Break those barriers

Published Mar 31, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated Mar 31, 2019, 12:32 am IST
There’s a perceptible change in gender equations in the post modern world.
In Disney’s Frozen 2, Elsa is no longer the conventional damsel in distress.
 In Disney’s Frozen 2, Elsa is no longer the conventional damsel in distress.

This is a path-breaking concept with a potent message. The Ariel ad questions rigid gender classifications — where the protagonist, a mother confesses to her daughter, “we teach our daughters how to stand on their own feet but we don’t teach our sons how to lend a hand.” No wonder, it captured Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s attention. Not only did she post this ad on her FB page but also applauded it by acknowledging, “This is such a powerful ad about how stereotypes get passed on from generation to generation — but how we have the opportunity to change that. Thank you to Ariel India and P&G for showing us that a more equal world would be a better world for all of us. #sharetheload #leanin.

The popular Lebanese NGO Abnaa Saida El Balad that addresses gender stereotypes through its various classes.The popular Lebanese NGO Abnaa Saida El Balad that addresses gender stereotypes through its various classes.


This endorsement by the billionaire technology executive is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr Vanaja Kumar, a Bengaluru-based sociologist says, “Gender equality is a very sensitive topic in our country. Indian society is very keen to indoctrinate their daughters with rigid social rules but standards are different for their sons. To bring about change in society, we need to bring about a change in attitude. It begins at home. No discrimination between a daughter and a son. Get rid of the idea that the son is precious and not the daughter. We are suffering from the ‘Son Syndrome.’ Treat a girl and a boy equally right from birth, be it at home, school, college or work place. India is changing, but the need of the hour is speedy change by changing the mindset. No society can be seen as a developed society so long as girls are not treated on par with the boy. To sensitise the boys at a very young age to participate in household chores with significant female members of the family is an important factor in this fight for gender equality.”

Louis Boria’s photograph that went viralLouis Boria’s photograph that went viral

There is a perceptible change happening the world over. In bustling New York, a men’s knitting group created by Louis Boria, an Internet sensation, is making the world sit up and take notice. Louis rose to instant fame in 2017 when an innocuous image of him knitting on a New York subway went viral. Louis decided to convert this opportune moment into a radical movement. So what was hitherto considered a female domain is no longer confined to the fair sex. A meet up for male crafters in New York, defines it as, “not a class but an evening of camaraderie.” In a studio in suburban Brooklyn, Thursday nights are defined as men’s nights, where the guys get together to knit, chat and drink. These men are now more comfortable knitting in public. Not just that, this revolutionary move has confidently encouraged me and women to break stereotypes.

Dr Aloma Lobo, mother of six children, (three sons and three daughters) agrees that the winds of change are taking place. “But we are not yet at a point where there is gender equality anywhere. Mindsets, social and cultural ‘norms’ have yet to be understood and changed. There is still no equal access to resources and opportunity. The majority of our women still do not have the tools of opportunity participation. The girl child is still being abandoned!” she cautions.

Aloma has raised her children with equal privileges and opportunities. She believes that an equal relationship between the spouses paves the way for a similar environment while raising kids, “There is no difference in treatment and we have provided equal opportunity in education for our sons and daughters. Our sons were very protective of their sisters and likewise, our daughters were protective of their brothers. When they were children, we tried to be democratic when issues came up. The ‘issue’ was discussed and decided upon in a family council in which all the children participated. All could have their say irrespective of gender,” she adds.

It is this evolved notion of equal opportunity for both sexes that is being voraciously practiced in the Middle Eastern country of Lebanon. An NGO, Abnaa Saida El Balad, which focuses on youth, encourages both boys and girls to play football with a vengeance. It also exploits this game as a means to discuss and overcome gender stereotypes. In the dust coloured streets of Saida, in southern Lebanon, where this NGO is based, project co-ordinater, Mohammad Shafati points out that activities like music and theatre are organised to not just to keep kids of Palestinian refugees and Lebanese locals out of trouble, but also address gender stereotypes.

