spheres of life.

 

“Working on weaknesses”- 17 February 2016.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Thursday, 24 March 2016 19:06

Ms. X was an independent happy go-lucky person enjoying her work and her sense of freedom. Successfully working for four years she had been getting praises and appreciation from her colleagues and seniors. She was quite a dare devil with modern ideas and attitudes. Her family had given her a lot of liberty with excellent education. Then she got married one day as all women do and her life underwent changes. There were differences in the culture and values of the family she had married into. They were good natured people but were more traditional and were slightly rigid with their views on customs and rituals. Her husband kept saying that she could retain her job and keep working as usual but she felt that he actually did not approve of it and wanted her to quit. Wanting to please him she left her job and took care of her domestic duties. She tried to fit into his world of ideas and life style and changed herself considerably, agreeing to do many things that she actually did not approve of. She kept brushing aside many issues as ‘minor’ and kept compromising on them. Her old friends criticised her for losing her boldness and her sheen. They could not understand why she was becoming like that. She wanted to make her family happy as that was her main goal. She said she was happy and contented. After several years she woke up one day quite upset with her-self and her reality. She was baffled as she realised that she had grown dependent emotionally on her husband and could not take decisions herself as she had lost her confidence in herself and kept looking towards him. She had sort of surrendered herself completely to her husband and began questioning herself whether it was all worth it at all? The disillusionment came when she became aware of her husband’s double standards and his perpetual lies about many things. She struggled with that too for some years and eventually had to give up on it for his habits were fixed. That is when she broke and started to ‘look within’ and search for her original herself. She could not understand how and when she gave up her ‘independence’ and became ‘dependent’ on him for everything. Her reliance on him was total.

This is one of the biggest challenges that women face. Both parties are to be blamed for this. Men encourage the trait of ‘dependency’ in their women and women most willingly give up their ‘independence’ for ‘dependence’. Society encourages and sanctions this quality in girls. Hence both try hard to fit into the stereotypes and gradually men begin to dominate and women begin to follow.

The second commonly found weakness in women is what we call ‘submissiveness’. This is a troublesome trait for when women do not assert themselves they not only subject themselves to injustice but also act as a source of trouble to the other party. For example, when you are in disagreement with the others opinion or when you are hurting inside but you do not have the guts to state it explicitly in words and keep smiling deceptively instead, you are being submissive, which does not help anyone. Both parties eventually are at a loss, in terms of emotional hurt and misunderstanding caused by lack of proper communication. A girl went along with a boy who proposed her because he was insistent and she needed someone to rely on (read be dependent on) but did not love him. She felt he was nice and caring and dependable and that was it. Until one day she actually fell in love with another boy and went into a serious dilemma and paralysis of thought and action. She did not know what to do, how to express her-self and just kept crying about the whole thing. Another girl got engaged willingly to a decent boy chosen by her parents but as the countdown of the marriage date began she started crying. She confessed that she had noticed some unfavourable symptoms in the boy but had no guts to express them to anyone before. The marriage was called off and both the parties went into a shock including the boy who was affected the most. Such submissiveness is a terrible weakness and can ruin lives.

Women need to become aware of such traits within themselves and work on building strengths. They need to check their traits of dependency as well as submissiveness and develop assertiveness and independence. This does not mean rebellion at all. It means better confidence and better communication skills which is a big asset in the family. A strong confident clear headed woman with good communication skills can be more effective in running a family, keeping the family united with her interpersonal skills and raising healthy happy strong confident children.

That is what my mother did!

 

“Imperfect yet beautiful”- 3 February 2016.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Thursday, 04 February 2016 19:36

Aditi liked a boy from the time she was in Std 9th. He was smart and intelligent and had a great sense of humour. She tried her best to attract his attention but he was not interested in her in ‘that way’ she felt. She realized that he took a fancy to girls who were slightly tall, thin and had straight hair. He also seemed to like girls who were giggly and threw some sort of airs around her. She understood that she was a simple straight-forward girl who was also studious and serious about her career. She also realized that she had curly hair and was ‘fat’ according to his standards. What a dilemma she went into and so decided to take up the challenge of losing weight, straightening her hair and being less serious than she was. She, with months of effort and a year passing realized what a tough call that was and try as she would she could not achieve her weight loss target and continued to suffer pangs of anxiety. All this stress lead to sleepless nights and loss of hair. And of course loss of inner peace and stability.

Such a story could be true for a boy too who worries about his looks and his body image and harbours fear of being unattractive to girls and be ragged or teased or often get rejected by the girls he takes a fancy to. Who decides how should a girl and boy look and who sets the norms for beauty in their tender minds? Are the parents responsible for it or are parents an equal prey to larger external forces that operate in the world is something to be aware of.

