Lindsay Pereira: Just a day like any other
Int'l Women's Day gives HR depts across corporate India something to do. There is little to acknowledge that women matter on other days
Sushma Swaraj is one of just 65 women among the total strength of 545 MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha. File pic
McDonald's allegedly flipped its iconic sign, to celebrate International Women's Day. A lot of people applauded while waiting in line for their junk food fix. Some were shocked, because they wondered how this would affect the brand's identity, while others chose to think about other brands that didn't appear to be doing anything to celebrate the presence of women.
Offices in India decided to do their bit for Women's Day, too, because it's now a lot like Valentine's Day, in that cards are printed and sold, restaurants can offer discounts and HR departments can add another item to their list of Key Performance Indicators, between sending out a Thought For The Day and wishing employees on their birthdays.
It's unfortunate that real change is hard to find though. The #MeToo movement, for instance, did bring to light a lot of what had been swept under rugs in offices across the globe. Here, in the land of Bharat Mata, it became just another trending topic on Twitter, garnering likes on Facebook pages while women congratulated each other for speaking out with a hashtag. The CEO of an Internet start-up accused of harassment less than a year ago was quietly reinstated at work, his company recognising that journalists would soon move on to other things, allowing them to get on with business as usual. A venture capitalist accused of harassing women for years went back to tweeting about his innocence, safe in the knowledge that the Venture Capitalists Boys' Club and people masquerading as entrepreneurs across the country would watch his back and welcome him into board rooms within weeks.
The film industry went on with its business of rampant misogyny as usual, continuing to focus on films reducing women to commodities, because that is supposedly what Indian men pay to watch. Actresses expressed solidarity with their counterparts in the West, but refrained from discussing the casting couch, because it is obviously a figment of our collective fevered imagination. Women are obviously not exploited by the film industry, which is anything but a male-controlled domain. Female actors are also obviously paid as much as their male co-stars, so everything is fine. A lot of people could have spoken up, but no one did, because putting up a quote about inspirational women is much less controversial and guaranteed to attract more retweets online.
Meanwhile, in Parliament, where women constitute just 12 per cent of the total strength of the 16th Lok Sabha with 65 MPs, there were a few speeches, too, about how Indian women must be encouraged to walk hand in hand with their male counterparts into a bright and shining future where equality will be the norm and women will no longer feel compelled to drop out of the workforce the way they have been doing for the past decade. Some of the Lok Sabha members applauded as well, presumably because the proceedings were being aired on national television. A lot of MPs also spoke about the early passage of a Bill to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies. By early passage, they were referring to a Bill that has only been discussed in the Rajya Sabha since 2008. Everyone knows that in enlightened India, where women matter, ten years is not early enough.
A lot of people failed to recognise the marches though. Journalists from the West spoke of women marching in Delhi and Kolkata, in an attempt to draw attention to issues like sexual attacks, domestic violence and discrimination in jobs and wages. These are issues that have been around for as long as our country has been a republic, which is probably why no one felt the need to discuss them again. After all, domestic violence is not as exciting a topic of debate as a film about a mythical queen that has offended a few men.
The government celebrated International Women's Day by launching a mysterious Women Entrepreneurship Platform, and announcing that a railway station in Bangalore would be run entirely by women. Two days later, an MP from North Bombay reportedly introduced a private member's bill seeking to raise the age at which a woman can marry, if the marriage does not have her parents' consent. Genuine attempts to change women's lives in ways that matter? You be the judge.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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