Before she headed back home to Chennai after the last session of Swallow’s Regional Partner Meeting in Kotagiri, I got a brief interview with Ms. Sheelu, director of Swallow’s partner organisation Women’s Collective.
The organisation is a collective of more than 100.000 women in Tamil Nadu striving for increased women participation in Indian politics, among other things. By organising excluded communities and advocating for their socio-economical, health, gender, political, and cultural rights, the Collective visions a political climate that is free from caste and women oppression. These are some of Sheelu’s thoughts on how to achieve gender equality in India.
What would you say is the greatest obstacle in achieving gender equality in India?
- Two things; the education syllabus and the media. If the government could work on the education syllabus and bringing gender equality into the syllabus and have strict censorship of media I think things would work out much better.
How is media obstructing gender equality?
- Media shows women as sex objects. In all the series, all the films, all the film songs, filthy language, sexist comments, eve teasing (harassment), everything is there. In these films, women are shown as people who are dominated, you get all the negative impressions of women through all these films and this is in children’s minds when they grow up seeing all these things. So there is a very urgent need to have a serious censorship for the media, for the films and for all that we (at Women’s Collective) are campaigning. Women are also being used as sex objects in all advertisements so censorship of advertisements, films and series is needed.
- And then the syllabus, importance of men and women being brought up equally. In maths for example the school book could say ‘if a boy goes to the shop and spend 500 rupees…’. See, it is not equal.
Would a gender-neutral syllabus then be a way to go about it?
- What we are saying is bringing in neutrality also creates problems. We are saying to specifically use words as girl, boy, transgender etc. Let the children know that they are persons who are there. They will hence feel that there is no social stigma in being transgender. That is why I think in the syllabus they have to bring in a lot of changes.
What is your strategy at Women’s Collective in working with these issues?
- We are working with the government and other NGOs to bring about changes in the syllabus. We are being successful in bringing in all these helpline numbers, good touch/bad touch (information on sexual harassments), everything has come out at the back of the books. Because all the books are paid by the government, no private companies are involved, advocating with the government, campaigning with government is the strategy to bring about change.
And how is their (the governments) attitude to bringing about these changes?
- It depends on the individuals who are there. We have identified allies who are there in the government and we work with those allies.
After being positioned as an Intern in India for almost four months now, the urgency to highlight and work for gender equality through civil society is evident. Not only are resources highly unevenly distributed, but also is a large portion of cultural norms strongly favouring men at the expense of women. To take part of the engagement and the well articulated thoughts of Sheelu and the other participants of Women’s Collective during the Swallow’s Partnership Meeting has truly been inspiring. The women’s movement of India has been strong for a long time and there are many signs of progress being made on the road towards gender equality.
Written by: Johan Lidholm