New Delhi: A new UN report has found almost 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against females. Anjela Taneja, Lead Specialist- Health, Education and Inequality, Oxfam India talks to Team Banega Swasth India to discuss the factors responsible for gender bias in India. Ms Taneja says that in order to break the gender bias we need to not be silent and call out sexism when we see it.
NDTV: How closely interlinked are poverty and gender disparity in India?
Anjela Taneja: Very closely. Fundamentally women have always been at the receiving end of some of the worst things that happen in society. At the same time, if you look at it more specifically, women on average receive 34% less wages than men. When you look at the statistics, girls belonging to the families in the top 20% get 9 years of education while girls from poor families rarely get any education at all. They receive less education than boys. There is a harmful expectation in terms of women needing to do unpaid care work whereas men getaway by hardly doing anything in terms of household chores. So, unsparing its women who are paid less, educated less, forced to perform unpaid care work, and at the same time suffer from violence and neglect.
NDTV: How can we break the conventional idea of division of labor in society that imposes enormous domestic work on women?
Anjela Taneja: There are multiple bits to it – policy bit, program bit and social change bit. Let’s not have policies that discriminate. Its time for the government to increase the paternity leave equal to women, rather than expecting the woman to stay back and take care of the child while men can get away and hardly spend any time. We need to ensure that it is not taken for granted that women are available to do household work. This basically means they should have the help required to do this work by whoever can do things more efficiently. Have cooking gas, a creche for child care, senior homes for the elderly rather than assuming that women will do so. At the same time, there needs to be gender sensitisation, maybe start round, with colleges. But we need to have campaigns on more progressive models of masculinity and femininity.
NDTV: What role should men take up to stand against gender inequality in India?
Anjela Taneja: Be models of good behaviour, it’s not only talking but also doing. Be supporters of the mission, start at home and workplace. By promoting the things that are needed for gender equality. Step back when necessary to let women to take leadership and share power.
NDTV: What are your thoughts on the legal age for women to get married being increased?
Anjela Taneja: Fundamentally, unnecessary and a lot of pain with very little gain, unfortunately. Because as it is, when we have 18 years as the age for marriage, a significant number of marriages are done before the age of 18. When it comes down to it, 23% of the girls get married before the age of 18. Therefore, it is unclear what this amendment would do, given the lack of implementation of the existing provisions. Secondly, it is unclear why 18? About 145 countries around the world have 18 or lower as the minimum age for marriage so not sure why India needs anything else than what it is. The risk is that it will not change the lives of girls in terms of improving education or poverty reduction. What it could do is criminalise poor families who may have married girls early, and at present 63% of young women are married before they turn 21, as per the NFHS survey. So they will be criminalised, which is not something that the government wants to achieve. At the same time, in that stage, if they are married but not legally, the access to sexual healthcare facilities would be impaired and I’m not sure that’s what the government wants to achieve. What should’ve been done is improve provision for education, meaningful employment or reduction of poverty for girls; improve implementation of the law as it is.
NDTV: Do you think education in India is gender-sensitive? Is there a need to educate boys and men in terms of their understanding, information, and capacity building, regarding equal opportunity for both the sexes?
Anjela Taneja: Yes, unfortunately, education in India is not gender-sensitive. However, at the same time, we have had a closing in the education gap at elementary and primary age. Under the age of 14, there’s some degree of parity in terms of girls attending schools. But the norm of ensuring universal secondary education for girls – we are very far from it. Yes girls are going to schools, but if they are having a good experience remains unresolved. Most efforts really focus on schools improving WASH facilities, self-defence training for girls, and distributing things like bicycles, pads, among others. Unfortunately, things have become worse due to COVID lockdowns, where girls have not been able to go to school and access schooling at home because of the combination of digital divide and the expectation of unpaid care work at home.
NDTV: Do you think policy interventions can fix the societal outlook on gender parity that has been embedded for years?
Anjela Taneja: Yes and No. Policies are essential but not an adequate precondition for change. Therefore, it is important to have polity commitment for gender parity. It is essential that schemes make provisions for girls, but the government can’t alone change the social attitude. Policy interventions are great but we need mechanisms to change the hearts and minds of people and mobilise community.
NDTV: What kind of impact has COVID-19 had on women in India?
Anjela Taneja: Poverty, loss of jobs. When the push comes to shove, it is the women who are asked to leave first. Those who have been able to retain jobs have found it harder to handle the double burden of work from home and work at home – with office work and household work, which is a miracle expectation. Girls and women have found themselves out of the education spaces and we have had an epidemic of violence as the families have been locked in in the small constraint spaces. It’s been a traumatic time. Ultimately its a pandemic, therefore there have been missed opportunities to access healthcare be it in terms of deliveries or general healthcare. Women in India have a history of not seeking care until its too late which has been particularly bad at this time.
NDTV: What can each one of us do in our everyday lives to break gender bias?
Anjela Taneja: Not to be silent, not to tolerate gender bias. Call out those who are biased, to move towards a society that is more transformative.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.