Last month, when Bollywood actor Salman Khan compared his gruelling fitness regime to a woman being raped, women everywhere were furious. He has since refused to apologise, causing a new level of public concern and outrage for what is being seen as dangerously casual disrespect. Around the world, women are facing issues that have plagued them since decades – domestic abuse, honour killings, child marriages and rape. Why, in the 21st century, are women still demanding a place of respect? Readers debate whether womankind’s giant leaps over time have yet to make a worthwhile landing.
It’s not just up to men to create a culture of respect
How you treat each other at home is undoubtedly important. When men and women are treated equally at home, then it builds respect in one’s family, neighbourhood, and throughout society. On a more personal level too, children watch how their father treats their mother and vice versa, so it’s important to set a good example that is carried forward through the generations. That said, I think the responsibility of creating a culture of respect does not lie just with men. People from both genders have to work together to set the standard. You hear of cases where even men go through abuse from their spouses, so who is responsible for that? Respect is something that should be nurtured by both genders towards each other, and the responsibility of seeing this through, lies with the people, more than the authorities. No matter how many public service campaigns run or how many ads you see, if you don’t treat your sister or wife with consideration, then there’s no point. In the Philippines, where I’m from, women play a very important role culturally. They are central to decision-making and planning. But I know that in some other cultures, they may have a different role, one that comes with less freedom or independence. We might be in the 21st century, but I think while some developed nations have helped women prosper, others still have a long way to go.
From Mr Esme Yungao
Works in an IT company, in Dubai
Society must step up to drive change
Gender based violence is a problem of pandemic proportions across continents and generally begins at conception. Pre-natal gender selection often results in deaths in some countries, with the termination of pregnancies when the foetus is identified as female. Mexico has received international attention for a high rate of murders and the disappearance of young women. Femicides - the killing of women - in Guatemala have risen at an alarming rate. Dowry deaths, honour killings, female genital mutilation, child marriages, and sexual abuse continue to haunt the human race. Gender based violence or threats of such acts are prevalent, especially in patriarchal societies, as they signify inequality between men and women.
However, gender equality is achievable, as it is about disruption, where men take full responsibility, working side by side with the opposite gender, to redress the dynamics that hinder progress. They must actively participate in breaking social norms and gender stereotypes that limit opportunities for women and restrict men to certain roles. Men’s decisions and behaviours are profoundly shaped by expectations related to masculinity.
Systematic change is important, and to lead by example in the family and community is important. It’s an established fact, when men start to question and challenge power dynamics through their actions/words and engagement, they can transform social norms, behaviours and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality. Society needs the beater not to beat, but to beat the stereotype. Men need to play an effective and meaningful role in promoting women’s full leadership and participation in the economy. They must denounce institutions that are not gender balanced and lack female representation. A man’s responsibility lies in targeting the most dehumanising form of discrimination and inequality, which is violence against women, thereby creating a safe haven for them to flourish and progress.
From Ms Shivani Singh
Freelance writer, based in Dubai
Home environment plays a pivotal role
Disrespect’ is too lax a term to describe some of the gruesome incidents women have faced. In India, a girl who was gang-raped three years ago, was allegedly raped again by the same men, who were out on bail. In Australia, nearly 35,000 posts and retweets on two hashtags were found to focus on intrusive photos of women, taken in public places like beaches. The users sharing such content were male, mostly aged 17 and under.
Such cases are a consequence of deeply entrenched gender inequality, which is not just domestic, but also systemic and societal. The rape case was likely the result of a patriarchal mind-set, where men see women as objects to be controlled. The case with the inappropriate photographs of women is also a consequence of gender inequality. Women are dehumanised and reduced to their body parts, through ways that are crucially out of their control. This is not something that children would normally learn at home - they would learn from what’s happening outside the home too, in schools, on the internet and through movies and television.
However, one’s home environment must play a vital role in countering these influences. It’s not just men who must shoulder this responsibility. Women have a duty as well, firstly to educate themselves and challenge their preset notions on gender inequality, and secondly, to inculcate gender-neutral values in their children.
From Ms Deepali Pattani
Tax manager in a finance company, based in London, UK
Progress has been made, but disrespect for women still exists
Some people believe that in the 21st century, women have finally achieved equality in society. They think that women are not disrespected anymore because of their gender. On the one hand, many women nowadays can study, have a career, marry and have children, they can ‘have it all’.
Disrespect can be brutal. When a woman is attacked, the questions that usually follow are: “What was she doing alone? Why was she out at this time? What was she wearing? What did she do to provoke the attacker?” Why is the victim blamed automatically?
Based on this mentality, judgments around the world are often lenient towards attackers. On January 18, 2015, former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner raped a fellow student. Despite evidences and two witnesses, the judge condemned the rapist to a six-month jail sentence. The judge was quoted saying: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.” This statement would be ironic, if it was not so dangerous to release a rapist after six months of jail. Based on this verdict, the attacker would learn that if he attacks a girl again, he will only have a light slap on the wrist.
Furthermore, societies around the world also tend to condemn the victims. British filmmaker Leslee Udwin made a documentary, titled ‘India’s Daughter’, about the 2012 Delhi rape case where four men attacked and tortured a 23-year-old student. One of the attackers was interviewed and stated that the woman was responsible for what he and his partners did to her. Udwin decided to make her documentary accessible to everyone on YouTube. She hoped to change people’s mind-sets. But after 24 hours, the Indian government asked YouTube to remove the documentary from the channel, thus obstructing the possibility of awareness on violence against women.
In summary, nowadays, in the 21st century, I am more respected as a woman than my mother or my grandmother were at my age. However, if women are bothered (or worse) by men, people will search for faults in them, to explain what they might have done to provoke the men. For instance, I have been told that I smile too much! Punishment against gender disrespect should be harsher. Huge progress in women’s rights have been made, most people are very supportive of them, however, gender disrespect is still very much alive.
From Dr Joanna Seraphim
Assistant professor of anthropology at the Canadian University – Dubai