“Our trainers show them that girls can indeed play sports too, that girls can draw things more creative than just flowers, and that boys do more than just draw people, for example” he said. These maybe be small steps in the larger template but it is a sign that we are now more than ready to move into a gender neutral world, where cliched stereotypes will soon be a thing of the past.

Anju Turambekar, the youngest woman to become an AFC A License coach is cautiously optimistic about the road ahead. “Stereotypes are being broken slowly but steadily. However, still, I would say if we have to look at rural/underprivileged areas, women are still fighting for their rights and dignity. We are in need of a more broad-based gender equality structure.”

This way, we can tackle problems from every place and at all levels. Practices are more important in this matter,” she reveals. Anju, who is also head of Grassroots and an instructor at The AIFF Football House, believes that the biggest challenge lies in changing the mindset of people, especially in India. “Cultural institutions in India, particularly those of patrilineality and patrilocality play a central role in perpetuating gender inequality. Parental preference for sons who would act as caregivers for their parents in old age leads to daughters being neglected as they leave their parents home after marriage,” she adds.

 Aloma emphasises the need to challenge sexist mindsets. “We live in a patriarchal society which feels threatened when gender equality is even discussed — never mind being taught and practiced. We must prioritise women’s issues like domestic violence, police sensitisation, access to finance (especially among women who are marginalised), gender roles in the family which are deeply embedded in our socio cultural fabric.”

While India continues to face its fair share of challenges, New Zealand is paving the way for a shift in perceptions.  In the light of the me-too movement and sexual violence against women, serious talks are on to introduce gender equality education in New Zealand-based schools as a means to counter these differences Anju welcomes this decision. “Children’s minds are being nurtured and formed in schools. Boys must be made to realise that both genders have equal rights, and should be given equal opportunity to accomplish their goals.”

Like we said, there is a paradigm shift in equations. And keeping this in mind, even the entertainment industry is gravitating towards gender equality. In the latest Walt Disney movie, Frozen 2, unlike the previous Disney’s leading ladies — who specialised in playing the damsels in distress that need to be rescued — this film depicts the protagonist Elsa as a ballsy female character. A young woman who faces the storm calmly and boldly. This comes across as a refreshing change of rigid pre-conceived notions that are gradually being broken. While the industry continues to remain male dominated, this opens up a window of opportunity for female actors to defy conventions.

 Even in India where super hero flicks are essentially male dependent, Bollywood’s most successful producer Rohit Shetty has announced that he plans to introduce a female superhero soon. Be that as it may, the fight for equal pay continues to be a challenge for India’s leading ladies who often earn less than half of their male counterparts. A recent exception being actress Deepika Padukone, who was paid a staggering (by female standards) fee of `12 crores for Padmavaati, which was considerably higher than what her co-stars, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh took home. But the situation is far from hunky dory. In fact, down South, Sandalwood actress Sonu Gowda believes that gender equality is dependent on the director’s approach. “Bollywood films offer more female-centric characters to their heroines but that is not necessarily the case down South. The film industry has talented artistes but a director with a more progressive vision is required. Right now the conception is that woman can only do small roles, and are more appropriate for glam item numbers. It will definitely take some time for the South industry to break free from this stereotype. Right content is what matters. While making movies, producers look towards the projects that make money.  They have this chauvinistic belief that female-centric films are not accepted by the audience and hence they refrain from making it. Liberal minded producers are definitely needed in the film industry,” she says.

The blue print for the road ahead is still being defined. That is why the conference on gender equality — The Women Deliver 2019 — assumes great significance. It will take place in Vancouver in June and hopes ‘to serve as a catalyst for advocates working to achieve a more gender equal world. The conference will present new knowledge, promote world-class solutions, and engage a broad spectrum of voices. It will focus on several issues from health, nutrition, education, economic and political empowerment to human rights, good governance, and girls’ and women’s agency and equality.’

 Anju sees all these proactive measures as an opportunity for greater change. “The seed has been planted — now we have to nurture it, protect it, and create a positive environment to help it grow. It will definitely take time, along with committed and collective efforts. Good things are never easy to come by, nor are they unattainable. Together, we can achieve it,” she asserts.