“Peace in patriarchy is war against women” - Hegemonic masculinities, as an ideal, reflect a masculine position which is aspirational as often as it is occupied. For example, in most societies it includes elements of ideas of men as providers, and these are esteemed and aspired to by both men who are financially able to occupy this role as well as by men who may be unemployed and struggle to do so. The root of such aspirations, patriarchy, is often forgotten even in recent discussion that seek to address gender inequalities. The fact that patriarchy is a term so many shy away from using is one of the things that enables it to survive. It is an ongoing structure of social inequality, as relevant as any other global problem.
Patriarchy is commonly defined as a primitive social organization in which authority is exercised by a male head of the family, extending this power even to distant relatives of the same lineage. Consider this data - fewer women do paid work today. Data shows a decline in female workforce participation at an annual rate of 1.72% between 2004-05 and 2009-10. The gender gap in labour force participation in 2014 was 53%, and urban female labour force participation in India has all but stagnated in the last two decades. The World Bank report in 2019 found that India is ranked 121st out of 131 countries in female labour force participation rate, and much lower than many of its neighbours.
Both feminist and non-feminist thinkers recognize that patriarchy has its historical origins in the family and the leadership which is exercised by the father and is projected to the entire social order – an order that is maintained and reinforced by different mechanisms/institutions. Through this institution, men as a social category, individually and collectively oppress all women as a social category, but also oppress women individually in different ways, appropriating women’s reproductive and productive force and controlling their bodies, minds, and sexuality. Fixating on real and perceived biological differences between the two recognized sexes, men justify their domination on the basis of a so called biological inferiority of women.
What are some features that form the foundation of a patriarchal society? Firstly, patriarchy is not natural, and is not identical in all cultures and in all generations. This means that although men have power over women in al institutions considered important in each society, it does not mean that women do not have any power or rights, influence or resources, nor does it means that all women have or exert the same power. Secondly, there usually is a tacit and subconscious agreement between each member of a community that women and everything relating to women is worth less than men and everything relating to men. Thirdly, there are a set of mechanisms, practices, beliefs, myths and relationships organizing relatively stable patterns of human activity with respect to the distribution of resources, the reproduction of individuals, and the type of societal structures within a given patriarchy.
As is evident, patriarchy, which presupposes that men have a natural superiority over women, is so powerful that men are usually able to secure the apparent consent of the very women they oppress. As a result of this entrenched ideology in our society, women have been deprived of their legal rights and opportunities, freedom as well as their property. The subordination that women experience at a daily level, regardless of the class they might belong to, takes various forms – discrimination, disregard, insult, control, exploitation, oppression, violence – within the family, at the place of work, and in society. The discrimination is mirrored in every social structure – in many families, a boy child is treated with utmost importance than a girl. A lack of resources in a family often results in a girl giving up her education to make way for her brother. Patriarchal institutions and social relations are also responsible for the inferior or secondary status of women in the capitalist wage-labour market.
Patriarchy is everyday sexism and produces gender inequality, but its consequences run deeper than gender inequality. What can one do to improve and bridge the gap between genders? In recent decades, the issue of gender has attracted increasing attention from humanitarian actors. This has seen a growing focus on the specific needs and vulnerabilities of groups marginalised by predominant gender norms and historically overlooked by humanitarian actors. According to UNICEF it is critical to enhance the value of girls by investing in and empowering them, with education, life skills, sport and much more. Empowering girls requires focused investment and collaboration. Providing girls with the services and safety, education and skills they need in daily life can reduce the risks they face and enable them to fully develop and contribute to India’s growth. UNICEF India’s 2018-2022 Country Programme has been developed in response to the identification of deprivations that Indian children face, including gender based deprivations.
Women in India are apparently guaranteed gender equality by the Constitution and the general laws. But patriarchal interpretation of the law continues the dominance of patriarchal attitudes. Legally women are not to be discriminated against in any sphere be it familial, social, political, economic and cultural life and specific legal provisions are to be in place to deal with any in infringement of the equal rights of women. Despite some recent reforms purporting to improve women’s status, there has been no real change in the situation of patriarchal domination. Stereotyping women holds back their full potential and must be labelled as one of the worst forms of violence against women. Not only does it get in the way of women participating fully and equally in all spheres of their lives, it also demeans and lessens women's dignity. Stereotyping women results in them being marginalised and discriminated against, which brings about unfair and inequitable conduct against them - whilst their human rights are being constrained.
“Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression” - Patriarchy had a beginning and therefore can have an end. Even if we still do not know how exactly it came into being we do know it came about after millenniums of different more egalitarian human organizing. Patriarchy has disempowered women and the repercussions of this are felt every day. A society that discriminates against and treats a half of its population inferiorly cannot progress. Time has come to bring a radical change in the dominant ideology of patriarchy. This dominant ideology, which is produced from patriarchal structures is found in all areas of social relations. Merely instituting laws and regulations will not be enough. A real change is required in the mind-set, it is essential to establish equal right between men and women in all respects of life.
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