A large number of parents may be very particular about their child/daughter’s grooming and take special care to keep her in good form. That is a good training to the child if done in proper proportion. She can be taught early on in her life to care for the fundamental requirements for keeping her body clean and healthy. They should inculcate healthy body image in the child by pointing the positive points and ignoring the negatives if any. A healthy self image and positive self esteem also comes from a pride in one’s external appearance. Making an unnecessary fuss about one particular aspect may lead to some sense of inferiority and lowered self image. I know one mother who herself obsessed with her own body weight and hence would keep a strict vigil on the body weight of her daughter and make it a constant point to check on it.

Among the external forces we are all aware of the standards set by celebrities, film stars, fashion models, and the entire cosmetic industry that thrives on generating anxieties in the minds of the masses about looking good from hair to toe. It’s a multi-million or billion dollar industry which has everything at stake if people became happy with their original selves!

Besides this sector the social media too shows signs of this malady. Most teenagers are on Face-book and other social media sites. We realize that many youngsters on these sites do up their pictures through photo-shop to look beautiful. Such is the level of obsession with body image and the need to look beautiful.

No one is perfect we know. Almost everyone may harbour a secret frustration with a specific body part, such as a too long and sharp nose, small inset eyes, straight hair or curly hair, small height, and of course the complexion of the skin which is so prominently focused. In spite of the secret dissatisfaction with a body part most people do not get obsessed with it and fall sick and develop what is known as ‘body dysmorphic disorder. In USA the disorder has a presence in one percent of the population which is very high indeed. And that seems to be affecting the spreading globally.

 

Teenagers must be safeguarded against all sorts of wrong influences by their peers, media or their parents for that matter. We must teach them early on to love their body, care for it by eating well, sleeping well, exercising enough that is required, building stamina and muscles, and exuding fitness. We must teach them that they may be imperfect, they may be terribly flawed for that matter but yet they are infinitely beautiful. Teach them that beauty lies in good physical health and sound mind. Beauty is not a mask to wear but beauty lies in inner strengths and values.

“Stop self defeating attitudes”- 20 January 2016.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Thursday, 04 February 2016 19:34

Recently I came across a heart warming incident. In a specific scheme in a small town, it was declared that women will get 25% discount. A woman leader of that area declined the privilege with the statement that ‘till women keep looking for ‘benefits’ based on gender she will never feel ‘equal’ to men’. And so she stood up with conviction and courage to say ‘NO’ to benefits. That is something you would agree, to be able to say ‘no’ to benefits. I wish I could remember the exact news item that I read just last week. This is the right type of attitude we need to develop in the minds of women. She has to get out of the ‘I am entitled to privileges because I am a woman’ thinking. This is self defeating to progress and development. For behind this attitude lie many negative beliefs, such as, ‘I am a woman and hence week and need privileges’. Another belief could be that ‘I am a woman and hence need the support of a man’. ‘I cannot fight on an equal level with a man so I need to be motivated’. And so on..

Women need to change their attitudes for the better. They need to own up their selves and take responsibility for themselves and their lives. They need to develop utterly positive mind-sets and take the challenges in their stride. They need to win and lose on the level playing field and prove their worth. They need to fight battles within themselves along with the battles outside in the real world. They need to mature and grow up. They need to be more serious about themselves. They should stop begging and growling. It shames me and enrages me to see women behaving stupidly, nastily and notoriously with others.

Some married women may believe that they can have the best of both worlds. Take an example- Mrs. X. is married to a well to do executive so she is a lucky and happy person. She does not like to work in the house as she is not interested in domestic work, she never was. She is neither interested in making a career as she never was serious about her education. She does not like to shoulder much responsibility as she thinks they can hire servants for that work. Her husband expects’ that she would at least prepare his breakfast and pack his lunch box too to leave for office on time. Her husband cannot nag her for not discharging her duties for she has the Domestic Violence Act 498 A to back her and support her if he does. She only has to shout “harassment”, ‘mental cruelty”, “injustice” and she can scare the shit out of him.

How unfortunate can the situation be? We cannot raise ‘bogies’ about women issues. A misuse and abuse of the benefits of law is going to boomerang on women soon enough. People will stop taking women seriously if they do it often enough.

When a marriage goes sour and divorce is imminent women may start pulling the children to their side and ‘poison’ their minds against their father. This is the greatest disservice they can do to the upbringing of children. This is the biggest crime they commit to destroy the innocence of their own children for their selfish gains. We have witnessed many a cases of women fighting a battle with their husband by using the children as a shield to protect their selfish self. In one case the woman tutored her children to say all sorts of lies and stories to the counsellor against their father and their grand-mother which was done so that she could justify her case for divorce and for getting the custody of the children. This nonsense cannot be tolerated just because she is a woman.

Women are not holy cows who commit no sin/crime. Women are not equally notorious as men but are capable enough for it. Women are capable of playing games and equally ridden with vices. But their moves are more subtle and within the four walls.

If we believe that a woman is the superior gender as well as the finer sex whom God has endowed with more virtues than a man then she will have to prove it by showing her superiority by her thought and actions. She might be destined to lead the world to better sense and harmony. And that would be a day of reckoning.

 

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