Published on March 8th, 20141
Is gender equality a reality in Mumbai?
A Mumbaikar questions the term ‘gender equality’ in the context of Mumbai and comes away reassured, and also quite hopeful.
by Dr Pooja Birwatkar
Part 5 of the ‘Women’ diaries
A few days ago, tired after a hectic day at work, I had no option but to stand in the BEST bus. All the seats were occupied. I looked around, hoping that chivalry would prevail and some man would offer me his seat. But none of them did. It made me very cross with them. How could they sit comfortably when a lady was standing next to them? How rude!
As I mused over the issue later, I realised what a hypocrite I was. We talk so much of gender equality and female liberation, and so it should be completely okay that I was not offered a seat in a bus. If we talk of equality, then we must practice it as well. After all, like us women, even the men are tired. This brings me to analyse our own mega metro Mumbai. Is it equally easy being a woman here, like the men?
In Mumbai, with so many women heading out to work, it is clear that women are bread earners, too. They too contribute a handsome chunk to the family income. It is not unusual to find them in domains that are still considered male domains elsewhere. Women here are now traffic cops, ticket checkers, cabbyies, security officers, DJs, to name a few. Their office hours are as late as men’s. Of course, most working women also have the mandatory double shift, despite their jobs – one at work and one at home. There is still a long way to go when it comes to battling stereotypical women’s roles like cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children, that the female is naturally expected to execute. Men, wake up. We no longer expect you to offer us seats on public transport – should you expect us to handle all the house work alone?
You can walk on Mumbai’s roads care-free, as chances of you being ogled, stared and stalked are less in comparison to other places. Of course, there are sporadic cases of rape and molestation, and something better be done about it lest they become everyday occurrences. Yet, such incidents make us angry and not scared. Such episodes fill us with a sense of revolt and the courage to fight rather than bear it.
Single women, single mothers or divorcees, there is a place for everyone in Mumbai. No one labels you. They don’t have too much time to think about your life. You can stay alone in an apartment and have a life of your own, as the neighbourhood seldom keeps a tab on what you do with your life. You can eat alone in a restaurant and it can be the same restaurant on a daily basis. But I still feel there is a hesitance regarding this, as most women would, if alone, either occupy themselves with a book or be hooked to their cell phone. Wake up, ladies. You don’t need to pretend. It’s your world too and you have every right to be there.
And though I do not advocate it, you can smoke and drink without too many curious glances. There are friendly places where girl gangs can have their night outs. The city is quite open to homosexual relations and contrary opinions are normally not aired openly. Hearteningly, there are always a lot of people in your corner to support you.
I would not say that Mumbai completely believes in gender equality, but it fares much better comparatively. There is something about this city which makes you brave and hold your head high. You feel liberated and love life without questioning your gender identity. There is hope and place for all here and you are not made to feel different.
I just wish that on this Women’s Day all women resolve that we would not beg for equality but create equality in society. Let us start on the premise that we are and were always EQUAL. Do not thrust equality on us. We no longer need it. If at all any talk on equality has to happen, it should be from the angle of equalising men with women.
Dr Pooja Birwatkar is currently pursuing post doctoral research and working in the area of science education. She has been associated with the field of education in the past as a teacher educator, and her area of interest is research in education.
(Picture courtesy www.asianews.it)