The famous British Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, once observed: “Woman is not undeveloped man, but diverse. This may startle or sound orthodox to organisations searching for ways and means for achieving equality between men and women in every sphere of life, to policymakers, and even to the women craving to become men in their conduct and behaviour, but that observation would have to be seriously analysed when they are at the threshold of the direction of their development.
All the movements and programmes for empowering women reflect same point that woman has remained less developed than man in absence of equal opportunities in the family and social life. Therefore, the goal of women’s development should be to bring them at par with men. They have lagged behind men for various reasons, would have to be brought to the same level by providing equal opportunities in every sphere life. The mentality of non-dominated society and depriving women of opportunities even in the changed times of today is considered to be the main reason for their backwardness. That is why the movements for women’s development have to some extent acquire an anti-men tone.
The truth is that a woman is a woman and a man is a man. Their natural formations and other attributes are different, they are supplementary to each other. We cannot imagine the existence of one without the other. Those who raise slogans of equality of men and women should remember that a woman has to be allowed to no doubt remain a woman. Moreso, because a woman is in no way weaker than man. The mental frame that finds her undeveloped man, does no good either to the woman or to the man or the society as a whole.
The basic reason for the failure of the women’s liberation movements in the west was that the foundation of women’s development was laid on the philosophy of men bending a rival force and of translating woman into men. At one level, the very existence of man was challenged. That movement influenced the women’s movements in other countries also, but the voice of this movement was raised in reaction, not being natural and practical, remained superficial and finally lost effect.
The well-know Hindi poetess Mahadevi Verma once said, “I have undergone the hardships of a woman’s life, yet would like to be born a woman in the next birth also. A woman’s life is on a much higher pedestal than man. It is a life that gives.”
The fact is that her role in social reconstruction as the central figure in the family, bringing up and looking after the children, is more important than that of man. Therefore, her role could not be defined and honoured merely by providing her a status equal to man. The Indian thinkers honoured the actual role of woman. The society could hardly be a gainer by only maintaining a position of equality between man and woman and, therefore, the objective should be to honour woman for her responsibility to the society. Even before their responsibility as women starts, the little girls are worshipped as Kanchakas, which highlights their inner strength and capability. The society is made to realise that their natural qualities must be lauded. This privilege is not bestowed on boys. As Mahadevi Verma said, “Boys in our society may be branded as “wayward” but that term has never been used for girls because such behaviour cannot be expected from her. She is a creator and a preserver.”
This has been the mainstay of our society for centuries. Even in the modern advancing time, these values would sustain. In the progress of civilisation, there should be exterior changes only, but the soul must remain the same. The basic concepts about men and women enshrined in the Indian thought must be retained.
It is sufficient to provide equal opportunities to women in every field of life. While they need to be given special protection in the laws of the land, it is also necessary to give them reservation in other areas like legislatures and services where their presence is negligible. The Constitution of India guarantees full equality between men and women, but in actual practice we have failed to achieve it in the last sixty years.
Every sector is open to women. The footprints of their hard labour are visible all round, but their number is negligible. Therefore, legislative provisions are a must for enabling their entry in various sectors, even though for a short duration.
However, their need for honour and security is greater than that of equality. Both cannot be secured merely by legal provisions. In fact, a number of legal rights have been granted to them, but how many women are there to make use of them? Thus, more than legislation, it is the social caution that is required. The society knows that a woman is not an undeveloped man. In trying to create a mentality that women have to be brought to a competitive level with men, we will only instill a spirit of rivalry between them which may turn every household into a battle ground of rivals. The spirit of giving special privileges to women in every field and extending them respect and cooperative is declining. On the other hand, there are women and organisations that have developed a mindset that considers women as undeveloped men. Both these attitudes are wrong and dangerous for the society and still worse for the healthy development of men and women.
We need to create an all round atmosphere in which there is realisation that respect for women will lead to a healthy growth of society. This lesson has to be started from home and extended to the school curricula. Entire society will be strengthened by introduction of men-women equality in all spheres of life. But to achieve this, the household would have to be saved from becoming grounds of family battles. A study of the increasing family feuds shows that spirit of mutual dependence and suplement between husband and wife is working out. The women who work outside like men have to work hard even at home. On the one hand, there is annoyance among women for carrying dual responsibility and on the other; the age old orthodox thinking of men towards women has not changed. Men are enjoying the facilities accrued by additional earnings of women, but instead of extending respect and helping hand to them at home, they are developing feelings of rivalry against them and that is the reason for hostilities between the two, leading to increasing family quarrels.
For centuries, the woman has merged her own interests in the interest of the family, felt honoured in the rise of her husband and identified her own name with his. Now it is becoming difficult for his frame of mind to accept her demand for recognition of her own name, personality and identity. Even the mindset of woman, who had considered man as superior to her, has not intrinsically changed. She may put on a mask of change, but a conflict is natural. SAARC Conference had made an important suggestion in regard to the education of boys and girls. It advocated that the formal education should be same for both the boys and girls, but courses for informal education should be different. This advice is based on the principle of inherently different traits and responsibilities of males and females. In our society also, that class of people, which did not distinguish between boys and girls in rearing them up and educating them, has now started feeling that has been some mistake. There was nothing wooing in giving them equal opportunities, but there must have been something special in the informal education of girls, different from that of boys.
Absence of such education has resulted in voices of hostility, not only in homes, but also in the offices, roads and market places. The case of clashes in offices between men and women can be seen not only in newspapers, but have also reached the courts of law. Incidents of harassment of women employees at the hands of even highly placed male officers are coming into lights from time to time.
The process of creating unity in diversity between men and women will be very delicate, but its results will be far-reaching as it will create harmony in every home. Every institution would have to involve itself in this process—legislature, executive, judiciary, press and all the other institutions which are engaged in social work have a vital role to play in achieving this goal.