Until we stop normalizing gender roles, gender-equality would remain a dream

And balanced sex ratio too…

Recently, there was a news that UP government has proposed a 2-child policy as per which couples with more than two children would be exempted from certain benefits. The proposal was met with a mixed reaction. While a number of people welcomed this move, there was quite a large population who raised concerns over the chances of increased female foeticide in case of the policy being implemented.

Female foeticide- an issue that angers men and women alike. The burden of being a girl, giving birth to a girl and raising a girl- something I can relate closely to, being a daughter without a brother. Interestingly, the first jingle I remember from my childhood is the one about gender equality- “kaabil hum bhi hain, chahe daadhi-mooch nahi”. The jingle simply meant, we are also deserving even though we don’t have moustache and beard. Just wondering, how much money the governments would have spent over these years on promoting gender equality yet, are we even anywhere close to achieving it? I can quote a number of numerical figures to prove that we haven’t but if I do, I would be putting the onus on the government who would gladly shift the same on the parents of daughters like they have been doing for several years.

As I mentioned earlier, my parents don’t have a son. My grandmother always hated the fact that my parents didn’t try to have a third child but she was satisfied with my uncle having one because that one is a son. My father always announced proudly- these are my sons not daughters. And the naïve me always felt proud to hear it. Me and my sister worked very hard, always believing that we are the sons my parents never had. But years later, when I was educated and independent, I overheard my father telling my mother- “If she were our son, I would have gladly retired. It’s too much pain working at this age.”

I was angry that day. On a number of people:

  • On myself for being a woman
  • On my parents for not practicing what they preached
  • On the society that shames a girl’s parents for taking help from her
  • On the government that doesn’t have any infrastructure, system and policies to support the elderly (excluding the pensioners) who have to be dependent on their kids

But the other moment, I paused to think about it from my parents’ perspective:

What did they gain from giving birth to girls?

  • First of all, they had to convince themselves and the society that we were not bad news. That we can be as capable as men.
  • They had to spend money on our health, food and education. Had it been my grandmother’s generation, they could have ignored it but isn’t this a country that says “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” and tells everyone that girls deserve the same life as boys do?
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  • They had to take extra care to keep us safe from sexual assault while taking care they are not curbing our freedom. And yet I don’t know any woman who hasn’t faced abuse in childhood.
  • They also had to take care of the society’s opinion on how we should be raised. I remember I was 5 years old when an old lady scolded my mother because I was sitting on the chair with my legs parted.
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  • They had to make sure we know how to arrange our rooms, cook, wash clothes and dishes- something I don’t mind because it helped me survive hostel life and I believe should be taught to every child irrespective of gender.
  • They had to teach us to dumb ourselves, ignore comments, keep silent during arguments, sacrifice our wishes to make others happy because that’s the only virtue that would bring them honour.
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  • For twenty years, they saved money and bought gold jewellery, not for their future but for their daughters’ wedding.
  • Once their daughters were done with their education and started earning, they had to look for a suitable family to hand them over to. Apparently, this is the finish line of the relationship they share with their daughters.
  • Now that the wedding has happened, they are expected to miraculously forget that they ever gave birth except during festivals when they still have to send gifts to her new family and times when she needs care like during childbirth.
  • If they have a son too, all the abovementioned burden is shared by him and his wife as well else, they spend their old age alone, without any financial support.

Would you still want to blame a girl’s parents to want to have a son? Yes, you can call the daughter selfish- why can’t you support your parents if you earn? But before that tell me:

  • With the burden of another family solely resting on a daughter-in-law, does she have the means and bandwidth to take care of her own family? Leave the question of time and money, isn’t a daughter-in-law expected to cut off her ties with her family after wedding?
  • How does the society judge the parents of a woman taking monetary help from her?

Every time we raise voice, we are told that this is the culture and this is how it is. You are allowed to work. You make money just like your husband and use it for running your home still it’s looked at like a hobby and your identity is tied to how you run your husband’s house. Will this outlook ever change the way things are? I remember my therapist telling me- it’s either your environment or your mindset that needs to change to bring improvement to your life. The environment is the collective responsibility of the government and society but the mindset is ours to change. And it would never change if we keep holding on to old traditions that limit people.

PS: While I was writing this, there was a new development to the proposed policy. A number of suggestions from the public came in. One of them was to allow a third child in case the first two are girls. And while it was being discussed on a social media platform, here’s what a gender-equality “supporter” had to say and it sums up my entire post.

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